Sixteen-year-old Alice Capsey’s call-up to play for Oval Invincibles in the Hundred was unusual, to say the least. “Because of my age our head coach, Jonathan Batty, had to phone my mum first and get her permission. Then he was finally allowed to ring me!” she recalls. Her reaction? “I was lost for words. I wasn’t expecting it.”
That was Christmas 2020: four months after the first edition of English cricket’s brand-new all-singing, all-dancing competition, the Hundred, was supposed to have been played. Covid put paid to that.
But in the interim, Capsey announced herself on to the scene with an unbeaten 73 from 75 balls for South East Stars against Sunrisers in the inaugural women’s regional 50-over competition, the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. Batty, who was working as interim head coach of the Stars, knew it then and there: he wanted her in his Hundred squad.
It means that as the Hundred finally gets under way at the Oval on Wednesday, opening with a standalone women’s fixture between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals, Capsey makes history of her own as the youngest player in the entire competition.
“It’s pretty special, isn’t it?” she says. She will be receiving her GCSE results mid-tournament, with the hope of returning to school in September to study for a psychology A-level and a double B-Tech in Sport Leadership. The ultimate goal, though, is clear: “I’d love to get a pro contract for the Stars.”
Capsey began playing cricket aged six, alongside her older brother at their local club, Capel CC in Dorking. She was quickly spotted: “They asked me to go to county trials for Surrey. I got into under-11s when I was eight or nine, and I went right through the whole Surrey pathway – I’m still in it really,” she says.
That latter point is an interesting one, given the tensions that exist between existing county supporters and the new, franchise-based competition that is the Hundred, which the ECB has stated is explicitly designed to attract a different, younger fanbase.
Another defence of the Hundred by the ECB has been its focus on gender parity: the director of the women’s competition, Beth Barrett-Wild, has recently suggested that the tournament is designed “to give equal levels of prominence and profile to our brilliant female players, alongside their male peers”.
Capsey – who only made her senior debut for Surrey in 2019, but who already has England ambitions – is relishing the opportunity to showcase her talent to a broader audience: for the first time in the history of women’s cricket, every match of a domestic competition will be broadcast live, by either the BBC or Sky.
Practically speaking, the alignment of the women’s and men’s competitions also offers her the chance to train with and learn from both men’s and women’s star players, including South Africa’s Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp, and England’s Jason Roy. “For me, just being in this environment is something new. To be exposed to this at 16 is just incredible,” Capsey says. “I’ll be trying to take in everything, and really try and push on with my game.”
From a player’s perspective, perhaps the trickiest element has been preparing to perform in an untried and untested format. Capsey has one advantage: she has already played in the ECB’s Schools Hundred tournament. “I opened. It’s been interesting – it took a few games to get into it, and to get your head around the rules.”
A year’s worth of coaching at Bede’s School from former England superstar Sarah Taylor, who is herself making a playing comeback during the Hundred, has helped. “It’s pretty good to have someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through and can give you advice,” Capsey says.
It says a lot about the way Capsey bats – a hard hitter who is never afraid to take calculated risks – that she doesn’t seem in the least bit concerned about the challenge of facing fewer balls. “I wouldn’t say there’s extra pressure,” she says. “You can express yourself more and have more fun. That’s the way I’m going to see it anyway, if I get into the starting XI.”
As for the criticism from some existing cricket fans, Capsey is unfazed. “There’s always going be critics of anything new,” she shrugs. “For the critics, I think – give it a try, come to a game, and see how it goes, because I’m sure the games are going to be really exciting.” You can bet they will be, if Capsey has anything to do with it.