The Hundred: Has the new tournament been a success?

The firework smoke has drifted away beyond the grand Lord’s pavilion.

Cricket’s leap into a brave new world is over – and the neon pink and green colours will disappear for another year.

With the first season of The Hundred over, the focus switches away from newly formed teams in gold, vivid red or bright blue, and back to the Test and county game.

No-one would say it has been straightforward – issues remain – but Saturday’s Hundred finale at cricket’s historic home, which saw Oval Invincibles crowned the first women’s champions and Southern Brave win the first men’s title, provided the type of occasion that suggests this new tournament has a future.

A crowd of nearly 25,000 packed into Lord’s. As sixes sailed into the stands, spectators roared. But this was a different to a typical Lord’s Saturday.

Children held homemade signs and families sat side-by-side among louder groups of 20-somethings. Others posed for pictures outside the famous ground as they visited for the first time.

A fan at the Hundred final holds up a sign saying 'this girl loves cricket'
Oval Invincibles beat favourites Southern Brave to win the women’s Hundred

The crowds over the tournament’s 31 days – attendances have been close to 90% of availability – have proven one accusation to be undeniably false. Someone does care. In fact, thousands, even millions, do.

It’s understood around 20% of the spectators across the tournament were children, a big jump on the Twenty20 Blast in recent years. A total of 21% of tickets sold were bought by women.

Both are encouraging numbers for a tournament aiming to bring cricket to a wider, more diverse audience.

Viewing figures have been impressive, fuelled by the exposure of free-to-air television. The 1.6 million people who watched the opening night broke the record for a women’s cricket match.

Figures for the women’s games have continued to exceed projections. The men’s matches have been broadly as expected – but still up on the Blast.

Anecdotally, at least, there seems to be a trend suggesting the tournament is reaching people not previously interested in domestic cricket. There is promising talk too of a boom in participation, both adult and junior, although much of this will be down to the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Dynamos programme, rather than a direct consequence of The Hundred.

On the field, squads were hit significantly by withdrawals, mostly Covid pandemic or bubble-related, but in truth the tournament has not missed the global superstars in its first inception.

Whether it was Northern Superchargers men racking up 200 or Oval Invincibles dramatic fightback in the women’s eliminator, the on-field action has entertained immensely – a few disappointing games aside.

New names have broken through – think Will Smeed, Lauren Bell or Alice Capsey – in the absence of David Warner, Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning.

A Birmingham Phoenix fan at Lord's for the Hundred final
Birmingham Phoenix were beaten by Southern Brave in the men’s Hundred final

If those big stars do play next year, then the quality of cricket is only going one way.

But for all the talk about numbers, the biggest success of this tournament has been the boost it has given to the women’s game.

Never before in this country has women’s cricket had the platform it has enjoyed in the past month.

The players delivered eye-catching performances and the fans responded – the 17,116 attendance for the women’s final broke a record set on the tournament’s opening night for the highest crowd anywhere in the world for a domestic women’s cricket match.

“I have to pinch myself,” England legend and Brave coach Charlotte Edwards said this week. “We are playing domestic games in front of 10,000 people now and it is pretty normal.

“I have had the best four weeks of my life watching these girls playing cricket, seeing the fans and seeing girls think cricket is cool.”

The impact on the women’s game is a defining factor in assessing the tournament’s success.

That does not mean The Hundred is perfect – far from it.

A Southern Brave fan holds up a sign at Lord's for the Hundred final
Around 20% of the spectators across the tournament were children

Some crowds were rowdier than you would want for a family occasion – family stands and alcohol-free zones could become more prominent. The strange regularity of pitch invaders during the men’s group stage was depressing. The disparity in pay between women and man needs to be address too.

And the question remains as to how The Hundred fits into the English cricket calendar.

There is no easy answer. This new tournament has been added, and takes the prime slot in the summer, but the three already in existence – the County Championship, the One-Day Cup and the Blast – have not stopped.

Given The Hundred is focused on bringing in young cricket fans, it is not going to budge from the school holidays.

Most would agree the current schedule left England’s Test team underprepared for their series against India, with no four-day matches in the lead-up.

That said, to solely blame The Hundred for England’s feeble defeat is too simplistic. England’s top order was collapsing like a pack of cards long before this new tournament was even first discussed.

Efforts to make a better compromise should be made, though.

If it works to its best, The Hundred should be able to compliment county cricket rather than hurt it.

It has already brought in extra money through the recent TV rights deal. Organisers hope it can bring in further funds and, more importantly, attract a new generation to the wider game.

The status quo before The Hundred was not pretty, with many counties struggling financially. The ECB took the extreme option and now must stay true to their word that The Hundred will help fund county cricket rather than force it into submission.

It is far too complex to answer whether English cricket’s newest venture has been a success with a simple yes or no.

In isolation, it is a ‘yes’ – the cricket has been impressive, the women’s game has been thrown to the forefront and a younger crowd turned up.

Outside of that, it’s harder to say. The hope is that it does succeed. It is, after all, cricket – a sport so many of us love.

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