The Hundred faces sexism row after fans offered full refund despite watching an entire women’s match

·8-min read
The scene in the Lords pavilion during The Hundred matches between London Spirit and Oval Invincibles.
The scene in the Lords pavilion during The Hundred matches between London Spirit and Oval Invincibles.

The Hundred – cricket’s controversial new tournament – became embroiled in a sexism row on Sunday night after more than 13,000 fans at Lord’s were offered a full refund despite having seen an entire women’s match.

Hundred tickets are sold as double-headers: a women’s match followed by a men’s match. And when Sunday’s men’s match – a local derby between London Spirit and the Oval Invincibles – was rained off without a ball being bowled, it triggered the clause for a full repayment to fans.

A spokesperson for the England and Wales Cricket Board said last night that the refund arrangements had been set up “before we moved to double-header fixtures” and promised that they would now reassess their policy.

“With the women’s competition securing amazing support from fans,” said the spokesperson, “we need to consider if our current approach is now the appropriate one.”

Broadcaster and MCC member Isabelle Duncan – whose book Skirting the Boundary is a history of women’s cricket – described the ticket rules as a “blunder”.

“The Hundred was supposed to be the chance for women’s cricket to be placed on an equal footing,” said Duncan “But this reflects badly on the England and Wales Cricket Board, and it sends out the wrong message, because it is implying that women’s cricket has no financial value.

“Last week we heard about the massive salary gap between the male and female players, and now this. You might say that it’s a technicality, but somebody at the ECB should have seen this one coming, and it’s too late now for the whole tournament. They can’t change ticket conditions once they’ve been sold.”

Until this glitch cropped up, The Hundred had been presented as a victory for gender equality. It opened last week with a women’s match between the Oval Invincibles and the Manchester Originals, which drew over 7,300 fans to The Oval.

Sunday’s match at Lord’s almost doubled that figure, attracting the largest crowd yet recorded for a modern domestic women’s match. But any celebrations at the England and Wales Cricket Board will have been undermined by this latest embarrassment.

Had Sunday’s thunderstorms arrived four hours earlier, wiping out the women’s fixture between the Invincibles and the Spirit, but allowing the men’s match to go ahead, there would have been no refund.

Last week, Telegraph Sport revealed that some women are having to claim holiday from their day jobs to play in The Hundred, which is due to conclude on Aug 21 at Lord’s. Only around two-thirds of the female players are fully professional.

The pay packets for the women range between £3,600 and £15,000 for the duration of the tournament, whereas the equivalent figures for the men start at an entry level of £24,000, and the most expensive players – many of them overseas stars – earn the top whack of £100,000.

Jeans in the pavilion: the day Lord's ditched its traditional dress code for The Hundred

Members of the Marylebone Cricket Club ditched their trademark egg-and-bacon ties in favour of jeans and T-shirts as the controversial new Hundred competition came to Lord’s for the first time.

Until Sunday, the notoriously strict dress code for male spectators inside the 19th-Century Lord’s Pavilion had required jackets and ties. For less formal Twenty20 matches, the tie could be removed, but there was still a bare minimum of “Tailored jacket or blazer; collared shirt that is tucked into tailored trousers, chinos, corduroys or moleskin trousers; a tie or cravat; and formal shoes with socks which cover the ankle.”

But all that went by the board as Lord’s welcomed dress-down Sunday. The Hundred’s bold reinvention of cricket’s traditional values was matched by a thoroughly democratic selection of threads in the Pavilion, including stonewashed jeans, bomber jackets and even cargo shorts.

The Club’s only expectation – judging by a much-reduced banned list that included singlets, sports gear, camouflage prints, beachwear and “torn, ripped or unclean clothing” – was that members and their guests should look presentable enough to attend a restaurant. Men’s shoulders and women’s midriffs were required to be covered, but shorts and even sandals – though not flip-flops – were acceptable.

In other words, the rules were hardly more demanding than those you might expect at your local All Bar One on a Friday night.

The Lord's pavilion during Sunday's scheduled double-header.
The Lord's pavilion during Sunday's scheduled double-header.

In another first for the world’s most historic cricket ground, children under the age of 12 were admitted to the Pavilion for the first time. Nursery-age spectators were dandled on their parent’s knees as the Oval Invincibles’ women’s team beat their hosts – the London Spirit – by 15 runs, with 16-year-old schoolgirl Alice Capsey claiming the “Match Hero” award.

The MCC has not always been noted as the most progressive of organisations. The club voted to admit female members for the first time in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2018 that the first women to add their names to the waiting list finally reached the top.

As for the dress-code, the former England captain Mike Brearley campaigned unsuccessfully for a relaxation of the Lord’s Pavilion rules in 2007. Until Sunday’s breakthrough, though, the only change had been a grudging agreement that members could remove their ties for Twenty20 cricket.

Teenage sensation Alice Capsey stars in Invincibles win

Father Time, the steel weathervane that overlooks Lord’s Cricket Ground, has seen many things – but never a crowd of 13,537 for a domestic women’s match. Nor a 16-year-old schoolgirl coming away with a “Match hero” award, as Alice Capsey did on Sunday.

Capsey, who will be receiving her GCSE results midway through this tournament, was a revelation as she drove her first ball over mid-on for four and then set about the London Spirit’s attack like a starving woman at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

She had already shown her daring in the opening match of The Hundred – at The Oval last week – where she spanked another first-ball boundary and was then caught behind aiming the cheekiest of ramp shots at Manchester Originals captain Kate Cross.

This time, Capsey opted for a more orthodox approach of whipping boundaries over or through the on-side field with her strongly bottom-handed grip. As the Sky Sports analysts agreed, she resembled a tennis player more than a cricketer at times – and she is indeed a multi-talented sportswoman who had to choose between the two disciplines – but her eye for a ball is phenomenal, and she has the capacity to open up the offside when she needs to as well.

Alice Capsey of Oval Invincibles Women plays a shot as London Spirit Women wicket keeper Amara Carr looks on during The Hundred match between London Spirit Women and Oval Invincibles Women at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 25, 2021 in London, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Alice Capsey of Oval Invincibles Women plays a shot as London Spirit Women wicket keeper Amara Carr looks on during The Hundred match between London Spirit Women and Oval Invincibles Women at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 25, 2021 in London, England. - GETTY IMAGES

"I was absolutely not expecting this exposure. I wasn't expecting to even be in the XI, let alone opening the batting, so it has been a dream come true," Capsey explained after her innings. "I want to play for England. I want to open, or play top order, for England, across all formats. I want to go as high as I can really."

Capsey was well supported by a measured 29 off 35 balls from her captain Dane van Niekerk, as the Oval Invincibles lived up to their moniker by claiming their second successive victory. Van Niekerk is the South African captain, and she is already demonstrating superb match-management skills.

The Invincibles’ 132 for seven was bang on target, given that all four previous Hundred women’s matches had been won by a total in the 130s. It could have been chased down, had England captain Heather Knight spent longer at the crease during the Spirit’s innings. But Van Niekerk applied enormous pressure through her tactic of leading off with her most dangerous pace bowlers.

Marizanne Kapp had done the job superbly last week, when she delivered the first ten balls of the whole tournament, but she was missing with an adductor injury on Sunday. So the Invincibles turned to the raw pace of another South African – Shabnim Ismail, who regularly approaches the 80mph mark – and the left-arm swing of Tash Farrant.

So effective were these two that, at the end of the 25-ball Powerplay, the Spirit had scored only 19 runs and were already seeing the required rate climbing above what might be realistically achieved. Knight struck some gorgeous boundaries in her 40 from 29 balls but was unable to prevent a 15-run defeat.

The ensuing men’s match between the same two teams was abandoned without a ball bowled after rain blew in from the north. There was potential for it to be reduced all the way down to 25 balls per side, had the weather relented, which would have brought about the shortest match in professional history. (The minimum requirement for Twenty20 cricket is five six-ball overs.)

Instead, Lord’s had to be happy with a new attendance record for a women’s domestic match, far eclipsing the 7,395 who had watched the Invincibles beat the Originals at The Oval last week.

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