The Hundred: Oval Invincibles & Northern Superchargers mark welcome womens return

- BBC News

The Hundred: Oval Invincibles & Northern Superchargers mark welcome womens return

It would insult your intelligence not to acknowledge the divisive nature of The Hundred.

The row over its very existence and whether it will be the saviour or death of English cricket polarises opinion like the blue-white Twitter dress, Marmite and the end of the latest Bond film (blue, yes to Marmite, good film with a bad ending).

The division and debate is somewhat sexist, concerning only the mens version of The Hundred. Few can argue the inaugural edition of the womens tournament was anything other than a huge success.

Which is probably why the first week of this years Hundred has seemed lacklustre, after the womens entrance was delayed because of the Commonwealth Games T20 competition.

There have been moments of excellent cricket from the men, not least Will Smeeds history-making century, but not many tight finishes.

Grounds have been busy, rather than full. In terms of making an impact on the public consciousness, The Hundred has battled against the Commonwealths and the start of the new Premier League season.

Some of the reasons for the extra oomph brought by the women are obvious. A double-header is more of a day out for the crowd, giving extra time to get into the action and ramp up the atmosphere. Two games gives twice the chance of a thrilling conclusion.

Other reasons are more subtle. Compared to what else is on offer across the world, the womens Hundred is fresher and of a higher standard than any of its competitors, which really only includes Australias Big Bash League.

In mens cricket, The Hundred is part of a packed and growing franchise market, where players trot around the globe and simply change the shirt they are playing in.

Apart from the withdrawal of Australia captain Meg Lanning, the womens tournament has the absolute cream of overseas talent. Kane Richardson, Hilton Cartwright and David Wiese are talented cricketers, but probably not the men the organisers had in mind when The Hundred was launched.

On top of that, the female stars are less likely to shuffle in and out of the tournament like their male counterparts, whose comings and going are hard to follow. Rashid Khan played one game for Trent Rockets before heading off for international duty.

So, when the women finally made their entry to the 2022 Hundred on a sun-kissed afternoon at The Oval on Thursday, it was a very welcome return.

The double header between the Oval Invincibles and Northern Superchargers also served as an interesting experiment, with the women going on second after the men - headlining a day at The Hundred for the first time.

It feels slightly skinny that this will be the only time this summer the women are afforded such a privilege.

There are arguments for each scenario. If we are to imagine the mens game will draw a bigger crowd, is it better for the women to play first, when spectators are coming in, rather than second, when they are leaving?

The venue would have to be correctly chosen, too. The London grounds are probably a better fit than somewhere like Southampton, which is notoriously difficult to get to and from, therefore tempting those who want to leave early in order to beat the traffic.

To the naked eye, the Oval crowd held pretty firm for the start of the womens game, before thinning out as the night wore on. Organisers said there were 21,339 inside for the mens game and between 15,000 and 16,000 for the womens.

Those that stayed did not see a classic contest, but a supreme demonstration of why the Invincibles, the defending champions, will once again be the team to beat.

The home side thoroughly outplayed the Superchargers, whose total of 143-5 was bettered just five times in last years tournament, only to be overhauled with 16 balls and nine wickets to spare by the Invincibles.

The chase was led by former Supercharger Lauren Winfield-Hill, playing with a smile on a face after a difficult year which saw her dropped by England during the World Cup.

Her unbeaten 74 was supported by Suzie Bates 46, but the real pyrotechnics came from rising star Alice Capsey, celebrating her 18th birthday with 21 from seven balls.

Inspirational captain Dane van Niekerk was not needed to bat, while the Invincibles still have ferocious all-rounder Marizanne Kapp, missing out through illness, to come in.

They will face sterner tests than the Superchargers, who have invested in marquee overseas batters Alyssa Healy, Laura Wolvaardt and Jemimah Rodrigues, yet look light on bowling. They let themselves down with dropped catches, too.

On the day The Hundred became whole once more, it was the men who provided the greater drama, with the Curran brothers inspiring a thrilling Invincibles run-chase.

However, the remaining six rounds of matches will be all the richer for the presence of the women.

Here come the girls.

Read it all at BBC News