I watched the return of the Hundred so you don't have to

Trent Bridge for the Hundred - Following the Ashes with the Hundred is cricket’s culture war writ large

The crowd at Trent Bridge built slowly over the course of the double-header – Getty Images/Nathan Stirk

“This year’s champions will be crowned in just 27 days’ time!” With this explanation over the loudspeaker at Trent Bridge, the 2023 edition of the men’s Hundred was up and away.

Just 27 days: it does not feel that way to everyone. After of one of the most intoxicating Test series of all time, many view the arrival of the Hundred as akin to following a Michelin star meal with a grubby late-night kebab. The very existence of the Hundred, of course, is the primary reason the 2023 Ashes ended before August arrived.

There is, of course, an alternative view. This year’s schedule arguably helped the Ashes spectacle far more than it hindered it – allowing the whole series to be played out between the Champions League final and the Community Shield, and Test cricket to dominate the sporting landscape.

The 2005 Ashes finished on September 12: autumn was approaching and new cricket converts had to wait seven months to play the game or, barring the last throes of the county season, to watch it. This time is different. New cricket devotees still have the whole of August to take up the game. And, while the Ashes was exclusively on pay TV, 16 matches across the men’s and women’s Hundred are live on the BBC.

For all that the Hundred is presented as a cricketing culture war, to many at Trent Bridge on Tuesday’s opening day, the new format can happily co-exist alongside the Test game. In the stands, the most common Trent Rockets shirt glimpsed was ‘Root 66’: a fashion that owes nothing to his record for the hosts – four matches and 34 runs – and everything to his Test match deeds.

The time of the opening match – 3pm on a Tuesday – felt like it did not suit the pink and green fireworks that marked the start of the third edition of the competition. But while the first two years began with stand-alone matches, this year’s tournament saw double-headers from the very start. The afternoon women’s match between Trent Rockets and Southern Brave made for a low-key opening, even more so given the overcast skies and the hosts being thrashed on a turgid wicket; batting with sumptuous timing, India’s star Smriti Mandhana had lifted Southern Brave to an insurmountable 157 for six.

As the crowd increased – 8,800 were in place halfway through the run chase in the women’s game, and 12,400, several thousand shy of a sell-out, for the men’s game – so the atmosphere became a little more partisan. Halfway through Southern Brave’s run chase in the men’s game, the crowd broke into cheers: the win predictor on the big screen showed Trent Rockets as favourites.

They just about lived up to this billing, as Daniel Sams’s left-arm pace closed out a six-run win. Since his defeat in T20 finals day, Sams – like all the overseas players on display – had flown over to Texas to play in Major League Cricket: an illustration of the Hundred’s challenge in finding a spot not just in the English calendar but in the global one.

Unlike most matches in last season’s men’s Hundred, this was a close game. However, with both sides scrapping on an uncharacteristically tricky batting surface, it was not exactly a vintage one. Yet, buoyed by a home win, the crowd seemed content. “I enjoyed that,” one young girl told her dad after Trent’s six-run victory.

For all the rancour, this simple enjoyment – and thousands of children queuing up to get autographs signed long after play – is meant to be the point.

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