The first hundred is the hardest one

A look at my time at the Oval for the first game.

The woman behind me thought DRS stood for doctors. A friend at the game kept referring to the Oval team as Surrey. The queues for ice cream and fish and chips was jammed while the wine and beer sections were relatively easy to navigate. And we saw the first legal back to back over bowled by a woman asked to do so by her wife/captain.

My first trips to professional cricket were watching Men at the MCG swear at each other so loud you could hear them echo around an empty stadium in a city that had long since given up on domestic cricket. Drunken fans in the outer piled on extra abuse to the opposition. I've been to games where hundreds of people were taken out of the stadium, another where Shane Warne had to plead with the crowd to stop throwing things at the English. My first ever Test match had an Australian fan smack a Pakistani player in the head with a flag when he tried to pick up the ball.

The first hundred game could not have been more removed from what I grew up with. But, if this was a kid's first game of cricket, and for many, it appeared so, they will see the sport in a different way than I did as a child.

My family travelled with me to the first Hundred game. It seems like I wasn't the only journo to do this. There are a few journos over the years that have taken their families to cricket matches, but cricket matches in the UK aren't set up to be family affairs.

They certainly weren't when I grew up in Melbourne. But things changed there a few years back. When I took my wife home she wanted to see some of a Boxing Day Test. When she walked up to the MCG the person at the gate let them know how they could store it and where the family changing facilities were. When she turned up at Edgbaston a few years back, she was told you couldn't enter with a stroller. And there has been lots of passive-aggressive eyes/tuts as we've taken our kids to county matches over the years.

English cricket grounds are generally not a place for families. The facilities often aren't up to scratch. The attitudes can be worse. Unless you're proper cricket obsessives like my wife and I, it's not really a place you go with younger families.

Last night was probably the first time where it felt like our family were welcome at a match, and not bothering anyone. This as my one-year-old daughter yapped away loudly, and screamed through the pop concert in the middle. My youngest obsessed over the left arm bowlers and wrist spinners, while proudly (and incorrectly) stating he could have taken that catch. My older boy tried to work out that scoring system, which troubled him, as he'd only just learnt the old method. And my wife and I weren't one of a few young cricket families; there were families everywhere.

I have been to a lot of cricket in my career, and there are crowds that stand out. There have been banging last day Test crowds at places like Lord's with the crowd desperate to see Sachin. Sydney Thunder was the youngest cricket crowd I've ever been too; It felt like one adult for every 10 kids. Incredible moments like Afghanistan's first World cup match. A moving match at the Wanderers for an ODI a couple of years back. A Mumbai Indians game was the biggest cricketainment extravaganza I've attended. Trinidad and Guyana perhaps the craziest parties. And there were some great friendly crowds at women's matches during the 2017 World Cup.

But game one of the Hundred at the Oval was something else, and it felt so alien to my previous cricket experience. Because this felt like a family cricket event, I can't think of any time I've ever been in that before. It still felt very much like cricket, even if some of the changes were a bit bizarre. In all honesty, cricket changes have always been a bit bizarre, and some things from this will work, and they'll stick around, and many other things will die off.

But someone hit a boundary, and the crowd liked that. And the zing bails lit up, and that was fun. It didn't matter that half the crowd couldn't remember the name of the two teams. It was cricket, a form of. For some, not the real cricket. But I grew up playing backyard cricket, indoor cricket, and watching beach cricket on TV, what form of cricket you like does not bother me, there are enough gatekeepers in our sport.

If you like cricket so you can get drunk with your friends, because you think the sweaters are cool or only when India play Pakistan, that's ok.

One of the greatest parts of the IPL is simply that more women started watching it, it opened the sport up to an audience who hadn't felt like it was there sport before. The Big Bash did something similar in Australia. And if the Hundred only succeeds in that one department, it will be a huge step forward.

And there are obviously gimmicks, but you know what my kids like, fireworks, music, and cricket cards. My kids biggest interest in cricket so far outside of playing in the backyard has been where we got sent a box of the cricket cards. My son sleeps with them in his bed. Although, there might be a reason he picked this card. My other son is now only obsessed with the players who he owns a card of. Last night he was cheering on Kate Cross, not because I know her, but because he had a shiny silver card of hers.

While all this might feel gimmicky to you, I was born into a cricket family, and even I know how much these kinds of tricks work. I grew up in the Victorian Bushranger era, where all my friends wanted a Bushranger shirt or the Australian Canary yellow shirt. Of course, our parents thought this was stupid. My dad wouldn't even allow me to go to ODIs because it wasn't proper cricket. But it was through all this, and my collection of cricket cards, that I kept falling in love with the sport.

We all know the hundred is a slightly odd concept designed by  panicked administrators who let the game slip for generations. And now they're trying to catch up in one fell swoop by copying the Big Bash, IPL and baseball. It's like watching a number XI learn the reverse sweep while drunk. But as horrendous as many of the ECB's choices are, cricket is great. That is why it's still relevant over 250 years after becoming professional and why a billion of us watch and moan about it.

This game allowed us both options. Hell, if you just want to go to the ground and shout a bunch with your friends, then last might might have felt awkward with more 12-year-old girls watching on beside you. But there were fans still there, beers deep, screaming. But if you had a cricket family, then the vibes felt immaculate.

Last night felt like a cricket match worthy of watching. And that's where it starts. The length of the over doesn't matter because we have changed that a bunch of times. The length of the match doesn't either, as we've kept tinkering there too. What almost always matters is cricket. And being in that ground last night, it felt like a celebration of the sport.

There are things that traditional cricket fans won't like about the hundred. And the league comes with question marks, problems and perhaps the worst marketing since New Coke. But last night I watched a game of cricket in England with my family, surrounded by other families, and we saw top quality women's domestic cricket match where a married South African couple won the game pretty much on their own.

The cricket felt the same, everything else felt alien and wonderful to me.

I grew up in the MCG where they used to throw piss on you at ODIs while pinging golf balls at the opposition players. Last night at the Oval was every bit as much cricket as what I was grown on, but the crowd and the feel was different. And something I won't soon forget.

When we came home, my son wanted to talk about Sophie Eggington (Eccleston), and the next day he was still talking about what he called the one hundred. Or, to put it another way, he was talking about cricket.