|| AFP ||
South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk led from the front with an unbeaten fifty as her Oval Invincibles defeated the Manchester Originals with just two balls to spare in the inaugural match of English cricket's new Hundred competition on Wednesday.
Invincibles skipper van Niekerk's 56 not out off 42 balls saw the hosts finish on 139-5 as they chased down a target of 136 for a five-wicket win at their Oval home ground.
A tournament three years in the making finally got underway following a 12-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic with a standalone women's match.
Of all the fears expressed about the Hundred, be its impact on the existing 18-county structure and scepticism about its projected £50 million ($69 million) revenues, few concerned the quality of cricket.
And in a match featuring five South Africa internationals there was plenty of high-class play for a sparse crowd of 7,395 to enjoy.
Meanwhile, the higher pitched than usual cheers of Wednesday's spectators suggested the tournament was on its way to achieving one of its main aims -- a younger, more female audience.
"It's been a tough 12 months, injury wise, and I was really nervous," van Niekerk told the BBC.
"But I put in a lot of work and I was glad I pulled through for the team.
"I had so much fun, it's a great tournament to be part of."
'What a night'
Meanwhile, Originals captain Kate Cross was elated despite being on the losing side.
"Obviously we're disappointed not getting over the line but what a night," she said.
"I thought they batted brilliantly in the circumstances. It was a great night for the Oval girls on their home pitch."
The England pace bowler added: "It's the biggest and loudest crowd I've ever played in front of, including international cricket."
Not everything went according to plan, however.
The Hundred, shorter than a 120-ball Twenty20, has been designed to be finished in two-and-a-half hours so as to suit the needs of terrestrial television.
But Wednesday's match, perhaps unsurprisingly, over ran its alloted time.
And the very start of the match saw the 100 balls per innings match transformed into 101 when Proteas pace bowler Marizanne Kapp -- the wife of van Niekerk -- bowled a legside wide.
But Kapp soon had the honour of taking the competition's first wicket when Emma Lamb was caught behind for a duck.
South Africa opener Lizelle Lee's 42 helped the Originals reach 135 for six off their 100 balls, with India's Harmanpreet Kaur, one of the truly global stars of the women's game, adding an entertaining 29.
Among the innovations being pioneered in the Hundred, which does away with the concept of the six-ball over, is the tactical time-out.
This produced one of the biggest cheers of the evening when the break allowed a young girl in the stands to sing a soaring rendition of Wiz Khalifa's 'See You Again' over a presenter's microphone -- a performance applauded by the players on the field as well as her fellow spectators.
Cross took two wickets in two balls before the she was denied a hat-trick.
It looked she would lead the visitors to victory, however, when the Invincibles slumped to 26-3.
But the married couple of van Niekerk and the big-hitting Kapp turned the tide.
Dropped catches cost the Originals dear, and van Niekerk brought up her fifty with another boundary.
Van Niekerk, fittingly, hit the winning runs when an edged boundary flew past the wicketkeeper, a four greeted with shrieks of joy from her adoring fan club.