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A Summer of Cricket (finally!), but not as we knew it...

Anyone who knows me knows I love cricket, and after volunteering at the Cricket World Cup in 2019, it was only natural that I was going to find a way to get on the volunteer squad at the Surrey County Cricket Club - the Oval Ambassadors. After signing-up over a year ago, I finally had my first shift at the inaugural men's Hundred cricket match (Oval Invincibles vs. Manchester Originals) and saw out the summer with the England vs. India test match - a thrilling way to end the summer.

One of the things that immediately hit me about joining the Oval Ambassadors was how ridiculously nice the group was. I had originally joined the team (affectionately known as the Ambys) back in March last year, but as soon as I had been accepted onto the team, lockdown came in which put the kibosh on cricket crowds for over a year. I'd been in correspondence with them throughout the year, but as I hadn't really met any of them except for over Zoom, so it was a bit strange going into the stadium as a total newbie. Some of them have been volunteering there for almost 10 years, as they banded together on the back of London 2012, and they have built a really great team down there. I think I'm one of about three people under the age of 40, as most of them are retired, but they are a truly fabulous bunch.

The first thing I was handed when I got to the gate was my accreditation (no photos allowed because of the risk posed by forgery) and I was amazed to see that it said AAA+ on it - yes, they had given me an Access All Areas pass! I thought this was really cool. I was then given my Hundred uniform, which was essentially the same New Balance t-shirt and jacket that they give the staff for The Hundred, so it looked quite cool, and I was also given my regular red Ambys uniform. I was on the Hobbs Gate, which is on the Oval tube station side of the ground, telling people where to go when they showed me their tickets. I was paired-up with a wonderful woman called Myrna, who has been volunteering with the Ambys since the beginning and she showed me around the stadium and what the names of the new stands and rooms are. It was boiling and the Hobbs Gate gets the sun all day, so it was pretty sweaty under the face mask when we were greeting people.

Love or hate the idea, The Hundred is probably here to stay, and it came in with a bang. When word first came out about it, the purists were up in arms complaining about damaging the spirit of the game - that it's just not cricket. Go back 20 years ago though, and remember that T20 was pretty unpopular with the test stalwarts when it first came out - and look at it now. I'll be honest, The Hundred didn't make much sense to me when I first heard about it, when we already have a fantastic short format version of the game - why invent a completely new format, why not just invest in the county format?

Are you selling programmes?

The Hundred is 100% digital, so you need a smartphone to download the app and your ticket (no printouts) and they don't sell programmes or give away scorecards - which actually upset quite a lot of people). When describing the difference between the scoring in cricket and the scoring in The Hundred, the simplest way of putting it is that one is imperial and one is metric. The traditional cricket game is Imperial (not surprising, as the countries that traditionally play are the Imperial ones), but The Hundred has changed the format to metric - everything in 5s and 10s. This might be easier if you're very new to the game, but I imagine that it'll become very confusing when you eventually get to a one-day or test match.

The lack of scorecards and programmes was sort-of smart in a commercial way, because if people wanted mementos, they went to the shop and bought a t-shirt which is way mroe expensive, although as someone who collects programmes I would have liked one. The GP on a programme must be way higher than a shirt though, and if they're not already doing digital scorecards on the app, they need to!

When the game started, no one thought to tell anyone about the fireworks (not even the players) and it was a bit startling. The same happened the evening before for the inaugural women's game, so we were slightly forewarned by that. The Oval Invincibles (I call them the Vinnies) won by 9 runs in the end, and we were able to watch most of the second innings which was really good fun.

All in all, I actually really enjoyed The Hundred (and I really liked the uniform they gave me, it fitted really well). The atmosphere was really great, and it has done incredible things for the women's game, which needed a platform to showcase the amazing talent that they have. I think they need to be careful not to alienate current fans who already loved the game, for example, my dad is really against The Hundred and I don't think he'll ever really get into it. It's important to get new people in, but not at the cost of existing fans - they need to find a way to placate them in some way. For me, making the women's game more of a spectacle is good enough - there are some absolute superstars coming through. The only thing that really irks me a bit is that it's sponsored by KP snacks. It's my personal opinion that premium sporting events should not be sponsored by junk food (see Ronaldo at the Euros if you want a physical representation of this).

England vs. India - game on!

England and India were going into the Oval test with the series at 1-1, and with the fifth test taking place up at Old Trafford, I felt like this would be a really important win. The English weather is always unpredictable, and going up north in mid-September was always going to be a bit risky. The sun was shining behind the cloud and it was actually really warm, so it was going to be a great few days! I put my name down to volunteer for days three, four and five.

For the first two days, I was at the Alec Stewart entrance, and my duties consisted of letting people know where to go to get to their seats and where the loos and merchandise stands were. The Alec Stewart entrance is actually a really cool place to be for people-spotting, because it's where the media and hospitality entrances are. I saw Shane Warne, Aggers, Michael Holding, Ian Bell, Phil Tufnell and Michael Vaughan. The other volunteers were quite startled by the fact that Michael Vaughan said good morning to me. He rarely greets anyone apparently.

For the Tailenders fans out there, I said 'Go Well' to Greg James on the morning of day three and he responded with a cheerful 'Cheers'. Later in the day I also said 'Go Well' to Felix White and he looked terrified and shuffled away from me quite quickly. I don't think he was expecting it, and I was wearing a face mask so he may have been slightly startled, especially as I was wearing bright red. I ended up telling a lot of people ove rthe course of the test to 'Go Well', but didn't get back as many 'Cheers' as I thought I might. That's okay though, I doubt they were expecting it.

All in all, I bloody loved volunteering as an Oval Ambassador, and I'm really excited about doing it again next year. I wasn't able to do as much as I'd have liked this year, because the earlier matches required you to be double-jabbed before I'd been fully-vaccinated, and then I ended up securing a work project which is why I couldn't do more Hundred games. Next year though, I should be able to do a lot more there, and it will hopefully be just as good.

As it turned out, the India camp was struck with Covid for the fifth test which was eventually cancelled, although the BCCI are apparently looking to reschedule for next year so they don't have to default it so the series goes to a draw. Who knows? No one has officially won the test yet - let's see what happens!

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