The Hundred: Are the boundaries in the women’s competition too small?

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Big hitting has been one of one of the most thrilling aspects of this year’s women’s Hundred.

Some of the most exciting players in the world – Deandra Dottin at Headingley or Alice Capsey at The Oval – demonstrating their masterful technique by smashing balls over the boundary rope and into the stands.

But as the sixes and the fours stack up a debate has also been brewing.

Boundaries for women’s matches are smaller compared to men’s games because of the obvious difference in physicality – but are they too small?

“It is a fine line,” former England international Lydia Greenway told BBC Sport. “If you are in a situation where you are only getting singles, fours and sixes because the boundaries are so short then I don’t think the game is as watchable.”

According to Opta, the average 100-ball total in the 2021 edition of the women’s event was 119, while so far this year it is 137. Last season, 2.8 boundary sixes were struck on average in each completed game, this year that rate is 5.2. Similarly, 26.7 boundary fours were struck each game last season whilst that rate is 32.7 this season.

More runs and more boundaries. That’s a good thing, right? Not necessarily.

Smaller boundaries may make it easier to hit fours and sixes but it also makes it harder to find gaps in the field and run two, removing a key element of the batter’s armoury.

“A massive feature of the women’s game is the skill level and technique, it has to be immaculate because they do not have the power,” said Greenway.

“So you want them to have the opportunity to push the twos and threes if they can.”

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which organises the Hundred, does not dictate exact boundary sizes to each team. Instead they have minimum and maximum sizes, which are aligned with international women’s cricket. The exact size is then determined by the team’s head coach.

The regulations say that no boundary should exceed a distance of 70 yards from the centre of the pitch. According to the ECB, more boundaries were played at 60 yards earlier in the competition, but that has increased to 65 yards over the last week. This is broadly similar to the 2021 edition.

So if the field sizes are not significantly smaller – what is behind the the increase in boundaries?

“Another reason why we are seeing a lot more sixes is time on task for the players,” said Greenway.

“A lot of us played in an era where we couldn’t do the strength training that we needed to do, or the multiple times you have to practice hitting the ball a long way. We just didn’t have the time.”

There are also other factors at play. Firstly, the hot, dry weather England has experienced this summer has resulted in much quicker outfields, meaning the ball will race along the ground and over the boundary rope for four faster than on a greener, lusher surface.

There is also a relatively small pool of players who are regularly hitting sixes. There have been 19 batters to have hit more than one six so far in this year’s women’s competition, an average of 2.3 players per team. In comparison there have been 50 players so far in the men’s tournament.

“The boundaries are fine,” said Welsh Fire bowler Alex Hartley.

“There have been a couple of times when they’ve been smaller but I think they’ve been standard size for women’s games – it’s just because you’re playing on bigger grounds they look smaller.

“I was comparing the men’s and women’s games the other day and I don’t like to do that but I was racking my mind about why there are so many twos in the men’s game compared to the women’s. It’s because they are so quick between the wickets. That is the difference, they are honestly rapid.”

The ECB said it will review the minimum and maximum boundary lengths next year in line with the “accelerated professionalisation of the women’s game”.

The result could be bigger boundaries and fewer sixes in 2023, but also perhaps a spectacle more aligned to the talents of the all-round modern player.

“There’s no doubt that men’s and women’s cricket is different when it comes to power, that will never change,” said Greenway. “But the women’s game has only reached a certain percentage of their capabilities.

“Hopefully that will keep increasing.”

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