I could have interviewed any number of world class cricketers for this feature on The Hundred, which runs for a month from July 21. Birmingham Phoenix's Moeen Ali and Amy Jones were available, as was Trent Rockets' Joe Root. But trust me, none of them would have the sheer endless patience to explain to me, a total cricketing ignoramus, what on Earth it is and how it'll change the face of the sport forever. Only one man could do that. Someone who's shown 41 years of forbearance when faced with my, shall we say, lack of leather on willow enlightenment. Ladies and gentleman, I give you... my brother, Matt.
You've convinced me to go to a match with you and I don't know anything except both teams in a match get 100 balls, right?
Yeah, and whoever gets the most runs in those 100 balls wins. And this ‘Hundred’ format has never happened before in the history of cricket, it's brand new.
And is the thinking to try and make cricket more exciting than, say, a five day test that can end in a draw?
Yes. Exactly. At the moment, the shortest form of cricket in the game is T20 and that can still take three and a half hours. The Hundred will be more like two and half hours a game. You don't have to invest all your life into it, you know? You can go on an evening. It will be more family orientated, [editor's note - there’s live DJs, music and entertainment, with artists like Brum’s own Lady Leshurr performing]. The cricket will be properly exciting because the pressure is really on to be hitting fours and sixes very regularly. Smashing the ball. A batsman can't come in and play safe to get a feel for the wicket, or a feel for the where the fielders are. They’ve got to be walloping the ball from the get-go.
That sounds pretty cool.
And there's so much we don't really know about it because it's never been played before. So we don't really know what a good target would be for the first team to set.
How many teams are there?
Eight teams [above] and in Birmingham, at Edgbaston stadium, will be Birmingham Phoenix. Who you now support.
Are Birmingham Phoenix’s players all from Warwickshire?
No. There was a draft for players to take part in The Hundred, like the NFL, which means some of the best players in the world are playing, and not necessarily at their nearest club.
There will be three overseas players in each team, alongside some of the country’s best domestic players.
So who have we got playing?
There are World Cup winners in both our men’s and women’s teams, the likes of Moeen Ali [below], Chris Woakes and Amy Jones. And given there are 18 county cricket teams but only 8 teams in The Hundred, they've condensed the best players in the world — men and women — into less teams. One youngster we've got called Finn Allen, a kiwi, has the highest career strike rate of all time in T20 cricket. He scored 215 runs in his eight innings for Lancashire, and we've pinched him to play for Birmingham Phoenix.
Will Birmingham Phoenix win? I can't add another losing sports team to my life.
No, you certainly can't. Will they win? Umm... I think that's half of the beauty of this. We don't know! Both the men's and women's teams look good — by the way prize money in the women's game is, quite rightly, exactly what it is in the men's — but Southern Brave look really strong. Ultimately this version of the sport is quite an unknown entity. Which is why it's a good time to give it chance. Get to a game and see if it makes you tick. This isn't going to be your archetypal cricket crowd. It's not all ageing men asleep with The Telegraph over their faces getting slowly sunburnt, this should be a real mix of younger people and families, attracted by both the sport and the wider entertainment. Cricket diehards and newbies. And the idea is that it will help to grow the game by getting more families to fall in love with cricket.
Will it kill off the longer form of the game?
No. Absolutely not. You like your food, right?
You know I do.
You'd like to go to Simpsons for a nine course tasting menu, yeah?
Test cricket is like the nine course tasting menu. There's a narrative to it, the chef takes you on a journey and there might be bits you’re not so keen and bits you love — it's intricate and nuanced. But The Hundred, The Hundred is like going to the Original Patty Men for a bacon cheeseburger and dirty fries. Which you also like, right?
There's room for both types of food in the world. And there's room for both types of cricket. Oh, and as an added bonus, there’s going to be plenty of food and drink on offer at The Hundred too.
Does everyone play everyone once?
Sort of. It's a round robin format, everyone plays everyone once except your local rivals who you play twice. In our case the local rivals are Trent Rockets over in Nottingham.
Am I going to be baffled by the rules?
No. You don't need to know where deep mid-wicket stands or what a jaffa is. Just the simple golden rule that each team has to get the most runs they can in 100 balls. Because this is going to be a slog-fest. Panic batting and death bowling. The pressure is right on them from the first ball to the last. You're going to enjoy it. And Brummies have got Edgbaston stadium on their door step — this beautiful amphitheatre, one of the best cricket stadiums in the country — many have yet to enjoy it. Now's the time.
Tickets start from just £12 for adults, £5 for under 16s, and under 6s go free.
Venue: The Bracebridge, Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield B74 2YR; Website Choice: Spaghetti vongole (£16.95) Chooser: Arron (front of house)
Everything about this meal was an utter delight and another reminder (as I'm emailed monthly to be told), that I need to take more Brum food trips north. It was the most "on holiday" I've felt since I last went "on holiday", which I believe was in the late 90s. From the 40-minute drive to the long and winding driveway leading deep into Sutton Park, this felt like getting away from it all, if for only a few hours. The wafts of seafood billowing out of the kitchen hit you long before you enter, as does the beautiful buzz of people enjoying themselves. The Bracebridge has an enormous outdoor area so switching our seating to al fresco was easy, allowing panoramic views of the park's giant lake. Something I don't think I've ever been compelled to write in a review is how obvious it was that the staff were having fun. Not just how they interacted with guests but how they joked and jostled with one another. A joy to watch, they are clearly a band of buddies. Always a danger that the food won't live up to the expectation when a venue grabs your heart early on. Not a bit of it, here. Focaccia was the right amount salty and olives the perfect appetiser for what was to come. The absolutely stunning gin and tonic cured salmon starter was possibly the most visually beautiful and slightly daft dish I've had in a long time. The salmon smoky and fleshy, it comes on a masterfully pretty plate of extras (I mean take a look at it here) and — here's the adorably daft bit — a teeny tiny gin and tonic on your plate, cucumber twirled up inside. Miseries might mock but it had us beaming with delight. Taste-wise it was trumped, but only just, by the far less pretty fresh crab, tomato and peppercorn mousse, with melba toast. Extra melba toast was needed to scoop up this deliriously divine shellfish. A "must order", it confirmed my suspicions that in the right hands crab is the planet's finest ingredient. I won't bore you with the details of the surf and turf which I couldn't find fault with, but it was utterly upstaged by the dish of the night; spaghetti vongole. If you put a gun to my head the pasta perhaps could have been a smidgen more al dente, but it mattered not a jot, thanks to the contrasting freshness of the clams and the deep (like Inception-level deep) flavour of the sauce. My previous favourite vongole was in a tiny trattoria in Rome. It isn't anymore. This was a masterclass in saucing and, I suspect, a masterclass in sourcing too. Fresh and flavoursome, if I close my eyes I can still taste it now. I adored this meal. Can you tell? Go on holiday, in Sutton Coldfield. Menu
ASTON HALL, WARTS N'ALL
Welcome back to one of Brum’s most iconic buildings. The 400-year-old Jacobean hall wears its history well; from the scars of surviving the Civil War – cannonball-blasted staircase and all - to the devils in the detail of its ceiling. What’s more, the hall was most famously visited by King Charles I on the brink of the Civil War, long before he got his block chopped off by Cromwell and co. although the famous pimpled 'warts n'all' portrait of Cromwell hangs alongside works by Gainsborough and George Romney. If you’re after something a little less lethal and more laid back, then Lady Holte’s garden is nothing short of a tonic. With all the soul-healing powers of a glorious garden without any of the graft, this is a geometric godsend, so pruned and particular that you could set your watch by it. It’s easy to see why said garden has also inspired the Stable Yard Café’s signature Astonishing Afternoon Tea, which has been specially created by the Sous Chef from BMAG’s Edwardian Tea Rooms, who is also serving hot and hearty helpings at lunchtime for the first time. Aston Hall opened its doors again yesterday (July 7). Tickets
NOT YOUR ROUTINE POUTINE
Frankly delightful Moseley shop and work space, Folk Like These, are doing a walk-up and order day of poutine, harking back to their former days as street food traders. Poutine (pronounced poo-teen and a word that when you say it over and over again quite quickly ceases to have any meaning) is that nawty Canadian dish of fries, sweet gravy and cheese curd and absolutely everyone needs to try it. Prices for a bowl of the good stuff start at £6 with vegan options and a beef brisket number. Co-owner Millie Thornton-Clarke used to live in Canada, if you're wondering what the connection is, and was a regular trader at Brum Yum Yum, in Kings Heath. The event runs tomorrow (July 9) from 5pm to 8pm or until the much more likely sell out. You can either take your risks with just rocking up on the day, or play safe and pre-order on Instagram direct message.
Be Festival is one of Brum's best and often most bizarre get togethers. Because getting together is less of an option, some of this summer's events are online but an outdoorsy one that has caught my eye involves you going to watch the sunset at Edgbaston Reservoir at 10pm (Saturday, July 10) and returning to watch it re-emerge at 4am on Sunday (July 11). And you do it in the presence of astrophysicist Natalie Williams (sunset) and cultural astronomy expert Marc Frincu (sunrise). There's an arty element that I can't quite understand provided by Spaniards Edurne Rubio and María Jerez, who won't be present for obvious reasons. Whatever twist they will manage to apply from afar is pretty much what Be Fest is all about — the unknown — but this natural, stratospheric theatre will be a one of kind conversation on scientific and maybe even spiritual levels.
Tilt, one of the largest aerial and physical theatre festivals in the UK will open in Digbeth on Monday, July 12, and will run until Friday, July 23. Produced by Rogueplay Theatre, it's a mix of free family outdoor shows, world premieres, discussions, circus sessions, masterclasses and workshops. The opening night's Tilted Circus (£20) looks likely to be where the real hair-raising stuff lies, promising a packed night of big time performers. Artists include silk queens Mim Wheeler and Kim Wildborne, LJ Marles straps extraordinaire and Jordi Campbell, a floor threading contortionist from the US. More
In joy-making collab news Moseley's Covered Wagon will be bringing their Indian heat to Digbeth's Bop Kebabs at the Old Crown. That's the sort of tag team that intrigues me. Then Bop Kebabs head over to Kings Heath's The Juke for some pop-uppery.
The Rep will present a not-for-profit production about the Grenfell Inquiry, in November. Tickets start at £15 and go on sale Tuesday (July 13). Details
The Custard Factory's Mockingbird Cinema have curated eight movies to be shown in the really rather pretty setting of Rowheath Pavilion, Bournville, July 15 to 18. Tickets are £12 for adults and £10 for the wee ones.
Zumhof Biergarten-based Oso Streetfood are launching Taco Tuesdays, knocking prices down to a dangerously affordable £1 a pop, as of July 13. More on their Instagram but you need to book a bench on Zumhof's site. —
No offence but chances are you're not aged between 16 and 25. But if you are or you know somebody who is and if you/they want to get into photography, music production, dance, film, digital arts or theatre then this free support looks, as a 16-year-old might say, "well peng".
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