Source: Tom Shaw for the ECB

Thoughts on The Hundred – Part Eight – Promises fulfilled

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Three years ago I wrote:

‘The ECB is giving serious consideration to abandoning the Kia Super League after three seasons’ existence in favour of a much-debated 100-ball contest. The supposed advantages of the change include: pairing the women’s game off with the men’s; increased live coverage and a type of game better suited to the supposed 10-second attention span of the modern populace. A new audience would be attracted to the game’

It has happened.

The men’s and women’s games have been paired off in double-headers; the television coverage has been total; the supposed 10-second attention span has been stretched to six hours and more, as two matches followed in quick succession; a new audience has most certainly been created, indeed some of them may not have been born when I penned those words, so young have they been.

The women cricketers have thoroughly enjoyed the limelight offered them and are grateful that at last their efforts could be viewed close-up day after day. Gate records for women’s games have been broken at the MCG and Lord’s in recent years, but the crowds for The Hundred have been of a different dimension, thousands turning up seven days a week to sample the fare.

Home-grown and Imports

In that 2018 piece I looked at the stats, concentrating on the roles played by home and overseas players. My view then was that the visitors played far too large a part in the unfolding of each match: they batted high in the order and bowled a large proportion of the overs.

This time round their contributions have not been all-pervasive. That is due partly to the fact that around a dozen of the top Australians didn’t make the trip. Some of their compatriots replacing them put in high class performances, especially Amanda-Jade Wellington and Sammy-Jo Johnson. The missing Kiwis were not replaced by team-mates.

The other guests were Indian, South African and West Indian. Jemimah Rodrigues stole the limelight with her batting, making the world wonder why she was largely overlooked in the preceding series against England.

Some Proteas on show played leading roles too, though it was a pity that Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail were injured for several games. Of the three leading West Indians, Hayley Matthews, Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin, only Matthews produced the high class we know they are capable of.

The Hundred’s tub-thumping approach to publicity had centred its attention on star material: ‘the best players in the world’. Sad as it may have been for the planners to be missing so many classy figures (Lanning, Perry, Villani, Devine, Kerr and so on), it had a thoroughly positive effect on native English players and the few who came in from Celtic lands. By the end of the regular programme the public could identify many players from beyond the elite England squad and the newly installed 41 on so-called domestic contracts.

Beyond The Hundred

The media in all their forms have been touting the names of the next group of players to be capped. And England’s hectic rounds of international matches pick up again on the first of next month against New Zealand, to be followed hot-foot by a tour of Pakistan in October.

That means the remaining matches in the Charlotte Edwards Cup (starting 25 August) and the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy will clash with England duty. It’s a great pity that those domestic games will have little or no bearing on the next squad Lisa Keightley will select. At least a home series means a player can be called up overnight as a replacement.

The batting line-up looks more stable than the bowling. The top six in the test were Lauren Winfield-Hill, Tammy Beaumont, Heather Knight, Nat Sciver, Amy Jones and Sophia Dunkley. Of course adjustments are likely from one format to the other, but only Danni Wyatt is the obvious option at the top of the order in a short-form game.

Who head the chase? Purely in numbers Emma Lamb and Eve Jones lead among the more experienced candidates; then we come to much younger options like Alice Capsey who has impressed everyone with both bat and ball. But it’s hard to imagine Keightley taking such a plunge. Till now her selections have been distinctly conservative.

The bowling remains a more open issue. Keightley can go on selecting Katherine Brunt and Amy Shrubsole for as long as she pleases. Both returned decent figures in The Hundred, where economy becomes even more important than wicket-taking. Of their challengers only Kate Cross produced consistently fine bowling to make her place sure. The other leading contenders, Freya Davies, Emily Arlott, Lauren Bell and Issy Wong, all had good moments, but fewer good hours and days.

Among the spinners, Keightley is picking from strength. Left-arm slows are queuing up around the block. Competing with Sophie Ecclestone are Kirstie Gordon, Linsey Smith and now Hannah Jones who all showed admirable control.

The position among off and leg-spinners is less clear. Mady Villiers has not yet managed to prove her worth in an England shirt beyond all doubt. It’s her misfortune that Alice Capsey produced better figures and looked a more searching spinner in the recent competition.

Sarah Glenn has fewer competitors, and wrist-spin bowling is a tough challenge in the most abbreviated form of the game. Only Wellington showed what can be achieved with great accuracy and cunning.

All these hopefuls will have a better chance of proving their worth once it becomes possible to reintroduce England A and Under 20 matches.