With the second year of The Hundred underway, Cameron Ponsonby analyses where the competition sits in the English cricketing landscape
Carry on my wayward son. There’ll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry no more.
The fourth format in a three-format world is back. The diamond or shit-heap of the summer, ready to grace your screens, eyes and ears for a full-on cricketing sensory experience once more.
You know I can’t stop (can’t stop), hooooow-IIIII-feel. I’m diggin’ on you, you’re diggin’ on me, we’re diggin’ on we. And oh I…
As a tournament, The Hundred was born to solve the problems of a stagnating sport, a response to an ECB survey in which just two per cent of children listed cricket as their favourite sport and only five per cent listed it in their top two. Twice as many kids recognised the WWE wrestler John Cena than England Test captain Alastair Cook, meaning Cook was twice as unrecognisable as a man whose catchphrase was “you can’t see me”.
Cricket needed a makeover. And it needed one fast.
The problem, however, was that whilst we all agreed on the sport needing a visit from Trinny and Susannah, we didn’t want anything touched.
And so, rather than redesigning what we had, a new competition was born, with the ECB playing the role of the unhappily married couple, deciding that the answer to all their problems was to have another baby.
And in many respects, it worked. The women’s game was rocket-boosted whilst the men’s came to terms with no longer operating as the only child.
It is the overriding contradiction of the tournament that it represents very different things to the men’s and women’s game. For the women’s game it added, whilst for the men’s, it overwhelmed.
It’s position in the men’s game is an argument that is only going to get more heated, with Andrew Strauss, chair of the ECB’s cricket committee, recently making his strongest hint yet that the high-performance review into domestic cricket will look to reduce the volume of cricket in the schedule.
But what’s going to go in order to make a men’s calendar including The Hundred sustainable? Remember, don’t touch my County Championship. Don’t touch my Vitality and don’t touch my Royal London.
In fact if anything, calls for the One-Day Cup to return to full strength are only going to get stronger and further complicate matters. England’s recent downturn in ODI form has coincided with the realisation that those waiting on the wings haven’t played the format since 2019. Cut to next year and you’ll have players vying for a World Cup spot in a format they haven’t played in four years. If England fail, the dots between not playing a format domestically and failing internationally are only too easy to join.
It is cluttered and it’s messy. Such is the overflowing of formats that The Hundred is currently both the ECBs premier competition and also the one that all-format superstars such as Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes are choosing to (sensibly) forgo for some rest.
In carving out an international window for players to be available for the competition, the ECB seem to have inadvertently invented something called a summer holiday.
“Say something like, ‘I’m gutted to not be joining up with the lads and lasses at the Welsh Fire’,” Jonny Bairstow texts his agent as he lathers himself in factor 50 somewhere on the Amalfi coast.
All the while, the women’s competition bubbles happily along with the path for progress clear, albeit shortened in 2022 to accommodate the Commonwealth Games. Attendances, bigger. Participation, up. Media coverage, more. Pay, more.
In conclusion, if all the lines are going up, I’m happy.
The average attendance of the women’s fixtures last year sat at around 8,000, with the competition coinciding with an uplift in girls starting the sport for the first time. And wages, whilst still considerably lower than the men’s, have been doubled from last year.
That being said, in terms of media coverage, according to the ECB, only 25 percent of written coverage was on the women’s competition. A negative, but one that is easily tracked for progress. Remember, line goes up, happy. Line goes down, sad.
It’s easy but perhaps also naive to assume improvements across the board are inevitable. Women’s sport is booming across the land and the increasing professionalisation of the sport means that with every year that passes a new young gun seems to arrive on the scene. Last year it was Alice Capsey, this year Freya Kemp, with female players given the stage and backing to perform at the highest level.
As it enters its second year, The Hundred continues to fan the flames of English cricket. Whether that is helpful, however, depends largely on which half of the sport you’re considering.
To bet on The Hundred head to bet365. You can get last year’s winners: