Countless parodies, palpable resentment and mournful eulogies to a once pure game reduced to trivia. The inaugural season of the Hundred has had to confront it all over the past month as it barged in on the English cricketing calendar, unrefined and untested. Strip away the abrasive colour-schemes and torn-up cricketing dictionaries, though, and we bear witness to resounding success.
The Hundred has housed world-class cricketers producing world-class moments at world-class grounds. Fans are wearing the merchandise, the usual linen-shirt-clad young professionals being joined by a sizeable familial demographic. Young boys and girls have made signs and cheered on their teams, a connection between fan and franchise that needed no legacy or historical context.
It has boosted the women’s game immeasurably, hosting a cumulative quarter of a million to watch some players who will rarely have played in front of a crowd of any significance at all. Many who used to naively dismiss it have belatedly realised that female cricketers are also capable of jaw-dropping moments of brilliance on a cricket field.
Now at a close, one of the most important periods in English cricket’s recent history begins. The positivity of the tournament must not just be revelled in, but utilised for the good of the game. Those fans who came to a cricket ground for the first time, who picked out one or two players to become attached to, need to be made aware of the instant opportunity to watch them all over again.
The same zeal that drove the Hundred’s immense marketing campaign must be injected into the remainder of the summer. This week, the T20 Blast quarter-finals take place: Yorkshire, Lancashire and Notts will be some of the counties dominated by world-famous cricketers. Also participating will be the lesser-known individuals. Can we not usher these players into cricket’s mainstream as the Hundred did with Will Smeed and George Garton?
England’s women play New Zealand in three T20s and five ODIs beginning in September. This is an opportunity to watch Tammy Beaumont, Nat Sciver and Katherine Brunt repeat their Hundred heroics on the even grander, international stage. The ECB have proven the worth of accessibilty and awareness in growing the game, and it must repeat its feat if the Hundred’s success is to mean anything for cricket.
The sport now has a platform. Cricket is a word on people’s lips, a thought in the communal psyche. It does not need to be a game polarised between tradition and modernity. Innovation can, and must, bring its many fragments into something of a collective. The journey from the Hundred to Test cricket is not quite as long as we think, and can be shortened if the ECB is as invested in the perceptibility of the longest form as it has been in the shortest.