For Isa Guha, former England bowler and World Cup winner, sitting on the sidelines covering the cricket this summer has been “an absolute dream”.
During what’s been a somewhat magical few months for English cricket, Guha has been in the thick of it – she was pitch-side for the World Cup final and in the commentary box, desperate not to jinx anything, for Ben Stokes’ heroics at Headingly.
She says: “So many moments you’re there and you’re pinching yourself because you’re working with some of the greats of the game and you’re talking about the game that you love in some phenomenal, unbelievable moments that will never ever happen again.”
Now she’s involved in the coverage of new tournament on the block – The Hundred, that will run between July and September next year. Each innings will consist of 100 balls, hence the name, and while England players have already been assigned to teams, this weekend the men’s draft will take place live on Sky Sports to decide who will join their ranks.
Players from all around the world – from Steve Smith to Chris Gayle – have entered the draft and the eight city-based teams will only have 100 seconds to pick each of their players. The stakes are high.
Guha can’t wait: “I’m excited about having a tournament where you have the best players in the world all playing together night after night, where everyone knows it’s going to be on the television.”
The all-new format will be fast-paced, says Guha, and it’s the tactics that she’s most intrigued by: “I’m really excited about seeing how teams approach it. It’s going to absolutely be whoever adapts to it quickest will be successful.” She explains that in other short formats of the game good bowling is what gives the teams the edge: “That’s what’s going to be interesting when it comes to the draft on Sunday.”
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Part of what the ECB have said they want to do with The Hundred is attracting new fans, much to the displeasure of many long-suffering cricket lovers who are happy with the status quo. Does Guha think it can find a new audience? She says: “I like to think it will. We live in our cricket bubble where we think cricket is amazing, but actually the general population don’t. We’ve had to really look at ourselves as a sport and try and figure out how we gain a greater audience.”
Guha says that cricket is competing with ninety-minute football matches and needs to offer audiences a format that works with shorter attention spans. Ultimately though Guha says she hopes it will inspire everyone: “I think the message will always be everyone’s welcome. And hopefully, it gets to a point where everyone feels they need to be part of it.”
In fact, it’s the women’s game that reinforces Guha’s belief: “A significant moment was the World Cup final for the women actually, there was a sell-out crowd at Lord’s and it was a completely different demographic to people who normally go watch cricket. That showed that there are other cricket-loving supporters out there.”
Growing Women’s Cricket
Growing the women’s game and the fanbase is another area the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are targeting with The Hundred, as there is both a men’s and women’s tournament. Guha is confident that it can raise the sport’s profile, citing the example of the Women’s Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia that was also marketed side-by-side with the men’s BBL to begin with: “That’s had a massive knock-on effect to the point where now, the women’s competition over in Australia is standalone to the men and they’re getting really good crowds.”
As well as marketing, the women competing in The Hundred will receive the same treatment as the men in terms of logistics and travel. Guha, who played for England for over a decade, says: “Many people will look and say ‘Well, that’s no big deal.’ But actually, when you’re in it, it does make you feel a bit better about yourself when you know that they’re looking after you as much as the men.”
If there’s parity in some areas of The Hundred, the same certainly can’t be said for the pay. At first glance the difference is eye-watering – the men’s salaries range from £30,000 to £125,000 while the women will earn from £3,600 to £15,000.
Guha says: “I think we’re not at the right point to have equal pay for the women and the men because the women need to start generating more revenue.”
That said, Guha explains it’s better than a cursory glance would suggest as in fact, it’s a higher salary pro-rata than the WBBL players get. She says: “When you look at the world stage, you’re always looking at Australia because they have been world leaders in terms of the way they support their women, so I think that’s a massive step.”
“I know when you put it side by side with the men, you’re thinking ‘Hang on a sec, we’ve still got a long way to go!’ We still do have a long way to go, but it’s about getting the right structures in place first, so you can develop that talent pool to then have many cricketers who can play competitively at the top level, which then will generate interest.”
It’s not just The Hundred that is changing things for women in cricket. The ECB is setting up a new domestic structure for women’s cricket with eight centres of excellence. This means more professional players, something Guha says “the women’s game has always been striving to achieve”.
Nowhere was the need for investment more visible than the Women’s Ashes this summer where Australia beat England 12-4. Guha says she doesn’t think this summer’s score-line reflected the ability of the two teams: “I think if England is playing their best cricket they will challenge Australia, it’s just Australia has gone to another level and we need to be better. I think that would have been a big kick up the backside for the England Women’s team.”
With Heather Knight as captain and a new coach coming in, Guha says she thinks the team can start fresh and build a team that can become the best in the world again. These changes by the ECB will also surely help.
Guha says: “Anything that you invest in that allows for greater competition for places and generates a wider talent pool can only be a good thing for England Women’s cricket.” There is a caveat, however: “It’s wonderful that there’s a significant investment going into the women’s game but it needs to keep happening.”
Increased media attention will also raise the profile of England’s women. Guha says: “Visibility is absolutely essential for any sport and the fact that the women’s game is getting more air-time, you’re just so proud to see that.”
Reporting on women’s matches is even more special for Guha because she still knows many of the players on the pitch, having only retired from international cricket in 2012. She says: “You sort of take yourself back to when you were a player and you’re reminding yourself of what it was like. It’s always fun working on those games.”
Forging a career in broadcasting
Since stepping back from playing, Guha has forged an impressive career reporting on the men’s game too. The male-dominated environment is something she took in her stride: “I’ve always enjoyed the environment, if I’m honest, right from when I was a kid and being the only girl in the boy’s team.”
In fact, broadcasting was never Guha’s initial career goal due to a lack of opportunities for women. It’s something she dabbled with as she transitioned off the pitch and continued with as the opportunities kept coming and others were supportive. Guha says: “Probably about five years ago was when I really started believing that I could do it as a living and then the opportunities came and now it’s just a wonderful place to be for female broadcasters.”
Back to The Hundred draw, Guha is convinced that Rashid Khan, Andre Russell and Mitchell Starc will be the first players to be picked: “I’ll be very surprised if they don’t.” If anyone knows it’s Guha, but there’s only one way to see if she’s right…
The Hundred Draft – Live will be shown on Sky Sports Cricket, Main Event & Sky One from 7 pm on Sunday.