Charles Darwin, women's toilet queues and the Hundred

How cricket often goes wrong by not seeing the bigger picture

Charles Darwin lived in a place called Down House - which is now a museum in honour of the really slow writer and high school dropout. And because it was his home for a long time, and also the place he wrote Origin of Species.

If you are unfamiliar with that book, it’s the one that upset people who think a human hand was designed to hold a banana by one old guy who lives in clouds. It’s basically the key book that changed how the world thought about evolution.

But Darwin was also a dad who hoarded weird shit around the house as he struggled to finish his book and lived off his old man’s money. One of the things that Chuck did was spend eight years cataloguing every type of barnacle.

And so at one stage, his son went next door and said to the child who lived there, “Where does your dad do his barnacles?”.

It’s one of my favourite stories ever because it shows how much what we think is normal is just all we have seen around us.

It reminded me of another story I heard once about how women’s toilets in public places are often designed wrong because most architects are men.

Basically, we are dominated by our own experiences. If you grow up in a household of weird animals, you assume everyone does. If you pee standing up, you may not be the person to solve the problems who sit when weeing.

Why am I talking about barnacles and toilet queues? Because something really interesting happened the other day when news got out that the ECB were thinking about cancelling - or at least rejigging the Hundred.

And just a brief history on the hundred if you are not aware of the political omnishambles that surrounds it. The Hundred is a cricket culture war in the UK. On one side you have traditional county - and I suppose Test fans - who were happy with cricket’s position in the country. On the other side is the new cricket fans who love the Hundred, feel seen for the first time and don’t even care that cricket’s brave new world is about crisp packets.

Oh, and both sides hate each other. It’s been a fun few years on English cricket Twitter.

So you can probably understand what each side feels when they hear that the Hundred may be coming down. Cheers and boos.

But let’s leave the culture war things alone for a moment, and focus on something that the Hundred actually did, move women’s cricket into the mainstream. And so if it does fall down, where does that leave the women’s game in England?

The Hundred is the only women’s competition outside of Fairbreak that doesn’t feel tacked on to the men’s. It is a major comp in its own right, even if financially it is nothing like the WPL. In terms of cricket culture, the Hundred almost instantly made a different impact.

And some of this was by accident, the broadcasters and sponsors made sure the women were placed front and centre. And Covid was the reason there were double headers, which ended up being one of the most important reasons for its success.

And it has been, but it’s the partnership between that and the men’s that worked in tandem.

The ECB made the Hundred to try recover from their own ineptitude in running the game down pretty much since they had been formed. The fact it helped women’s cricket was partly the right timing, some people do great work and just dumb luck.

But as Raf Nicholson says, if you are celebrating the potential demise of the Hundred - which will only be replaced with another version anyway - then you are also celebrating the end of the best thing to have happened to women’s cricket in the UK. Because the success of the women’s Hundred is predicated on it being on par with the men’s.

And the reason the Hundred is being torn down is because of what it is doing to the men’s game. It didn’t pop, it hasn’t been a cash cow. And the counties are still upset over it. But it has been magnificent for women’s cricket. Professionalising a whole host of English women, and even those from Ireland and Scotland. Rachel Heyhoe Flint and paying the English women were big plusses, but nothing moved the needle like the Hundred.

You want to know how backward women’s domestic cricket was before, in 2018 Middlesex women played their first home game at Lord’s. They literally let schoolboys and club cricketers out there for hundreds of years.

In fact, the Lord’s members didn’t care that the Middlesex women never played there, but when the MCC tried to dump a school game, the members protested. That is where the women’s game was.

It reminds me of the people who were against cricket going to the Olympics on the grounds there was too much cricket. And there was, for the England men’s team. Not their women. Not for associates. And certainly not for disabled cricket. I mean you could argue that outside the top ten men and 5 or so women’s teams, there is nowhere near enough cricket. But when you talk about cricket to many, they think about their men’s national side, as if all other cricket doesn’t exist.

And you might be wondering why I am bringing all this up. I certainly don’t care that much about a tournament that shaved 20 balls off as a stupid marketing gimmick instead of just reducing time by bowling ten overs in a row at one end, and then the same at the other.

But what I do care about is that cricket has been a sport where the people who make the decisions only think about their experiences. And that is what has kept this game from growing. A decision to make it an empire sport, to not run major women’s competitions and even the fact to this day that the ICC don’t run disability cricket means that our sport has alienated itself from most of the world.

Cricket could - and should be bigger. It should be more open and have more diverse voices. I mean almost every time a new country has come in it has brought with it something that has improved or changed our game. And yet we still have a bouncer out on a velvet rope, keeping potential riff-raff from entering.

And to force a metaphor - cricket is a sport completely covered by old barnacles. There is no way to stop them from attaching themselves, but if you don’t treat them, they will eventually damage your boat.

At a certain point, cricket has to adapt, or die