Ebony Rainford-Brent is fronting Sky's coverage of The Hundred
Ebony Rainford-Brent is fronting Sky's coverage of The Hundred

After waiting so long for brand new cricket competition The Hundred to get underway, given Covid restrictions forced its debut season to be pushed back a year, the tournament has now finally kicked off.

The new format cricket game commence with a women’s match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals - the first time a women’s match has headlined a UK sporting tournament.

Ebony Rainford-Brent MBE, former cricketer turned commentator, is fronting Sky’s coverage of The Hundred and can’t wait to watch all the action and hopefully attract new audiences to the sport.

Lambeth-born Rainford-Brent revealed which players fans should keep their eyes on during the competition, why new audiences should get involved and watch, and explained why she isn’t completely sold on the 100-ball format just yet.

Is The Hundred going to revolutionise cricket?

I really hope so in the sense of I’ve been aware of our game which definitely needs to reach new audiences, younger audiences, more diverse audiences, females - the works. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t really know the answer.

It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s different with the concept of trying to keep it simpler. I hope with the amount of energy that’s been put into it, the resources, the marketing, the things coming out that I’ve never seen in the game before, that it does capture a new fan base because I’ve been in the game a long time and it’s a brilliant game, but this could be something that cracks it. I’m excited to see the potential, I’m excited to see how young people react and how families react, so it could be really exciting.

How excited are you for this new 100 ball format which is different to other forms of cricket?

I still want to see how it plays out, so we’ve seen a couple of the trial games and it is different and it’s going to bring different tactical elements, captains making different changes and stuff like that. I think the key behind the format is just to try and simplify the game. Whenever you try to explain to somebody who doesn’t like cricket what cricket is you feel like you’re going round the houses. So, I think that the hope is that keeping it simple, 100 balls, most runs wins kind of gets that across the line and once people get deeper, they’ll enjoy the nuances of the game.

I still don’t know when it comes to the format because I haven’t watched it, I don’t want to overcommit and say it’s the best thing ever but I’m excited to see how it plays out and how the tactics play out and whether it does make it easier for the new fans to just get it and get straight into the game.

Do you think current cricket fans are going to get on board with this new tournament?

What’s interesting about The Hundred is it’s mixing a bit of entertainment off the field so there’s enough for the family whether you go to a live match or whether you’re watching, there’s enough going on to keep you engaged.

I’m someone who thought cricket looked really boring before I got into it so I think what The Hundred will do is definitely provide entertainment first and foremost, then you find a really good sport. And when something is marketed for you, I’m looking at all the graphics coming out, everything is fun, fresh, quick, colourful – I think it will just make more people pay attention that never would before, and I just used to think it was about the whites standing there for days. I definitely think there’s no doubt that what we’re seeing, the output at the moment, is going to capture new eyes and then the dream is just for us all to get on board.

It’s interesting because I’ve seen a lot of people saying they’re not sure and they’re not happy and they’re not convinced but the truth is Joe Root and Jofra Archer running up to bowl or Nat Sciver and Tammy Beaumont are bowling or batting at the crease - world class cricketers facing another world class cricketer – as a cricket fan they’re going to turn on, I have no doubt about that.

I appreciate that people don’t like change and obviously the changing nature of location because it’s city based rather than county based will mean that for some fans it’s not the identity of the team they love and I completely understand that. But what I would say though is high quality cricket, cricketers running up and facing each other, I think even the existing fan who’s on the fence will turn it on and if it’s good quality they’ll love it.

You’re fronting Sky’s coverage of The Hundred alongside Nasser Hussain, Rob Key and Ian Ward, what are your thoughts ahead of that?

It’s going to be good fun. I think that’s the thing that stands out to me is just good fun and good energy. I like high energy things, I love T20 cricket. As much as I love test cricket, it’s more of an acquired taste, I have always loved the bish bash bosh, the fast-paced nature of T20 so I think to now ramp that up into something a bit quicker, a bit faster.

I have to be honest I love my music and when I started seeing people like Lady Leshurr are going to be rocking up I will be getting there early to make sure people are going to be partying before the game. All that energy is going to be amazing. But for me the biggest thing which is less about me being entertained is more about the potential of the audiences because I’ve been working a long time trying to diversify the game, getting people who didn’t think the game was for them like I did as a kid.

That’s the thing for me, because if this does engage new audiences and brings people in and gets them excited then the future of our game’s really exciting. I’m all for anything that can do that.

Do you wish there would have been a competition introduced like The Hundred when you were playing the sport or are you happy to be on the other side doing the media coverage?

I’m out of shape at the moment so no chance now but the number one thing I was going to say, especially as a female cricketer, is that it’s really cool seeing how this is one of the first tournaments I’ve seen with male and female at the same time with parity in that sense. That’s the thing where you think wow that’s incredible. I’ve gone through the journey where in most of my playing days women weren’t even considered and then towards the back end just after we won the world cup years ago, we started to get considered. I’ve spent most of my playing days as a female cricketer not feeling valued, so to see this tournament launch equally with parity in terms of marketing, exposure and prize money, I don’t think it makes me want to come back but actually what it does do for my emotional pull, it’s deeper because you know what it means to the players, to young girls turning on and seeing that image of other females. That’s the thing that I think – wow. This is powerful, this is a statement and it’s also how it should be. I’m very excited by that.

The first game of the whole tournament is between the Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals women’s teams, so how significant is that?

It’s huge. For me I’m happy because it’s also my home ground, I grew up in South London and I’m going to be affiliated with the Oval Invincibles, I have to, it’s like a no brainer. I’ve already spoken to people who are going to be getting their friends, families, etc, coming down. It’s a huge milestone, it’s a statement for the game as a whole.

It’s been brilliant seeing some of the male cricketers saying women are kicking off [the tournament]. That narrative of men and women supporting each other, it’s a unified team and also women are going to open the floodgates live on TV and it’s amazing. Every little girl that either turns on, sees a post on social media or turns up and knows that women are being held in that sort of regard I think is just so inspirational.

Would you say cricket is leading the way in gender equality in sport or does more need to be done to progress it further?

The women’s game is really massively developed; I would say over the last 10 years. I think the money that comes now from The Hundred and the regional centres, there are 40 professional contracts plus all the players in The Hundred. That’s where the game needs to be and what’s exciting about The Hundred is - it’s always the cycle – you need to invest to help build that audience to get the exposure and then that attracts a commercial investment.

The Hundred and the way it’s set up is going to help complete that cycle because you get the exposure, building the audience, the excitement, the narrative of all the players and their amazing stories which will bring in more fans, more money which can then go back into building the game. At some stage I think with women’s sport that’s what you need, you need that tournament that shows women’s sport at the best, you need it to value women at their best then people see it valued and value it then the whole cycle starts. I’m really pleased with the progression.

There’s been years I haven’t been pleased of where women’s cricket has been, being brutally honest there’s been many years where I’ve been frustrated both as a player and as an administrator. But now I look and think we’re really kicking things on. There are genuinely players who are coming through, they’ll be players that will come through The Hundred who wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar and with the exposure if they handle the pressure they could play for England in no time and that will be an incredible story. Women’s cricket is definitely up there with some of the best in women’s sport at the moment in terms of driving change.

Have you got any early predictions ahead of the competition such as who audiences should be looking out for and who’s going to do well?

There’s a couple of players that look good. Issy Wong, she’s a 19-year-old fast bowler for Birmingham Phoenix, she’s rapid, she’s been knocking around the background of the England side, and I think will be the chance for her under the lights of the camera to shine. I’ve wanted to sign her for years in other environments with the Surrey Stars and stuff. I would say she’s one of the most exciting potential talents and there’s another one called Emily Arlott who again got pulled into the England environment. They are both players that haven’t had this platform yet, but they are known to be up there, they could use this as an opportunity to burst on the scene, so I’m excited by those two.

But Issy Wong I just think she wants to break the speed barrier as well and when you’ve got a young girl who wants to bowl rapid it’s wicked. She’s also got character as well so that’s another thing that’s helpful in women’s sport so that if the camera comes on in a post-match interview, she will excite young people who will just look up to her as an amazing role model. I’m really buzzing for those two.

What advice would you give to people who might want to get involved in cricket after watching some matches in The Hundred?

I was that person who looked at cricket and thought that looks duff, that was my impression.

Cricket is the simplest thing ever, it’s almost primitive, you want to whack something as hard as possible, you want to throw something as hard as possible, and you want to chuck it as hard as possible. It is just fun. When I go into a school and say cricket they might say: “What?” And then I say just whack this, that’s what T20 and The Hundred is about, just whack it. The key thing for me is genuinely just fun, it’s about entertainment, it’s about fast pace, it’s diving around, it’s smashing balls, it’s bowling balls, so genuinely just let go and have fun with it and I think once you get that and you let go and have fun with cricket you realise how cool of a game it is.

Give it time, be entertained and watch balls fly out of the park. From my perspective I know I was the person on that other side of the fence and once you love the game it’s amazing.

The Hundred has an all-star line-up for coverage
The Hundred has an all-star line-up for coverage

Ebony is part of Sky Sports’ coverage of The Hundred throughout the tournament live on Sky Sports The Hundred.

Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.

RELATED: Georgia Elwiss discusses The Hundred, training for the new competition and more

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