Looking forward to the start of #TheHundred tonight. Every new cricket format has been attacked by traditionalist fans as ‘beyond the pale’ but I’m all for anything that brings new people to the game – so long as Test cricket remains a priority protected species.
I’d say that The Hundred is the most equal competition that I have played a part in so far in my cricket career,” says the England bowler, without hesitation. “There are obviously a few things that probably still need working on. But I think the word ‘progression’ is the right word to use because we’re not going to expect this to be 100 per cent equal overnight. We’ve not even been a professional sport for ten years; we don’t expect to be where the guys are in that space of time.”
The headline conversations have been around equal prize money but unequal pay; group games on terrestrial television but only one in ten of those a women’s game; equal promotion but unequal time slots. There is a lot, for any advocate of women’s sport, to be both pleased and frustrated about. But what of the players?
“There’s no frustration,” asserts Cross. “Frustration is not being able to train at the best grounds or having gym access. What would frustrate me is if I came into this tournament and had been told, ‘Actually, we’re training at Guildford [an outground] today.’ But no, we’re at The Oval, and we’ve had three nets and it’s been one of the best, most professional training environments that I’ve been in so far. And this is our first day.
This is not like Brexit – that was a 52-48 split,” says Ian Lomax, who runs the campaign and is part of the Lancs Action Group pushing for representation on the Lancashire board. “If you go to county grounds and ask members or those who attend county cricket whether they want The Hundred it would be a 95-5 split.
Many county supporters feel left behind and ignored. A recent survey by the Cricket Supporters Association found 63 per cent feel negatively about The Hundred, with social media suggesting that figure is far higher.
The Hundred is devaluing three competitions,” Lomax adds. “In the Royal London Cup, and don’t forget we are world champions at this format, the quarter-final, semi-final and final are all in the same week. If you like championship cricket then all you want for Christmas is a blanket and thermos flask because it is played in April and May or September and even October now. It is absolutely disgusting.”
Well here we are. A year late and with none of the hostility that the Hundred provoked when its conception was announced having been distilled by its postponement, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s first foray into franchise competition, which it sees as the saviour of the game, begins tonight at 6.30pm in a women’s match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals at the Oval.
There may be some tuning in with the words often attributed to Sir Thomas Beecham in their minds, about trying anything once (except folk dancing and incest), some will be boycotting and some will embrace it enthusiastically, though probably not here if the consensus of below the line comments over the past couple of years are reflective of the general readership.
For those of you who are genuinely excited – as, anecdotally, I can report many of the U11s canvassed at our cricket club over the last couple of weeks seem to be – here are the essential innovations that are the points of difference with other limited-overs formats:
Each side has 100 balls to face and deliver.
Ten balls will be bowled from each end, and the umpire will signal after the first set of five to allow the captain to decide whether the bowler shall persevere and bowl a full 10 or change to another bowler. Each bowler will be allowed a maximum of 20 deliveries in the match.
If a batter is caught out, the new batter will face the next ball regardless of whether their predecessor had crossed with the non-striker.
The powerplay lasts for 25 balls and during that time only two fielders are allowed to be placed outside the 30 yard circle and each bowling side is allowed one two-and-a-half minute time-out during which the coach is allowed on to the field to discuss tactics with their players.
Contrary to earlier rumours, lbw has not been abolished nor will wides be punished with free hits.
The men’s and women’s competitions have equal prize money though the salaries for the women players – £15,000 is the maximum band compared with £100,000 for the men for five weeks’ work – are considerably lower and the issue of broken time payments for women part-time players, as exposed by Isabelle Westbury, have yet to be resolved.
In the two teams for the opening match, look out for the Invincibles’ rejuvenated England bowler Tash Farrant, the hard-hitting Fran Wilson who made an unbeaten 86 batting at six for England in an ODI two years ago and the captain of South Africa Dane van Niekerk who has 10 WT20i fifties and 63 wickets.
Manchester are captained by England fast bowler Kate Cross and have India’s all-rounder and captain Harmanpreet Kaur in the side as well as England’s brilliant spinner Sophie Ecclestone.