While England’s women flew the flag proudly for the nation during the recent World Cup, England’s men have fallen at every hurdle. Test cricket has arguably never been in a worse state in this country. As the ECB continue to focus all of their attention on the shorter form of the game and as The Hundred returns for its difficult second season, there seems to be slightly less enthusiasm for the concept than there was last year.
Given the results we have seen over the winter, that is completely understandable, with many traditionalists seeing The Hundred as the new-fangled devil that has sucked the soul out of England’s Test side. The Ashes humiliation was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many fans, who are rightly frustrated that the Test format, and county cricket, is now playing second fiddle in this country.
Instead of taking pride of place in the summer, the County Championship is now played at the start and the end of the season, when the pitches are in their worst state. Last season only three rounds of fixtures were played over June and July, and while that has increased to five in 2022 to allow preparation for the Test series against South Africa, it still doesn’t feel like a priority. Is it any wonder that we are getting humbled by the likes of the West Indies when our international players have relatively little game time on decent pitches?
A plethora of dissertations could be written about the severe lack of quality and depth in the men’s side, but it's difficult for them to find any level of consistency when they are forced to switch between formats so rapidly. In June, England’s Test series with New Zealand is bisected by three ODI’s against the Netherlands. Baffling.
However, these justifiable criticisms should not take away from the positives of The Hundred. The draft, which unfolded yesterday, is immensely popular in the IPL and could create a certain level of excitement if done correctly while some of the games last year provided genuinely thrilling cricket. But those two points pale into insignificance compared to the major benefit of the format.
Last summer, The Hundred attracted a whole new audience to the sport, with 16.1 million TV viewers tuning in over the duration of the tournament and a large number of families taking in live cricket for the first time. The DJ sets may have been a little tacky, but the younger audience in attendance absolutely loved the entire spectacle that was put on for them.
It wasn’t traditional, but boy was it popular.
Perhaps most importantly, the women’s games were (on the whole) played just before the men’s. They were treated as complete equals, which when you consider the struggles that sportswomen have been through to get to this point, was thoroughly refreshing and should be praised.
When it comes to the numbers, this move paid off emphatically. The Guardian reported that: ‘Of the 4.9 million new viewers of the Hundred, 71% had gone on to watch other women's sport, with tennis and football the biggest beneficiaries.’ With the Women’s Super League boasting record crowds and viewing figures, and Euro 2022 taking place in this country, women’s sport has never been so significant.
Emma Raducanu is now carrying Britain’s tennis hopes, Rachael Blackmore is the Queen of Cheltenham and by 2030, women’s sport is set to amass a revenue of £1bn.
If Test cricket suffers a slump in order to achieve complete sporting equality in this country, then it is a price worth paying.