The Women’s Hundred competition was filled with some incredible highs and some understandable lows but overall, it was a timely reminder of the marketability of the women’s sport. Southern Brave dominated right from the outset, only to be ousted from their base by a spirited Oval Invincibles in the final, but the atmosphere was crazy with crowds rallying behind both the teams throughout the 200 Balls. Marizanne Kapp provided the ultimate finish that any team would wish for to help the Invincibles to a 48-run win at the Lord’s, but the tournament was more about the bigger picture.
Piggy-backing but with a cause
Barring the opening encounter between Manchester Originals Women and Oval Invincibles Women on July 18, 2021, at the Kennington Oval in London, all matches in the competition were played alongside the Men’s event. Especially at a time when the ICC moved the T20 World Cup to create a standalone fixture and Women’s Big Bash League has become a marquee annual extravaganza, ECB’s decision raised a lot of eyebrows.
However, such was the challenge posed by the Covid, there was hardly any alternative. If anything the double-headers showed a parallel pathway line to attract more audience to the event. Of course, the piggybacking is not ideal but the limited time difference between two games allowed a fresh audience to revel in something more magnetic than usual. All of that without compromising on the basic premise on which Women’s sport has grown in the last five years. Cricket was fantastic and as Kevin Pietersen and Rob Key realised, the sport possesses some incredible talents to raise the footfall as well.
"If the tournament had gone ahead in 2020, it wouldn't have looked exactly like this. With it being in the school holidays in the UK, it means the afternoon starts have allowed us to have such awesome crowds. I would hazard a guess that had they not been double-headers, we would not have had the crowds that we have had. I think they have done really well,” Anya Shrubsole told BBC.
England Cricket ultimate winner
Sophia Ivy Rose Dunkley - Don’t remember the name. Because you’re going to listen to it way too many times in the future anyway. The Middlesex all-rounder made her international debut in the recently-concluded India series but soon took the Hundred by storm with multiple innings of substance. Perhaps it was down to Charlotte Edwards’ incredible talent scouting that resulted in such domination for Southern Brave but she ended up as the second-highest run-scorer in the tournament after India’s Jemimah Rodrigues, with 244 runs to her name. Despite her failure in the final, she gave a stunning reminder of her prowess for the English selectors to look forward to.
29-year-old Evelyn Jones was another revelation. The Shrewsbury-born all-rounder had an on and off tournament but when she was on, it was, as Gen Z says, lit. 233 runs from 9 matches gave the impression of what she can bring to the table. There were the likes of Tash Farrant, Fran Wilson, and Kirstie Gordon who ensured the national side can only be benefitted from such a rich influx of talents if given regular opportunities.
The pay disparity
Since 2017, when ECB created a special wing to do the market research and in 2019, when the team, led by ECB Chief Executive Tom Harrison and tournament Director Sanjay Patel, announced to the world about the final plans, equal pay was the major talking point. However, no one knew it was only for the prize money. According to the BBC, women's salaries ranged from £3,600 to £15,000 while the men's lowest pay bracket began at £24,000. It is a gap not befitting the board’s tall claims.
Most of the domestic cricketers in England don’t have a professional contract, unlike their international counterparts. As Northern Superchargers’ Katie Levick said, “Unless you have incredibly considerate bosses who allow you to go disappear on a Tuesday to play some cricket, girls are going to have to keep making decisions about whether they want to play cricket or have to try and sustain themselves.”
There is a counter-argument to it, sure, but the gap can’t be so much when the major advertisement about the new competition was equality. So many domestic cricketers have to take leaves from their day jobs and being compensated well can only boost the ECB's position.
Will BCCI really take notice?
The Kia Super League was good but it didn’t have the international appeal as the Hundred. In a post-Covid world, when the women were jostling for some game time, the Hundred came as a blessing in full attire. From the likes of Jemimah Rodrigues to Sophia Dunkley, from Smriti Mandhana to Marizzane Kapp, from Georgia Redmayne to Fran Wilson, it showcased why regular league matches can shape the sport as very few can.
The quality is pretty much at the same level as Women’s Big Bash League despite not having some of the marquee Aussie players in the mix. It attracted a diverse set of audiences and the booze-free zones made it safer for women and kids. From a cricketing standpoint, it provided enough reasons on, as Mandhana and Rodrigues demanded, why a full-fledged Women’s IPL, with at least six teams, is the order of the day.
“When we see the WBBL happening, then the KSL and now the Hundred, we are all like, when will we have our own IPL? It is going to make women's cricket better. Imagine, the domestic girls here in England, the kind of experience they are having, sharing dressing rooms with international players. There is so much to learn,” Rodrigues summed it up aptly in a BBC interview.