A few days after it began, Sunil Gavaskar, one of India’s greatest former cricketers, denounced The Hundred - English cricket’s controversial attempt to revitalise the sport and attract new, younger audiences - as “insipid”. And yet, for all its detractors - and there have been many since the idea was first hatched by governing body the England and Wales Cricket Board five years ago - organisers insist that the new, shorter version of the game has been a hit.
At Lord’s, a sold-out crowd watched the climax of a competition designed to help safeguard the future of the sport. Over the past month, according to the ECB, more than 10m people have watched the Hundred on television, many of whom were newcomers to the game. By the time the competition ended, more than 450,000 people have watched the matches in person. Roughly 60 per cent of those are under 45, while women make up about a fifth of ticket buyers.
The competition, which uses the T20 format has grown into a multibillion-dollar business in little more than a decade since its launch. The ECB is investing £180m in the Hundred in the hope of encouraging more women and young people to play and watch the sport. It is set to generate a surplus of £10m on revenues of £49m-£52m in its first year, money that the ECB can invest back into the game.
But beyond the financial benefits, the decision to create new, city-based teams with separate squads of men and women and to stage women’s and men’s matches back to back at the same venues has given the profile of female cricketers a big boost. “I think what the women’s competition will do for cricket in this country is transformational, genuinely transformational,” said Sanjay Patel, managing director of the Hundred. “Those players just absolutely loved being on that stage. One day I hope that the Hundred can have that clean window where it stands alone,” said Patel. He insisted that the “market is big enough, the appetite for cricket is big enough”.