Marcus Hook’s Surrey CCC column: The Ashes never needs any hype – but The Hundred has always struggled to live up to its lofty billing

The Ashes never needs hyping up. Even so, many predicted this summer’s series would be the most enthralling since 2005, and so it proved. It also underlined that five-day Test cricket remains the ultimate format of the game.

Despite being squeezed into a narrow window to provide The Hundred its primetime August slot, the Ashes still delivered.

Cricket has often been seen as boring, but Ben Stokes, the England captain, and coach Brendon McCullum have transformed and redefined it.

Attention now turns to The Hundred, which is no stranger when it comes to hype.

But those who fly the flag for the 100-ball competition run the risk of looking foolish if they persist with the puffery, especially with the Ashes so fresh in everyone’s mind.

The BBC’s viewing figures for last summer’s Hundred suggested the competition was already struggling to live up to its billing, despite the ECB placing it front and centre.

The tournament’s second year saw a drop off up to 20 per cent in viewer numbers – from an average of 615,000 per match shown live on the BBC in 2021 to just over 500,000.

There’s a fundamental difference between the men’s and the women’s Hundred. The women’s attracts the best players in the world while the men’s, with bodies to manage and more lucrative franchise competitions for the top players to target, has rapidly become little more than a roll-call of county cricket’s finest.

Seven of the eight counties providing the fewest number of players to the men’s Hundred are in Division Two of the County Championship.

There was a danger that calling the Oval’s Hundred franchise the Invincibles could backfire, but the women’s team have won both titles to date.

They still appear to be the team to beat despite losing South Africa’s Shabnim Ismail to Welsh Fire.

New Zealand’s Suzie Bates and skipper Dane van Niekerk have been retained in the draft, while in comes van Niekerk’s South African team-mate Marizanne Kapp.

Kapp was outstanding with the ball in the Women’s Indian Premier League, taking nine wickets at just 5.72 runs per over.

Of the English contingent, 18-year-old superstar Alice Capsey and Lauren Winfield-Hill will also be key.

Despite losing a combined 22 players to the men’s competition, Hampshire and Surrey have chosen not to sign an overseas player for the 50-over Metro Bank One-Day Cup, which will run in parallel with The Hundred.

Surrey are, however, likely to be bolstered by Rory Burns and Ben Foakes, neither of whom have played a List A game for the Oval outfit since 2019. But, again, the look of the side will be that of a second 11, so expectations aren’t high.

Whether spectators or, indeed, viewers, are drawn to The Hundred or the One-Day Cup in the coming weeks, the hope is The Ashes has sparked a renewed interest in the game, just like it did in 2005.

After England’s dramatic victory at the Oval on Monday, Stokes said: “I was very young back then, but that series, for me, was one of the best.

“Hopefully, there’s plenty of kids out there who are my age, back then, who have watched this series who want to take up the game.

“I know I wasn’t the only young kid watching in 2005 saying: ‘That’s what I want to be doing when I’m older’.”

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