How the Hundred changed women's cricket forever – The Telegraph

As its second year gets under way players reveal how the competition gave the sport much-needed exposure and momentum
Last summer, England’s brightest female cricketers were catapulted to the front of the nation’s cricketing consciousness, blared through our TV screens and cheered on by thousands of spectators. Whilst debates rage on about the wider consequences of the Hundred, the impact on the women’s game is undeniable.
One of the players at the centre of this whirlwind was Sophia Dunkley. Before the start of the competition, Dunkley was already enjoying a breakthrough summer. She had cemented her place in the starting line-up of both England’s white and red-ball sides as an explosive middle-order batter, scoring 74 on her Test debut.
Going into the Hundred with the Southern Brave, however, provided a different platform to perform altogether.
The crowds the Hundred pulled in along with the scrutiny and far-reach gaze of TV cameras allowed Dunkley to show just how explosive she is with the bat in hand and force her way up the order for England. Dunkley scored 244 runs in the competition and was the third highest scorer.
“When people did well, it was really well broadcasted,” said Dunkley. “Having a few games on the BBC as well really helped and I think definitely we could feel a lot more energy around it and a lot more interest than we’ve had before.
“I wanted to show what I could do in a different setting. The vibe at the Southern Vipers allowed us to be free and I think we’ve got a really good mindset in the team which definitely helped me to score more runs.”
Since then, she has consistently opened the batting in T20s for England this summer, ousting Tammy Beaumont at the top of the order as the team searched for a more aggressive approach in the powerplay.
Dunkley’s team-mate at the Southern Brave, Lauren Bell also benefitted from the attention of a massively increased audience. At the start of the summer, Bell was still at university and playing for the Southern Vipers.
“Most of the cricket that I played before then was not really televised and you wouldn’t have seen it if you weren’t into women’s cricket,” said Bell. “Then suddenly, everyone was watching the Hundred and watching on TV and it was funny to have all your friends be like we’re seeing you on TV all the time!”
Bowling in tandem with Anya Shrubsole throughout the competition, Bell showcased her natural ability in extracting prodigious movement with the new ball. With batters such as Hayley Matthews and Sarah Taylor falling victim to her bowling, it was no surprise that after Shrubsole announced her international retirement earlier this year, England selectors’ eyes naturally fell on Bell.
“Playing on TV definitely gets you noticed,” said Bell. “I think you could say the same for girls like Alice Capsey, who obviously had an amazing summer last year and has made her England debut now as well. I think it gives everyone the opportunity to impress and show what they can do and it definitely put a lot of people on the map who had maybe gone a bit unnoticed previously.”
The exposure the Hundred gave to young and exciting talents has allowed a new generation of players to burst onto the international scene this summer. Issy Wong, Emma Lamb and Capsey have all earned England debuts, as well as Bell in the last few months.
But while the Hundred provided an opportunity for those desperate to fall under the England selector’s spotlight, it also offered freedom for those searching for stability in their careers.
“In the past, [England] has felt to me like the be-all and end-all and that’s probably not the healthiest place to be in,” said Birmingham Phoenix’s Kirstie Gordon. “But now with the new domestic structure in place and the Hundred, I can live a happy lifestyle and work hard and be successful with my region and my Hundred team. If playing for England comes then I would absolutely jump at the chance. But if it doesn’t, then hopefully I can still have a very successful career.”
From playing cricket on boys’ teams in Scotland as a child, to having to give up her qualification for her home country to play good quality regional cricket in England, Gordon’s career so far has marked a time where the game and opportunities within it have changed dramatically for women.
This year the salaries for the competition have increased, with the top earning female player earning more than £31,000. Despite still only being a fraction of many of their male counterpart’s wages, this is more than double what they were paid last year.
“The real thing is now, it’s not just the best 15 players in the country who can have proper careers playing cricket anymore, or it definitely won’t be in the future,” said Gordon. “The Hundred opened my eyes to how big the market is and how much of an audience there is for women’s cricket. It’s made me feel more privileged to be able to play on that stage in front of so many people, knowing that they want to support you.
“As someone who thrives off the crowd, the nerves and excitement and adrenaline that runs through your body was just incredible. I just think they did such an incredible job to put women on the same platform as men and for the women’s competition to be as successful if not more successful than the men.”
As the competition returns on Thursday, women will take centre stage yet again. But what is significant about this year’s competition is that the momentum behind the women’s game never really left.
Thousands flocked to Edgbaston this month to watch women’s cricket as it stood independently in the Commonwealth Games while there were an estimated 4.9 million new viewers to women’s cricket in 2021. The Hundred has been a vital part of this change and further growth is set to follow in year two.
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