The Hundred: Positives persist but organisers still have puzzles to solve

Second-season syndrome has been the scourge of a many a Premier League manager.

After impressing in your first year on the big stage, how do you come back, consolidate and even improve?

This year The Hundred faced a similar problem after a promising, yet highly contentious, first edition.

To loosely continue the footballing analogy, a gripping finale at a feverish Lord’s helped ensure relegation was avoided. But there remain pressing questions for the tournament going forward.

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Has it been a success?

After the Covid-19-hit first season, 2022 was billed as the year The Hundred kicked on, aided by the introduction of bigger and better overseas stars.

The women’s competition has again impressed – but for much of the men’s competition, there was a lingering sense that the competition drifted.

For organisers, however, Saturday’s finale at Lord’s was a timely reminder of what this competition could be – a tense affair on primetime Saturday night television in front of a diverse crowd with enough intrigue to entertain cricket’s established base and those tuning in for the first time, albeit not in the six-hitting style those who thought up the format expected.

But it is undeniable there were times in the middle of the competition when one-sided match followed one-sided match.

Whether that is a result of the format or purely bad luck is difficult to say, while the impact of England’s extensive injury list should not be overlooked.

Had those such as Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, Olly Stone and Saqib Mahmood played a part, the quality would have been lifted. That is before you take into account the players who have pulled out mid-tournament – Jemimah Rodrigues in the women’s, and Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone, Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills and Reece Topley in the men’s.

Whether a direct result or not, TV viewing figures on the BBC dropped by 20% from the first year, with a clash with the Commonwealth Games and the early start of the Premier League season cited as factors by executives.

Tournament bosses say they are more focused on ticket sales as a barometer of interest and those attendances exceeded last year.

All eight venues also set new records for women’s matches, while 28% of ticket buyers were female and 22% of those in the grounds under-16s – both increases on 2021, as English cricket hunts a new audience tho future-proof the sport.

Still, The Hundred must find a way to firstly attract and then keep the best male overseas talent if it is to really succeed.

Discussions with other leagues continue in an attempt to prevent the scenario of recent days, where some of The Hundred’s overseas stars – including leg-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who would have played in the final for Trent Rockets – left for the Caribbean Premier League just as the competition reached its business end.

A women’s draft for 2023?

After a delayed start because of the Commonwealth Games, the women’s competition proved it is not an add-on or a sideshow but an integral and crucial part of the overall event.

It brought more life to what was a men’s-only event for the first eight days.

Unlike the men’s competition, the very best female overseas players in the world were on show and as a result there was a step-up in quality, even if some of those biggest names – such as Alyssa Healy and Sophie Devine – failed to fire.

But the top salaries remain a quarter of those of the men, meaning there is still obvious room for improvement. If the women’s competition is essential to the overall ‘product’, then players should be paid as such.

In its first two years, those women’s players were signed behind closed doors.

Organisers have indicated to BBC Sport they feel the competition may now be ready for a draft process, similar to the men’s system, in the coming years.

So what next?

With The Hundred part of a television deal that runs until 2028, and organisers keen to point to those being introduced to the game, there is little chance of it being scrapped, even if critics would like to revert to the traditional balance of the English game.

Players, all paid to take part, enjoy the tournament while captains have spoken of the exciting challenge its format brings.

One player described The Hundred as the most enjoyable of the global leagues but, with the England and Wales Cricket Board ultimately running the competition, said it lacks the external pressures of its rivals.

If a player or coach performs poorly in the Indian Premier League, they have a fanbase and team owners on their back. The Hundred does not have that pressure.

One solution would be bringing external money into the eight teams, which would also present the opportunity to increase player salaries, but that would also be highly controversial and is understood not to be on the table for the near future.

Even with increased salaries, there would be no certainty The Hundred could attract bigger men’s stars, given the intense nature of the international schedule.

From The Hundred’s perspective, that calendar should improve for next year when a window has been built into the English summer to allow England’s players to take part. Whether they will do so after an intense Ashes series that precedes it is another question.

At present it falls on ‘team boards’ – groups of county and other cricket officials at each team – to hold players and coaches accountable for performance.

Welsh Fire’s men, who finished bottom of the table with eight defeats from eight, have lost 13 of their past 14 matches and could benefit from a refresh – with or without coach Gary Kirsten.

An eight-team tournament cannot afford to carry whipping boys.

Overall it remains to be seen whether The Hundred keeps a place in our lives long term.

Some music teachers say people only remember your first note and your last. Does a good final make up for a lacklustre tournament?

Maybe.

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