How the return of Test cricket in August could harm the women’s game’s progression
The growth of women’s cricket has been boosted significantly by the success of The Hundred
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August Test matches in England could soon be back on the agenda, if the ECB’s new leadership gets their way. Earlier this year, the international calendar was announced up until 2027 with no Tests set to take place in traditionally the hottest month of the summer. However this could well change with the end of summer matches coming back as soon as 2024, according to the Times.
As it stands, next year’s red-ball showdowns against Ireland and Australia will all finish by the end of July, marking the first time an Ashes Test match has not been played in August during the summer series. Additionally, it was initially planned that the 2024 Test series against West Indies would be played in July with the two Test matches against Sri Lanka to be played in September thus allowing for August to remain free.
August, it would appear, has now become the month for The Hundred - a tournament that has fiercely divided fans since its first conception. The movement of Test matches to incorporate this franchise competition has evidently not sat well with the new ECB chiefs. Thus, we once again enter the debate on the tournament’s merits and the overarching conundrum of scheduling.
Twitter - the home of all reasonable and timidly expressed opinions, as we are well aware - has provided much fuel to the fire on the recurring debate. The Barmy Army Twitter account posted “...the new ECB chiefs are looking to u-turn on Test cricket not being played in August as early as 2024” to which one person, @ThallonW, responded: “It’s not rocket science, Step 1: Ditch the dismal 100, Step 2: recover self-respect, Step 3: Play Test cricket in August.”
@nffcshandy has since replied to this initial comment saying: “Another older person moaning about the hundred…shock. The hundred got me and a lot of mates into cricket now we love red ball cricket. Just because you don’t find it appealing doesn’t mean it’s not doing a lot for the game.”
And here we have, almost perfectly summed up, the current divide between cricket fans. The first opinion offers up, rather harshly, the idea that you cannot escape the purity of Test cricket - it has and always should be the main priority when organising the calendar.
The scheduling of cricket has come under increasingly severe scrutiny, and no more so than by Ben Stokes, 2019 World Cup hero and current Test captain, who announced he would be retiring from ODI cricket by stating: “we are not cars, you can’t just fill us up and we’ll go out there and be ready to be fuelled up again.”
Stokes’ comments also sparked a reaction from white-ball captain Jos Buttler who vehemently supported his colleague’s views by saying he hoped Stokes’ decision would act as a “wake up call” to combat the clustered nature of the sport’s calendar.
He also added: “There’s no getting past the fact that the schedule makes it tough. It’s also a frustration of mine that we don’t have any training days.”
The ECB’s earlier decision to take Test matches out of August has not helped this battle one iota either. More and more T20, ODI and Test matches are now simply being crammed into a smaller time frame.
However, as @nffcshandy pointed out, The Hundred has been instrumental in bringing a new fan base to the game in England and thus widening cricket’s horizons beyond the stereotypically older (and, let’s face it, mostly white) male fanbase.
For all the energetic back and forths we continue to see between the two opposing arguments, there’s one major element that is rarely considered: women’s cricket, and the phenomenal work The Hundred has done for its progression and exposure.
Women’s cricket has enjoyed two years of prime-time TV spots on BBC; sell-out games and rewards of equal prize money to the men’s game. The double-header format of the tournament ensures fans have an additional incentive to attend the women’s matches where they perhaps might not ordinarily - as they have the benefit of seeing two matches for the price of one with their ticket.
However, the readdition of Test matches in August could well impact the advancements we have seen over the past two years as once again we would see the priority shift away from the expanding women’s game and swing back to the already firmly established historical men’s Tests - a format of the sport Women cricketers can only enjoy playing once a year, much to their (and indeed my) chagrin.
There has been an eclectic mix this year of progress and regression in terms of Women’s sport more generally and it would be extremely disappointing if cricket were to add to the negatives. The success of the Women’s Euros tournament this year, for example, has been astounding. The final at Wembley had a record European Championship attendance, and it has since drawn more spectators to Women’s Super League matches. Off the back of European success, UEFA have now also announced they will run a women’s Nations League tournament from next Autumn.
However, while football is revelling in their flourishing triumphs, motorsports mourns the loss of the W series due to a lack of funding. The women’s formula 1 equivalent has had to be pulled because an investor pulled out and now here we are wondering what effect moving a men’s Test match might have.
The cancelling of this year’s W Series just goes to show how temperamental and unstable supposed support can be, especially in women’s sport. A slight loss in fanbase growth can have a detrimental impact on the women’s game while it can very often go unnoticed in the men’s.
At a time where the momentum of the women’s game, and the growth of cricket in general, seemed to be soaring in a positive direction, the revival of August Test matches would only draw this flourishing project back to where we were just a few years ago.
Having no Ashes Test match in August seems uncomfortable and abnormal, there is no doubt about that. However, what it does allow for is new fans discovering and indeed enjoying cricket; more pertinently, specifically women’s cricket, which as competitions such as The Hundred have shown, is just as gripping, enthralling and intense as the men’s game.