County treasurers were concerned when gates at men’s games in The Hundred produced some smaller crowds than expected, smaller than for the T20. But the numbers flocking into the women’s matches have gone through the roof. People of all ages have been turning up in large numbers at matches starting mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
The proof came on the very first evening at the Oval with an official attendance of 7,395, far short of the ground’s capacity, but way in advance of anything seen in recent times for a women’s game in England outside the international scene. Beth Barrett-Wild, in charge of the women’s organisation, must have been utterly delighted. The Oval was a wise choice of venue, as a famous ground most likely to attract the size of crowd the cameras wanted to view. We then had a different sort of confirmation this Monday afternoon, when the only game not to take place over the weekend, Invincibles v Fire, attracted a crowd of 10,193, far larger than anything you’d see for a Surrey County Championship match on a Monday. In its way it was a more impressive figure than the 15,189 at Lord’s the previous Saturday.
Behind the Scenes
Back to the drawing-board – once a women’s competition had been tacked on to the original concept, men only, the problem was how to dovetail the women’s matches in. The answer was the double-header, the women playing before the men.
My only previous experience of double-headers had been in rugby. It left me in no doubt that it is far preferable for the women to play first. I once had the experience of trying to force my way into Twickenham Stadium as about 69,000 spectators (out of the 82,000 capacity) were leaving after the men’s match. For the women players nothing is more depressing than to see the ground emptying like that as they warm up.
And the spectators arriving early for the men’s game will see the women in action as the game moves towards its climax. In this way anyone needing to be convinced of the product is likely to acknowledge its quality.
The potential weakness of the format The Hundred chose was the early starting times, let’s say 11.00 or 15.00. With the nation at work, would the crowds come in? The answer was a resounding yes. And since it was the school holidays, kids were out in force.
The original idea was to keep ticket prices as low as possible. Rates were to vary across the country, but most grounds would ask £30 per ticket for men’s games and £8 for women’s; some passes available for a mere £10 with £5 passes for Under 16s. Small children allowed in free to boost the family-orientated appeal.
Early reports indicate that men’s matches have had trouble matching the gates for T20 games. Unlike the undoubted success of that opening Oval fixture, the men’s game the following night failed to attract a typical T20-sized audience. This strengthens the argument posed in several quarters: if the T20 is a going concern; why replace it? But that is a men-only problem.
We are still only a short distance into a new type of cricket, so it’s possible that gates will fall away as the novelty value wears off. The optimistic view is that both regulars and newbies have been impressed by the quality of the chef’s cooking. They will come again.
So while the jury is still out on the men’s games, the women’s have achieved infinitely larger gates than for any matches bar the big world tournaments. Players must be delighted to have such a reception, though the less experienced will have had trouble adjusting to the many pairs of eyes viewing their failures as well as their successes. Cricket can be a very cruel game.