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.

The Brave captain James Vince turned his side’s run chase, never the most daunting, into a gentle procession with an unbeaten innings of 71, the only thing stopping his evening from flirting with perfection coming when he was denied the chance of scoring the winning runs by Jake Ball, with the scores level, bowling a no ball.

“The bowlers did a fantastic job and from there the gameplan was fairly simple,” he said. “The only way we would let them back into the game was to lose early wickets so there wasn’t a huge amount of scoreboard pressure. Our new-ball bowlers bowled really well, we took early wickets and stayed in control.”

Those extras brought an imperfect end to what, for all the excellence of the home side’s performance, was in many respects an imperfect opening game. 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 South Africa’s T20 against Ireland in Bristol taking out a key player from each team.

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. When the players eventually came out it seemed the fog had not so much cleared as simply 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 never recovered. They eventually became so frantic that at one point Ben Duckett and Josh Cobb made such a hapless attempt to run a single that it ended with the bails off at both ends, both batters on the ground, Chris Jordan appealing to both umpires, a rare double video review and Cobb heading back to the bench. The fact that the first six of this year’s tournament, and by a margin the outstanding shot of Fire’s innings, was hit in the 19th of 20 five-ball overs by Noor Ahmed, their 17-year-old No 9, tells its own story, and Fire eventually limped to a total of 107 for seven.

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. For Brave, if not for Higgins, there was no looking back.

“We’ll turn it into a positive – we won the first two games last year and finished second bottom,” said Duckett, whose 31-ball 40 was by a margin the outstanding contribution to Fire’s innings. “You’re not going to win every game. You learn from this and you go again next week. If you lose three wickets in the powerplay you don’t win too many games. You keep believing but it was losing the fourth, the fifth and the sixth – it didn’t allow us to get going. These things happen.”

Duckett said that Bairstow’s absence would be “huge” because “he came in and won us two games last year”, but also that it would not decide his team’s fate. “We knew we were only getting him for two games and you can’t win a comp from two games,” he said. “He’s a top player and I’m sure he would have helped us, but we’ve got a great group of young players, so it’s all good.”