Why the Hundred makes a Welsh cricket team more likely – but why that’s probably not good for Welsh cricket
Glamorgan’s record books required a thorough re-write after their last Championship match.
Highest team total, individual score, partnership and number of boundaries – all were surpassed as Sam Northeast struck 410 not out against Leicestershire.
‘Sam Tân’, as he’s known at Sophia Gardens, looked entirely capable of breaking Brian Lara’s world record score of 501 runs had Glamorgan not had to declare to chase an unlikely win which put them in the hunt for promotion back to the top-tier of country cricket for the first time since 2005.
The match, which started on the first day of the school holidays in Wales, couldn’t have provided a better advert for Glamorgan and red-ball, four-day cricket in general.
But, in the six weeks since then, Glamorgan have played just four days’ cricket at home and will only resume their promotion push on Monday – the same day Welsh pupils return to school.
August was traditionally used by Glamorgan to showcase first-class cricket outside Cardiff, with matches at Swansea’s St Helens or Colwyn Bay among the best attended of the season.
As recently as 2016, Glamorgan played 10 days of red-ball cricket in August, including a match at St Helens, on top of two days of white-ball cricket.
Such a drastic cut to the number of days’ county cricket isn’t a recipe to grow Glamorgan’s support, as the club are only too aware. “My message to the Welsh public is don’t forget us,” Glamorgan head coach David Harrison said on August 1.
Instead, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) decided to hand over the height of the summer to the Hundred, the finals of which take place at Lord’s today.
The format slaughtered a number of the sport’s sacred cows in an effort to reach a new audience, including doing away with ‘overs’ and replacing traditional county teams with franchises based on, what are perceived to be, more modern identities. For Glamorgan, see “Welsh Fire”.
Only, there wasn’t a single Welsh (or even Glamorgan player) in the men’s team. There was one in the women’s team. “The saddest and (maddest) thing about watching Welsh Fire tonight was seeing Glamorgan legend Michael Hogan bowling for Southern Brave,” wrote sports journalist Phil Steele.
The men’s side lost every one of their eight games while the women won just one of six. Big hitting was meant to be the main selling point, with “every ball counts” the official slogan.
But Glamorgan hit more sixes in just 48 balls in their last one-day match than the Welsh Fire managed in any of their 100 ball innings.
Nonetheless, there’s much to be said for attempting to throw open the doors to a sport in which the privately schooled are vastly over represented, black and Asian players are as equally underrepresented and which tolerated a ban on women becoming members at Lord’s until as late as 1998.
Glamorgan aren’t exempt from that. Despite a large Welsh Asian community in the capital, it wasn’t until 2018 that a Welsh-born player of Asian heritage made a first team appearance.
It’s also undeniable that the Hundred, which saw women and men’s matches played back-to-back, provided a more level playing field for women’s cricket.
But achieving equality in cricket would require more red-ball matches to be played. There were just eight women’s test matches worldwide between 2010 and 2019 compared to 433 in the men’s game, according to the newly-published Crickonomics.
The gap is likely to close, but only because there will be fewer men’s test matches in future.
The trend towards short form cricket, of which the Hundred is part, is a global phenomenon, driven primarily by the Indian Premier League. It could though have very particular consequences for cricket in Wales.
That’s down to another hundred: the century that Glamorgan has racked up as a first-class county. In order to maintain that status, Wales doesn’t have its own international teams.
This makes sense if you accept that red-ball cricket is the highest form of the game. Glamorgan currently play 14 four-day matches every season. Ireland, who are captained by former Glamorgan player Andy Balbirnie, have played three test matches in their history. Scotland don’t have test status.
However, the ECB are set to cut the number of county championship matches to as few as 10 from 2024 as part of the “high-performance review” being led by former England captain Andrew Strauss.
There are concerns this trend could lead to a reduction in the number of first-class counties, with the Cricketer magazine suggesting this year that Glamorgan, as the second newest first-class county, would be among the first to go.
The ECB’s strategy is steadily undermining the delicate and unique deal they have with Welsh cricket. If short form cricket is going to be king, then why shouldn’t Wales appear alongside Scotland and Ireland at the T20 and one-day world cups?
Well, that would mean no Welsh team playing the highest standard of cricket for the first time in a century. A sad day for Welsh players and fans alike.
Instead, they will hope that, after more than a month of Welsh Fire burnout, Sam Tân and his teammates can rekindle their form from earlier this summer when Glamorgan resume their promotion chase against Worcestershire on Monday.
That would do more than any marketing gimmick to secure the future of cricket in Wales, and put Glamorgan back in with a chance of winning their first county championship since 1997.
“What if it happens again?” asks Daffodil Days, the book on Glamorgan’s “glorious summer” of ’97.
“Why, they might have to take the sign down at Lord’s and put up another one: the Wales and England Cricket Board. Known for short as WCB.”
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