Why England’s short-format supremacy can help grow the game

Harry Eckersley, Group Communications Manager

As Carlos Brathwaite launched a fourth consecutive six into the jet black Kolkata night sky, it was hard to escape the feeling that England had spurned a golden opportunity. The year was 2016, West Indies had just defeated England in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Final, and Ben Stokes – the man who had leaked 24 runs off just 4 deliveries – was squatting on his haunches, a picture of dejection. Would they get another crack at this?

“Complete devastation” was how Stokes described his feelings in that particular moment but, irrepressible as ever, he vowed not to shy away from a repeat scenario. Speaking after the final, he said: “You almost want it to happen again because if I nail it, everyone will forget that first final.”

Fast forward to 13th November, 2022, and Stokes was as good as his word – his clinical half-century guiding England to T20 World Cup glory in Melbourne. The redemptive arc complete.

Yet whilst much of the attention around England’s triumph has focused on Stokes, zoom out a little and there is a wider success story here. In the six years since that fateful night at Eden Gardens, English cricket has undergone a remarkable revival in the shortened formats, with the England Men’s and England Women’s teams quietly building a dynasty that is the envy of world.

By winning in Australia, Buttler and co became the first men’s team to ‘unify the belts’, holding both the T20 World Cup and ODI World Cup crown at the same time. England’s women meanwhile – winners of the ODI World Cup on home soil in 2017 – were just one game short of registering back-to-back triumphs, succumbing gamely to Australia in the final of this year’s 50-over competition.

Across those two formats, there have been nine ICC-sanctioned World Cups hosted since 2016. England have reached the semi-final stage in every single one.

So, despite the constant anxiety over the sport’s relevance and premature lamentations over its looming ‘death’, there can be little doubt that white-ball cricket in this country is in the midst of a golden age, the timing of which is significant. Cricket has evolved rapidly over the last decade, with the shorter formats now the driving force behind the growth of the game. Through its “white-ball reset”, launched in 2015, England have ensured that they are at the forefront of that step change.

And the impact of that approach is being felt across the country. Whilst a resurgent Test Match side galvanised audiences across the summer, it’s the abbreviated formats that continue to offer a gateway to a broader fanbase.

Nowhere is that more apparent than through The Hundred, whose reason for being was to take the sport into new realms. So far, it’s delivering on that promise.  The tournament continues to elevate the women’s game in the UK, accelerating professionalism, increasing visibility and driving higher standards. The newly announced women’s player draft for 2023 is just one more landmark moment in the competition’s evolving journey, which is already having a trickle-down effect on the sport. Amongst record-breaking attendances for women’s fixtures, the 2022 season saw more children, women and families attend a Hundred fixture than in its inaugural year.

Through partnerships with brands such as KP Snacks and Unilever, and via broadcast, new audiences are also being reached to the tune of 5.9 million who had never previously watched cricket. And for the second year running, more than 100,000 kids have participated in the grassroots game through the All Stars and Dynamos programmes.

How much of that can be put down to the innovative broadcast agreement featuring both Sky and the BBC is hard to quantify. Yet the existence of free-to-air coverage can be no bad thing. We saw its impact in 2019, when 4.5 million fans watched that once-in-a-lifetime final against New Zealand on Channel 4. And we saw it again on Sunday morning, with 1.5m tuning in to that same channel to toast England’s T20 triumph.

Yet, coverage alone is rarely enough to attract new fans. Seeing is believing and when tuning into these showpiece spectacles, that audience wants to see itself represented on screen. Because only when you see it, do you truly feel you can be part of it.

That’s why this current crop of England stars has the capacity to capture audiences in a way that few have managed before. Be it Mark Wood who hails from an old mining town in Northumberland, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali from major urban centres like Bradford and Birmingham, or Jofra Archer, raised in Bridgetown, Barbados, this is a multi-racial and multi-faith team that has the power to resonate with the range of diverse communities that constitute modern Britain.

On the women’s side too, wisened servants to the game are being replaced by exciting young talent. As Kathryn Brunt and Anya Shrubsole call time on their standout careers, bold, bright and relatable stars such as Issy Wong, Sophia Dunkley and Alice Capsey have taken up the mantle, showcasing their skills and personality on an international stage.

A £3.5million cash injection will see the ranks of professional women cricketers swell to 80 by 2023, double the number in 2020; a fresh cast of protagonists on hand to give life to the changing face of cricket and continue to inspire the next generation.

Not to mention the coterie of England’s global stars. Ben Stokes. Jos Buttler. Nat Sciver. Jonny Bairstow. Joe Root. Household names who are putting English cricket on the map both domestically and globally.

Which brings us on to 2023. With an ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa, an ICC Men’s ODI World Cup in India, twin Ashes series, and a return of The Hundred – this year unimpeded by the international schedule, the stars seem to have aligned for a blockbuster year of cricket.

The launchpad to further supercharge the sport in this country is ready and waiting. With both the England Women’s and England Men’s teams at the top of their game, the sky is the limit.