Eoin Morgan’s men's team is the defending 50-Over world champions. Their T20 team are breaking records like plucking apples from the garden and well, their aging pacers have made it a habit to blow the batting orders in red-ball cricket.
Heather Knight’s women’s team are the 50-Over world champions and can very well do an encore in New Zealand. They have the world’s best skipper, best spinner and the best all-rounder. All of them inspire beyond their cricketing deeds.
If cricket is the only thing that brings audiences to the ground and makes them glued to their television sets, the ECB top-brass should’ve rested easy - having popcorn while watching a full season of Rick and Morty. However, that’s hardly the case. English cricket is still far from appealing to a diverse and gender-inclusive audience in its formal events.
And when the first ball was bowled at The Oval between the women's wings of Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals, a hope was born. The ECB managed to create a carnival atmosphere around the stadium and a diverse group of audiences, including children, ethnically diverse communities and women spectators enjoyed the action to the core made for a great visual spectacle.
It worked because the cricket on offer was spectacular. Kate Cross showed her bowling brilliance to take her resurgence story to another level, Harmanpreet Kaur’s backfoot punch bore testimony of her Derby knock, Tash Farrant owned the wickets column with one brilliant wicket after another while Dane van Niekerk showed her majesty by single-handedly leading her side’s resurgence. The 8000-strong audience were in their elements and how!
On the second night, which saw the men’s sides take the field for the first time, Sam Billings led the Oval Invincibles to a nine-run win over Manchester Originals as 18,000 people celebrated their way through. There was no dropping of intensity even though there was a stark contrast to the proportion of audiences. A more boozy audience replaced the female and children numbers of the opening night but the vibrancy was at its peak.
While the opening act set things up perfectly for this three-week-long event, sustaining the momentum would be the key. The Royal London Cup, which is the primary domestic 50-over competition in England, has been downgraded to a second-string competition. Which makes The Hundred not only a bet that has to succeed but also a compulsive feeder system for the national ODI side. With the kind of authoritative dominance that the England cricket team have shown in recent years, the country can ill-afford to lose out on any momentum.
The ECB will be wary of that aspect while treating The Hundred as a cash cow that has the potential to make a £10m surplus on £50m of revenue in the first year. Of course, a few counties have been railroaded into accepting the competition and they would hope for a pie of that money to make up for the lack of international events at their venues. It is a conundrum that would keep the wheel moving.
Now that the first two games lived up to the billing and the Women’s game ensured it can sustainably attract a new audience, the ECB must work towards building on the momentum. It would require a sustained effort and a more inclusive one to build a narrative for future audiences.