The Daily Telegraph

How the Hundred raised bar in second year

More overseas players and growing number of profession­als led to higher quality cricket and bigger audiences, writes Tim Wigmore


If second-season syndrome was inescapabl­e in this year’s men’s Hundred, it happily eluded the women’s competitio­n. Despite the tournament being trimmed by the Commonweal­th Games, this year’s women’s Hundred could claim to have bested last year’s.

With a higher calibre of overseas players, the quality of cricket improved. Even with 10 fewer matches the salient metrics were positive, too: compared to 2021, this year’s women’s

competitio­n saw more sixes. Most importantl­y, more fans came to watch: 271,000 all told, an average of 10,400 per game.

Perhaps the best indication of the evolution of the Hundred came in the final: not on the pitch, but off it. For Oval Invincible­s, Dane van Niekerk, the official team captain and player of the match in last year’s final, watched on from the sidelines: not because she was injured, but because she did not get into the side. Van Niekerk was a victim of a change in the rules on overseas players. As with last year, sides could only field three overseas players in their XI, but they could now contract four at a time, meaning that a once illustriou­s internatio­nal player would now miss out.

In the Invincible­s’ case it meant Van Niekerk, South Africa’s captain and a veteran of 194 internatio­nals, only made the cut in three matches.

In the men’s competitio­n, the Hundred’s claims about the calibre of overseas players are a little exaggerate­d, with the quality hollowed out by a combinatio­n of the crammed internatio­nal calendar, India barring their players from appearing in overseas short-format leagues and several players leaving early to take part in the Caribbean Premier League. But in the women’s tournament, the credential­s of the Hundred’s overseas players are harder to dispute. Barring Meg Lanning, who missed the tournament for personal reasons, and perhaps India’s prodigy Shafali Verma, the Hundred essentiall­y featured all of the best two dozen non-english cricketers in the world.

“It gave coaches options,” Sanjay Patel, the managing director of the Hundred, says of allowing a fourth overseas player in the squad.

Yet the greater quality of overseas players in 2022, due to the proximity of the Commonweal­th

Games and the easing of Covid-19 quarantine requiremen­ts, did not mean local talent was marginalis­ed. The share of overall runs scored by overseas players this year rose three per cent, but the share of wickets overseas players took fell by the same amount, suggesting that domestic players coped with the heightened standards. A central reason for this is at the level below the Hundred: in the regional women’s structure, there are now 51 profession­al contracts, taking the total number of English profession­al players to 67 – enough, along with three overseas players, to fill all eight Hundred sides.

“The domestic players are getting better each year because they’re now part of profession­al domestic structures,” says Charlotte Edwards, the former England captain who is now head coach of Southern Brave. “I’ve certainly seen a difference from last year – the fitness levels and fielding have really risen.”

Two 17-year-olds – Sophia Smale and Freya Kemp – faced off against each other in this month’s final at Lord’s. The competitio­n also reaffirmed 18-year-old Alice Capsey’s standing as among the most exciting cricketers of her generation. While Edwards does not consider the standard of domestic talent on a par with the Big Bash – which has benefitted from Australia’s world-leading investment in the women’s game – she believes that the gap is closing.

The most dramatic moment of this year’s women’s Hundred came when Nat Sciver launched three consecutiv­e sixes over midwicket in the eliminator, coming within one blow of clinching victory when Trent Rockets needed 22 to win from four balls.

It was an extreme example of the welcome uptick in sixes this year – from one every 71 balls to one every 50. This shift could lead to an important change in the dimensions at grounds.

An altogether bigger issue, however, is how to protect the competitiv­e balance in the women’s Hundred. Both finals have involved the same result – Oval Invincible­s defeating Southern Brave in the final – while Welsh Fire have only won three of their 14 games.

Inadverten­tly, the contract system used in the women’s tournament might well have undermined competitiv­e balance. Unlike with the draft used in the men’s competitio­n, in the women’s Hundred non-centrally contracted players are free to sign for whoever they want. In practice, players have tended to want to be based at home, benefittin­g the sides who have the strongest pool of local players. But Patel suggests that, with domestic players paid better, it could enable a move towards a draft system to ensure talent is equitably distribute­d. “The overall profession­alisation of the women’s game means that some of these things which probably weren’t possible back in 2019 when we made the decisions, I think are possible,” he says. If the quality of the women’s tournament can increase, the ultimate hope is that more women’s matches might take top billing during doublehead­ers. This year, the lone women’s match to be played after the men’s game was the tournament opener. “Double-headers will definitely stay. That’s a good model,” Patel says. “We flipped one game – we need to review that and see what did that do? What were the results, what do we think’s best for the women’s game?” To Patel, the only certainty is that further evolution lies ahead. “The women’s game is changing – and I think we should change with it.”

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 ?? ?? Top pros: Charlotte Edwards says the players are getting better year on year
Top pros: Charlotte Edwards says the players are getting better year on year

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