Girls’s Hundred returns with new stars however prime-time stress | The Hundred

Dane van Niekerk raises a fist in the air after Oval Invincibles win the 2021 Hundred final at Lord’s

And so it returns, with all its high-summer razzmatazz. The boys have been at it for every week already, however after a brief delay as a result of Commonwealth Video games, the second version of the ladies’s Hundred will get beneath means on Thursday on the Kia Oval, with the defending champions, Oval Invincibles, going head-to-head in opposition to Northern Superchargers.

There will probably be reside music. There will probably be fireworks. There will probably be protection on the BBC (seven ladies’s matches this yr), constructing as much as a remaining at Lord’s on Saturday 3 September.

To this point, so acquainted. But this yr’s sequel is just not with out its changes. There are personnel adjustments – a number of main Australia internationals could have their first style of 100-ball cricket, together with Ellyse Perry (Birmingham Phoenix), Megan Schutt and Beth Mooney (London Spirit), and Alyssa Healy (Northern Superchargers). One high-profile absentee will probably be Meg Lanning, who pulled out of the competitors after saying on Wednesdayyesterday that she is taking an indefinite go away from cricket for private causes.

In a child step in direction of narrowing the infuriating gender pay hole, the 16 highest-paid ladies will this yr earn marginally greater than the lowest-paid males (£31,250 in contrast with £30,000). Maybe most importantly, a number of of the ladies’s matches – together with Thursday’s curtain-raiser on the Oval – are being performed within the “prime‑time” slot, after the lads’s sport has concluded. “Hopefully we are able to do justice to that,” the Invincibles captain, Dane van Niekerk, stated on Wednesday.

If final yr is something to go by, she want don’t have any fears. For gamers similar to Alice Capsey, who was the feeling of final yr’s competitors on the age of 16, the Hundred smoothed the trail to the worldwide stage, the place she thrived. It additionally smashed the England and Wales Cricket Board’s attendance aims out of the park, with a median viewers of seven,500 for the ladies’s matches, and a report crowd at Lord’s of 17,116 for the ultimate.

Dane van Niekerk raises a fist in the air after Oval Invincibles win the 2021 Hundred final at Lord’s
Dane van Niekerk raises a fist within the air after Oval Invincibles win the 2021 Hundred remaining at Lord’s. {Photograph}: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The Lionesses might have introduced soccer dwelling final month, however it’s cricket which is successful the battle for attendances at home ladies’s sport (by comparability, the Soccer Affiliation’s aspiration is for common crowds of 6,000 on the Girls’s Tremendous League by 2024).

It says quite a bit that the opening week of the lads’s Hundred has felt very very like the guts is lacking: with out the double-header mannequin which was on the core of its success in yr one, is the Hundred actually the Hundred?

Alternatively, in a contest the place the general public message has been “one group, two squads”, it stays to be seen how a lot interplay there will probably be between the ladies’s and males’s groups. Final yr social distancing and Covid “group bubbles” had been trotted out as excuses for the truth that a number of the males barely appeared to know the names of their feminine colleagues. There will probably be no such mitigation this time.

Is there additionally, maybe, some stress that comes with realizing that the ladies’s competitors should now reside as much as the excessive expectations it fostered in 2021? “Watching the lads’s group, I obtained actually excited for our video games, remembering how electrical and superb it was to play in entrance of a packed crowd,” Van Niekerk stated.

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“I anticipate nothing much less [this year].” The ECB will probably be determined to make sure it lives as much as her hopes – partly as a result of the success of the ladies’s Hundred has confirmed a surefire technique to silence critics of your complete 100-ball idea.

For Van Niekerk, whose skilful captaincy was instrumental within the Oval Invincibles’ victory final summer season, the event holds extra private significance. It will likely be her first time taking part in cricket since November final yr, the South African having sustained a brutal ankle damage which stored her out of each the World Cup and the Commonwealth Video games.

“I used to be virtually bedridden for 3 weeks,” she stated. “This damage has taken the largest toll mentally on me. I’m grateful I can play once more – I would like it. I’m constructed to play cricket.”