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Update Standalone women's match to kickoff 'The Hundred' in July 2021

After a 12-month delay because of coronavirus, The Hundred will finally get underway in late July and the opening fixture will be a standalone women's match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals at the Kia Oval. The ECB believe it will be the first time a major mixed-team sporting competition has begun with a women's fixture.

The game will be broadcast live on both Sky Sports and the BBC on July 21 in what the ECB hope will be a "big and bold" opening to their new eight team city-based competition. The women's fixture will be followed by the corresponding men's game between the Invincibles and Originals the following day. In all, there will be 80 matches played in the space of four weeks with the final of the women's and men's competition both taking place on August 21 at Lord's.

"Opening The Hundred with a standalone women's match represents a historic moment, not just for cricket and women's cricket, but more widely for sport," Beth Barrett-Wild, Head of The Hundred Women's Competition, said. "Launching the competition for men and women at the same time is really significant. What normally happens is that a competition gets launched for the men and then four or five years later, once it is established, a women's element is bolted onto it. Whereas what we have done with The Hundred, it is a competition by design for both genders.

"It's going to be played at the Kia Oval so it is a big ground. We have got big ambitions around that. There is a bit of uncertainty around how many people will be allowed to attend but our ambition for that fixture is to sell it out. We saw what was done at the MCG with the 87,000 people that attended that World Cup final last year. That market is there now. Our aim is to sell it out and be as big and bold as we can with it.

"It is going to be live on the BBC, live on Sky Sports, and that visibility for the women's game is going to be massive. That's really, really important. It is about engaging with a wider audience and making it relevant to as many people as possible. Having the women's competition within that is crucial. The Hundred doesn't work without the women's game. The opening game is important but every other game is equally so."

Barrett-Wild says there is much more to the ECB's decision than simply generating a few headlines for opening the tournament with a women's game. Instead, the governing body hope to use the match as part of a drive for more audience growth in the women's game. "It really demonstrates our commitment and intent around where we want the women's game to go," Barrett-Wild said. "We want the women's game to be played in the biggest stadia on the biggest stage with the biggest platform and being played in front of as many people as possible.

"In terms of how we harness what comes off the back of that, it is all about audience growth. It gives us an opportunity to really turbo charge the profile and visibility of women's cricket. That's really important. We have seen the women's game grow exponentially over the last five years. It is all about ensuring that we really harness that growth opportunity and that we increase the number of eyeballs. That's in stadia and through our broadcast partners. Get as many people watching as possible.

"With that growth, it will enable the women's game to thrive in all areas. At the top end in terms of showcasing that women can make a proper, viable career in the sport now. Then also at the grassroots, having that big shop window is really important in inspiring women and girls, and girls in particular, to think that they can play cricket and that they should play cricket. So it is just normal. How do we normalise cricket as a sport for women and girls as much as it is for men and boys?"

All of The Hundred's games are going to be shown live on Sky - it will be the first time a domestic women's tournament has been shown in its entirety on TV - while the BBC will show ten men's games and up to eight women's games as well. Apart from the opening two matches, the rest of the fixtures in the tournament are double headers with both the women's and men's games between the eight teams taking place on the same day and at the same ground.

Initially, the plan was for the women's matches to be taken to different grounds but that approach had to be shelved because of the logistical challenges of COVID. There is a benefit of playing double headers, though, as the women's matches will be played on the best pitches in the country. "It's the biggest thing for women's cricket," Kate Cross, England fast-bowler, said. "If you put us on slow pitches, then you're going to get a slow game and it's not what people want to see.

"If you put us on faster, better wickets, you're going to see more runs and more wickets. It's not just the pitches, it's the ground. The quality of the ground and us being able to get the quality of our fielding right. Also, that atmosphere with the crowds. It's the top of my list when it comes to how do you make women's cricket better, put us on better pitches and instantly you will see a better product."


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