James Vince guides Southern Brave to perfect start in Hundred defence

The fireworks very much happened before play started as the second season of the Hundred got under way with a deeply one-sided win for the inaugural champions, Southern Brave, who cantered over the line with 30 balls to spare to win by nine wickets. Welsh Fire mustered barely a spark throughout as they lost first the toss, then a succession of wickets and finally, inevitably, the match.

James Vince and Alex Davies turned Brave’s run chase, never the most daunting, into a gentle procession with an opening partnership of 72, and though Davies fell for 26 the electric Vince was unbeaten on 71 when he was denied the chance of scoring the winning runs by Jake Ball, with the scores level, bowling a no ball.

It was an imperfect end to what, for all the emphatic excellence of the home side’s performance, was in many respects an imperfect opening. For a start it was a little light on household names, thanks to Jonny Bairstow’s announcement on the eve of the tournament that he would prefer to rest than to play for Fire, and the T20 between South Africa and Ireland in Bristol taking out both Fire’s David Miller – who anyway turned out to be injured – and Brave’s Quinton de Kock.

There will be better matches, greater drama, infinitely more tension on other occasions but the youthful stream of fans heading into the Ageas Bowl on a gorgeous summer’s evening, with the sun straining to break through a rippled, hazy layer of cloud before finally succeeding, with a timing few players would match, just before the start of play, was in itself a convincing counter-argument to this tournament’s many sceptics.

Some of the novelties designed to attract the school-holiday crowd turned out not to be overwhelming successes. This game, for example, started a few minutes late because of the amount of coloured smoke generated by the pre-match fireworks, which briefly settled like a thick, pastel-coloured fog across the ground. They do say there is no smoke without Fire. The players took the field once it cleared, though given what followed the fog seemed simply to have shifted from the field into the heads of the visiting side.

The innings started badly, with Joe Clarke out to the fourth ball without a run on the board, chipping meekly to Marcus Stoinis at cover, and continued similarly. The fact that the first six of this year’s tournament, and by a margin the outstanding shot of the opening innings, was hit in the 19th of 20 five-ball overs by Noor Ahmed, Fire’s 17-year-old No9, tells its own story. As Chris Jordan started that over the score was 90 off 90, and thanks largely to that shot and an Adam Zampa four they limped to a far from daunting total of 107.

Fire’s search for momentum drove them eventually to desperation. At the start of the 12th over Ben Duckett hit to mid-on, called for a run and set off. He was halfway down the pitch before Josh Cobb moved from the other end, the fact the ball was going straight to a fielder having dampened his enthusiasm for the whole enterprise, so turned back. By doing so he missed the start of Cobb’s own desperate sprint, which took him almost to the other end before he appreciated that Duckett was back where he started and that he would have to do it all again in the other direction. Alex Davies, the wicketkeeper, took off the bails at his end and tossed the ball to James Fuller, who dropped it in the process of attempting to do likewise, fortunately in the direction of the stumps. It all ended with both batters on the ground, Jordan simultaneously appealing to both umpires, a rare double video review, and Cobb heading back to the bench.

If the fourth ball of the first innings had set the tone for the remainder, a similarly telling moment came from the fifth ball of Brave’s reply. David Payne bowled it and Vince pulled straight to Ryan Higgins at deep square leg. Higgins took a few steps forward, crouched, got his hands in position, and let the ball fall through them, bounce through his legs, and roll away for four.

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When Payne came back for the third over Vince sent his first ball rocketing through midwicket for four, and after a single Davies hit a couple more.

After their powerplay they had 42, precisely double Fire’s score at the same stage, and the die was very much cast.

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