The first problem with the brave new world of the second edition of the Hundred, whereby the women’s match will (on occasion) take the primetime slot, became apparent 30 minutes before the start of play: 6pm came and went, and the men had still not finished their match, let alone vacated the field. In a sport where men have taken up more than their fair share of resources for over a century, there was something rather symbolic about that.
On the other side of the equation, the crowd seemed largely content: Surrey had proclaimed the day a sell-out, and the overwhelming majority of ticket-holders (approximately 16,000 out of 21,339) stayed on to watch the women’s game. “I struggled in the field because I could not hear a thing!” Oval Invincibles’ Suzie Bates said afterwards. “We’ve been there when it has just been your mum, your dad and the dog. And this is the norm now – how cool.” More evidence, if it were needed, that the ECB has (if largely by accident) found a sweet-spot for double-headers via the identical team brands of The Hundred.
And we did finally get a toss, albeit six minutes later than planned. Invincibles won and would bowl first –despite the absence of the leading pace bowler Marizanne Kapp through illness. There was just time for a crowd chorus of “happy birthday” for Alice Capsey, 18 years old on Thursday, before play got under way.
Taking a wicket in the opening powerplay seemed as good a way for Capsey to celebrate as any – Bess Heath caught at backward point attempting the reverse. Minutes later, though, Capsey was limping from the field, having twisted her ankle diving awkwardly at backward point. She returned for the final 30 balls of the innings to help take the crucial wicket of top-scorer Jemimah Rodrigues (51 from 32 balls), running in from the cover boundary to hold the catch, though she did not bowl again.
Would she bat? At one stage, with Bates (46 from 34) and Lauren Winfield-Hill (74 not out from 42) unleashing a flurry of boundaries as they hared after Superchargers’ target of 144, it looked like the question would be moot: the Invincibles opening pair added 104 runs in 67 balls before Bates finally slog-swept into the hands of deep midwicket.
But with 40 needed from the last 34 balls, the stage was set for a birthday cameo. Off her third ball, Capsey carted Jenny Gunn for six down the ground. Then came not just one but two, three and four consecutive boundaries off Linsey Smith and just like that – with 16 balls still remaining of the innings – the job was a good ’un.
“The birthday cake is in the fridge and will be eaten later,” Capsey joked at the end of the match. “I am OK. Lots of strapping and ice this evening, and then we’ll assess tomorrow but I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Earlier, her absence from the attack had meant that the Invincibles captain, Dane van Niekerk, relied heavily on the Welsh 17-year-old left-arm spinner Sophia Smale. The teenager was called up to play in the tournament at the eleventh hour, after an injury to Emma Jones, and Van Niekerk admitted to not even being confident of how to pronounce her name in the eve-of-match press conference (it rhymes with “gale”, in case you were wondering).
But tasked with bowling the second set of the match, Smale delivered. Alyssa Healy, who had celebrated her debut in 100-ball cricket by smashing Mady Villiers for six over long-on, miscued her to mid-off. Meanwhile at the other end Shabnim Ismail – clocked at 78mph during the match – bowled the Superchargers captain, Hollie Armitage, leaving the visitors 38 for three after 26 balls.
It was left to Rodrigues, fresh from seeing India to victory against England in the semi-final of the Commonwealth Games, to spearhead the rescue operation; while the South African Laura Wolvaardt ensured a strong finish (27 runs from the final 15 balls), despite being caught at extra cover off the final ball of the innings, one run short of a half-century.
Sam Curran was the matchwinner as he steered Oval Invincibles to a thrilling three-wicket victory over Northern Superchargers at the Oval.
Curran scored a scintillating 60 to see Invincibles home with three balls remaining, having been dropped on 46 by Adam Lyth in a moment that proved match-defining.
Lyth himself had earlier been dropped on one, before registering the fastest 50 in the history of the Hundred, off just 17 balls. Exceptional bowling from the frugal Sunil Narine (three for 11) restricted Superchargers to 157 for seven.
Thanks to Sam Curran's pyrotechnics, it was not enough. Jordan Cox (48 off 29) played an exceptional supporting role before Tom Curran (18 off seven) secured the victory for the home side in another breathless encounter in south London.
If 143 felt a formidable total – last year, the highest successful run-chase in the women’s competition had been 141 – Winfield-Hill scarcely cared. “I feel like I was making up shots that I haven’t played for years as I went along,” she said. “It was great fun.”
There was good fortune – Katie Levick dropped a simple chance at short third when Bates had acquired just 10 runs – but mainly it was a case of two experienced batters, with the full gamut of shots between them, relishing their chance to open the competition with a bang.
With Capsey determined to finish the job herself, Van Niekerk – having eagerly anticipated playing in her first cricket match since the Women’s Big Bash League in November 2021 – did not even get the chance to bat. No one will mind less than her.