On Wednesday 10th August 2022, two Somerset players made remarkable centuries. One was scored for Somerset by Ben Green in a RLODC tie against Durham at Taunton, the other, the first ever in ‘The Hundred’, by Will Smeed for Birmingham Phoenix in a match against Southern Brave at Edgbaston.
Both performances were exceptional and both worthy of the outpouring of praise that has followed but, for me at least, it is the innings of Ben Green that will last longest in the memory. This is not simply because Green’s 157 was the higher score, nor was it because, after a relatively slow start, his last hundred runs were made considerably quicker than Smeed’s total score of 101 not out. And neither is it down to the fact that I am somehow biased against Smeed because his runs were scored in a tournament that has already undermined county cricket and threatens to be part of changes that will bring about its’ complete demise.
So let me be clear at the outset that at a personal level I am delighted for Will Smeed. Watching him score runs against Glamorgan in the Vitality Blast this year was fun and I hope that he will continue to delight Somerset fans for many years to come. But equally I hope his extraordinary talent will extend to longer formats of the game and that in time he becomes a regular red ball cricketer too.
So having said all that, why do I think Ben Green’s century will be remembered longer than Will Smeed’s? The answer is quite simply because of the context in which they were scored. Green’s century had a backstory, his innings, kindled in the furnace of affliction, came as the wheels were coming off Somerset’s run chase and at a time when defeat seemed inevitable. Emotionally engaged in the team I was supporting, it was a privilege to witness the innings even though, in the end, the victory that had always seemed improbable remained tantalisingly and agonisingly just out of reach. Perhaps I’m just a sentimental old fool, but there was a tear in my eye as I stood to applaud Green’s heroic efforts.
In contrast Smeed’s century was scored in the way that the shortest format of the game demands, with a foot down on the gas pursuit of runs from the very start. When such an approach is dictated, however skilfully an innings is executed, it leaves no room for a narrative to develop. And so, though pleased for Will Smeed on a personal level, and glad that it was one of Somerset’s own who achieved the honour of being the first to score a century in The Hundred, with no emotional investment in the team for whom he was playing, I took only a passing interest in his achievement.
When the ebb and flow of a game of cricket is lost, the result is that every game ultimately becomes the same, distinguished only by how successful, or perhaps lucky, the batsmen are in connecting bat with ball in such a way that spectators are constantly on the look out for a crowd catch. Games like that recently witnessed by the Somerset faithful don’t come around every day, not even every year, but when they do show up, oh how thrilling they are to watch. This is in contrast to high scoring games in the shorter formats which really are becoming two a penny and, for me at least, less interesting and enjoyable as a result. And so, ironically, the very efforts to make cricket more exciting have only succeeded in making it more dull.
This was brought home to me this week when I was recalling some of the great innings I’ve been privileged to see over the years, be that live or on television. Ian Botham’s 145 in the Ashes test at Headingly in 1981, Ben Stokes’ 135, also at Headingly, when together with Jack Leach’s 1* they together secured another famous victory over Australia in 2019. Roelef van de Merwe’s 165 to bring about an epic victory against Surrey in 2017 in a match when all seemed lost. None of these were in the shortest format of the game – and all of them had context. In contrast, until someone reminded me of it, I had completely forgotten I’d once seen Chris Gayle score 150 in a T20 game at Taunton. Impressive hitting though it undoubtedly was, in a game full of impressive hitting, Chris Gayle’s was not an innings that has remained fixed in my mind because, in truth, it was part of a far less enjoyable game, one that, despite the impressive strike rate, even verged on boring.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not such a killjoy as to want to see the Blast disappear along with the Hundred. On the contrary, for me it’s a fun filled few hours to be enjoyed intermittently. Because like fast food, fast cricket should not be an every day indulgence. Just as nobody interested in maintaining a healthy diet should indulge in the dubious pleasures of a McDonald’s three times in a single week, so T20 games are best served as an occasional treat. Three short format games a week, as well as being prohibitively expensive for most, is not good for anyone’s digestion and two short format competitions each season, with precious little to distinguish them in terms of actual game play is, without doubt, one too many. Short format cricket, rather than being the main course, should remain a highly enjoyable side dish best enjoyed in small helpings.
As then in cricket, so too in life. Fill our days with superficial amusement and we will find that, though enjoyable for a time, we will be left deeply dissatisfied. We need variety in our lives if we want them to be interesting, moments, even, of seemingly maddening monotony if we want them to be memorable, if we want them to be meaningful.
And that is why the amount of four day cricket needs to be preserved too. Because if by virtue of the longer format, 50 over games have more variety and are thus more interesting than games of 20 overs or less, so too four and five day cricket, with their infinitely greater potential for variety, will inevitably prove to be the most interesting form of the game, at least for those whose love for cricket generates within them the necessary patience to sit through those slower periods of play waiting for the myriad intricacies of the game to unfold and reveal all their fascinating twists and turns.
So hearty congratulations to both Will Smeed and Ben Green this week. Both your knocks were genuinely awesome. But I’ll only be boring my grandchild about one of those innings in 30 years time. If Will Smeed wants me one day waxing lyrical about his batting then he too will have to produce a truly memorable performance.
And, immensely talented as he so obviously is, it is my great hope that one day he will. What’s more, when he does, I very much hope it’ll be for Somerset at Taunton where I, along with those who first supported him, will be there to see it.
And that’s something I think that even all Somerset fans can agree on.
Other ‘The Hundred’ Related Blogs:
To read ‘Brian and Stumpy visit The Repair Shop’, click here
To read ‘The Somerset Cricket Players Emporium’ click here
To read ‘A Cricket Taunt’, click here
Other Somerset cricket related blogs:
To read ‘A Song for Brian’, click here
To read ‘If Only’, click here
To read ‘How Covid-19 stole the the cricket season’, click here
To read ‘Eve of the RLODC limericks’ click here
To read ‘It’s coming home…’, click here
To read ‘A Song for Ben Green’, click here
To read ‘Enough Said…’, the last section of which is cricket related, click here
A Jack Leach Trilogy:
To read ‘For when we can’t see why’, click here
To read ‘WWJD – What would Jack Do?’, click here
To read ‘On Playing a Blinder’, click here
To read ‘Coping with Disappointment’, click here
To read ‘Somerset CCC – Good for the soul’, click here
To read ‘Longing for the pavilion whilst enjoying a good innings’, click here