At a sunny Leinster CC, the inaugural Hundred Blast League came to an end, with a trio of high scoring games. It was a fitting end to a tournament that was all about enjoyment and participation. It was the third HBL day, with Knockharley CC and Ringcommons CC hosting the two previous rounds. The Slaney Sharks ended up winning the most games of the tournament but the real winner was the new format, which was a huge success and will become an integral part of the Women’s programme in seasons to come.
The competition was first discussed after listening to parents and players concerns after the 2018 season. Leinster CC’s Mary Curly raised concerns that there was a gap in the Women’s programme for girls aged 17-21, especially players who were not involved with the Super3s or Irish squads. This age group was also the age where we lost most of our players, so it was obvious that something needed to be done.
The ECB’s ‘Hundred’ competition was announced last year and will come into reality next summer. Time will tell if the format takes off and people get behind it at the top level, but the idea of rebranding the game to a new audience is an exciting prospect. With the HBL wanting to achieve similar goals it seemed like a good match. With a few tweaks of the ECB’s proposed rules, a catchy name and some strong branding, the HBL was invented.
The tournament format was then pitched, on behalf of Leinster CC, to Philip Smith and the planning got started, with Sue O’Connor taking over the administration. The colourful kit and branding was designed and O’Neills and EdSports produced the playing and training kit. Three grounds were identified as possible hosts for the game days. As Leinster proposed the idea they offered to host the finals day, which left Knockharley CC and Ringcommons CC to host the other two. Hopefully the HBL will encourage both these clubs to develop their girl’s coaching programme. All clubs were excellent hosts and went out of their way to have the grounds ready and made everyone feel very welcome throughout.
The biggest success of the HBL was the new format. Every team faced and bowled 100 balls. Wides and no-balls did not lead to any extra balls but did count for one extra run. The next ball was a free hit so batters were encouraged to play with more freedom and it gave them opportunities to play shots they might not have tried in league games. Every batter's first ball was also a free hit. Other rules included batters having 30 seconds to get to the wicket, which led to games being quicker but also stopped batters from sulking too much on their way off. The other main rule was that batters had to retire after 20 balls. This meant that more players got to bat, but gave ample to time to players to get a decent score. Music throughout the games added to the atmosphere and players were encouraged to add their songs to the playlist.
It was key to have strong coaches in place, who would make sure everyone was being catered for, while creating a competitive atmosphere also. A massive thanks to Una Raymond Hoey, Rachel Delaney and Sophie MacMahon who excelled in their roles and played a big part in the tournament's success. We also had Cassie Stephens step in for one of the game days so a big thank you to her too.
In the end, 42 players played in the tournament, representing 8 clubs; Malahide, Rush, The Hills, Leinster, Pembroke, YMCA, Clontarf and Phoenix. It was difficult to get teams out and some of the Irish U19 and U15s had to be asked to play in the end. This highlights the need for this tournament in keeping this age group in the game. Women and girls who don't make representative sides tend to give up the game, which is a major problem, but hopefully this tournament can reduce those numbers and inspire players to keep up the game. The feedback from the players was extremely positive, with 97% of players saying they were very satisfied with the tournament. 100% of players said they would play it again. The plan is to continue this tournament next year and beyond and also to start using it as a promotional tool to attract new players to the game.
A huge thank you must go to Cricket Leinster, for making it possible, and investing considerable funds to make it happen. Also to Sue O'Connor for organising everything to do with it. Special mention must go to the umpires who had to be flexible and open to the new rules and approach. We had some excellent scorers throughout the tournament also who had to learn a whole new system, so thank you to them also.
Rob O' Connor