The Hundred blares out hits and misses for its difficult second album | Tanya Aldred

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The Guardian

Nirvana cracked it, so did Blur, but the second album is never easy. The fanfare is bigger, but the expectations greater, last year’s innovations already old hat.

The BBC viewing figures for the Hundred’s second season, revealed by the Telegraph on Thursday, did not make particularly cheerful reading for the new ECB chair Richard Thompson, over the froth of a Lord’s cappuccino. In the tournament’s second year there has been a drop of up to 20% in the numbers switching on for games – from an average of 615,000 per match in 2021 to just over 500,000 this year. The bright and shiny 2021 opening match, the women’s game between the Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals, attracted 1.6 million; this year’s starter for 10, Southern Brave against the Welsh Fire, brought in only 550,000.

There could, of course, be a myriad reasons for this – not just waning interest in the hundred-ball hoopla. Sky have not released any figures, so it is hard to know if some viewers just jumped ship to their more familiar cricket channel.

The Premier League started a week early this year, in order to squeeze in a winter World Cup, which left the Hundred with just two days before the football bandwagon started rolling. It was also part of a calendar stuffed full of cricket – six white ball games in 11 days for England’s men’s team in July alongside the two Test series, England women’s Commonwealth Games journey plus their multi-format series against South Africa. This is also the first summer people have been able to travel abroad for their holidays since 2019. There is only so much time in anyone’s life to dedicate to cricket watching.

There is also a question of how much free to air television the younger demographic watch, with under 30s increasingly reliant on streamed content or clips on YouTube. That said, the BBC2 Test highlights of Ben Stokes’s fizz-bang team brought in an average of more than a million viewers.

In the grounds, though, ticket-sales appear to have held up. Half a million were snatched up before the tournament even started, with the number of women and families in the grounds seeming steady (though the ECB haven’t released any crunched data yet), and there is certainly no shortage of merchandise on show when the cameras pan around the stands – alongside commentary that, occasionally, Squealer would be proud of. The women’s games seem to have fared particularly well with record attendances round the grounds: 14,978 turning up for Birmingham Phoenix against Manchester Originals and 17,387 coming to London Spirit against Oval Invincibles at Lord’s . (All games double headers and all figures taken 50 balls into the second innings of the women’s games).

There were other statistical starbursts. Beth Mooney rocked the highest women’s score in the competition to date, 97 not out on her debut for London Spirit, while Sophia Smale, the 17-year-old left-arm spinner for Oval Invincibles, followed in Alice Capsey’s starry footsteps. A succession of totals of 150 plus and lively discussion about boundary sizes kept has kept the tournament relevant.

The fact that Blast ticket sales took a hit – a 15% decline from 920,000 to 800,000 when compared with 2019 (the last non-Covid affected year) is going to be yet another thing for Thompson to plot a path around. He voted against the Hundred when he was chair of Surrey, but has inherited a tournament whose TV deal has been zipped up until 2028 – the elephant in the room in last week’s High Performance Review.

Southern Brave’s Georgia Adams celebrates after taking the wicket of Trent Rockets’ Bryony Smith on Friday. Photograph: Paul Childs/Action Images/Reuters

But if the vibes from the women’s game continued to be good, the men’s competition lost a bit of zing this year. There weren’t enough tight finishes in a format that exists to provide tight finishes and the competition was saddled by the limping donkey that is Welsh Fire.

The Welsh Fire men’s team lost all eight games, (last year they finished second from bottom, losing five), while the women also sit on the bottom of the table, winning just one of their six games.

Jonny Bairstow’s last minute withdrawal added to their problems, and he wasn’t the only England player to slip away. Reece Topley withdrew early to manage his workload ahead of the World Cup, Jos Buttler had to withdraw from captaining Manchester Originals with a calf strain and Ben Stokes called time on this year’s competition to concentrate on the Test team.

Brand loyalty didn’t seem particularly strong with the overseas stars either, with Trent Rockets’ Tabraiz Shamsi the latest to tear himself away – missing Saturday’s final at Lord’s play for Guyana Amazon Warriors in the CPL. Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Glenn Maxwell are amongst others who have found the allure of the CPL or international competition too strong, leaving the competition shorn of star quality at the finale.

But there were positives. Jordan Cox won a place on England’s T20 tour of Pakistan on the back of his form in the Hundred and the Blast (though he did make his name with 238 not out for Kent against Sussex in the Bob Willis Trophy as a 19 year old), while 20-year-old Will Smeed, of Birmingham Phoenix, Quetta, and MI Emirates, who pancaked the competition’s first hundred, looks like becoming England’s first franchise king.

September 3, 2022 at 04:01AM Tanya Aldred

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