Last summer England’s brightest female cricketers were catapulted to the forefront of the nation’s cricketing consciousness, crashing across our television screens and cheered on by thousands of spectators. While debates rage over the wider ramifications of the Hundred, its impact on the women’s game is undeniable.
One of the players at the center 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 batsman, scoring 74 on her Test debut.
However, Going into the Hundred with the Southern Brave provided another platform to perform entirely.
The crowds The Hundred drew in along with the scrutiny and the far-reaching gaze of the 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 very well broadcast,” Dunkley said. “Having some games on the BBC also helped a lot and I definitely think 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 atmosphere at Southern Vipers allowed us to be free and I think we have a very good mindset in the team which definitely helped me 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 sought a more aggressive approach in the powerplay.
Dunkley’s teammate at Southern Brave, Lauren Bell, also benefited from the attention of a massively increased audience. At the beginning of the summer, Bell was still in university playing for the Southern Vipers.
“Most of the cricket that I played before then wasn’t really televised and you wouldn’t have seen it if you weren’t into women’s cricket,” Bell said. “Then all of a sudden everyone was watching Hundre and watching TV, and it was fun to have all your friends be like we’re watching you on TV all the time!”
Bowling in tandem with Anya Shrubsole throughout the competition, Bell showed her natural ability to pull off amazing moves with the new ball. With batsmen 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.
“You definitely get noticed playing on TV,” Bell said. “I think you can say the same about girls like Alice Capsey, who obviously had a fantastic summer last year and has made her England debut now too. 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 might have gone a bit unnoticed earlier.”
The exposure the hundred gave to young and exciting talent has allowed a new generation of players to break onto the international stage this summer. Issy Wong, Emma Lamb and Capsey have all made England debuts, as has Bell in recent months.
But while The Hundred provided an opportunity for those desperate to fall under the England selector’s spotlight, it also provided freedom for those seeking stability in their careers.
“In the past, [England] I’ve been feeling like everything and everything and it’s probably not the healthiest place to be,” said Kirstie Gordon of the Birmingham Phoenix. “But now with the new domestic structure in place and a hundred, I can live a happy lifestyle and work hard and be successful with my region and my hundred team. If it comes to playing for England, I would certainly take the chance. But if if it doesn’t, hopefully I can still have a very successful career.”
From playing boys’ cricket in Scotland as a child, to having to give up qualification for his home country to play quality regional cricket in England, Gordon’s career so far has marked a time when the game and the opportunities within it have changed. dramatically for women.
This year wages for the competition have increased, with the top-earning female player earning more than £31,000. Despite still being a fraction of the wages of many of their male counterparts, this is more than double what they earned paid out last year.
“The real thing is now, it’s not just the top 15 players in the country who can have proper careers playing cricket anymore, or there definitely won’t be in the future,” Gordon said. “The Hundred opened my eyes to how big the market is and how much of an audience there is for women’s cricket. It has 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 a crowd pleaser, the nerves and the excitement and the 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 just as successful if not more successful than the men.”
As the competition returns on Thursday, women will once again take center stage. But what is important about this year’s competition is that the momentum behind the women’s game never disappeared.
Thousands flocked to Edgbaston this month to watch women’s cricket as it stood independently in the Commonwealth Games while there was an estimated 4.9 million new viewers for women’s cricket in 2021. The Hundred has been an important part of this change and further growth is set to follow in year two.