Playing televised matches in front of big crowds – averaging between 7000-8000 with a record 17,116 watching the final at Lord’s – and alongside some of the world’s best, has been repeatedly referenced by international players as helping to launch fledgling careers.
“It’s just a credit to, first of all, the programmes that are here England and secondly all these leagues, that a 17-, 18-year-old can catch on to international cricket as well as she has,” said van Niekerk, who is also South Africa’s captain. “I’m glad she’s on my team this year, especially having that international confidence.”
Upon being called up to England’s T20I squad for their recent series against South Africa and the Commonwealth Games, Capsey said: “I went into the Hundred a bit naive about how big it was actually going to be. That Lord’s game was the first chance realising what I’d done and the steps that I’d taken in my career.”
Capsey, who turns 18 on Thursday, the day Invincibles kick off this year’s Women’s Hundred by hosting Northern Superchargers in the 6.30pm headline slot, is not the only youngster to have flourished since playing in last year’s edition.
The competition is also a draw for experienced overseas players returning to increased salaries. The paycheques of the top-paid women this year have more than doubled to £31,250 (US$ 41,500) compared with £15,000 (US$ 20,000) in 2021, while the lowest-paid receive £7500 (US$ 10,000), up from £3600.
“I’m just thankful that I can be here playing cricket again,” van Niekerk said. “I needed it. I’m built to play cricket and mentally I need to do that.
“It’s very hard to get six to seven months right in six to eight weeks. I’m still on a journey and I’m certainly not done but I need to get back playing cricket. This mentally has taken the biggest toll, this injury, on me just because of the length of time that I was away and obviously it being such a bad injury that I was almost technically bedridden for three weeks.”
The pair unexpectedly had some training time together at home when Kapp left South Africa’s tour of England – she also missed the Commonwealth Games – because her brother-in-law had been injured in an accident. Now that the situation had improved back home, van Niekerk hoped Kapp, who was in excellent form before leaving England, could have as big an impact on this year’s tournament.
Not only does van Niekerk have to manage her comeback from injury and captaining her side, but she admitted to feeling some pressure to ensure the competition lives up to the highs of its maiden season.
“This league has grown in leaps and bounds in a year,” she said. “What it’s going to do in the next five? So we need to do justice by that.
“I love the fact that it’s on the back of a very exciting Commonwealth Games as well. It is important for women’s sport in general, not just cricket, to be on this global stage. It is the right time and I hope that that the young girls back home, who watch this tournament first of all, and watch these tournaments around the world, really want to get into it.
“It’s really good money as well. At the end of the day, you want to get paid to do what you love, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
While the women’s salaries still lag a long way behind the men’s, the competition has introduced a scheduling twist – albeit just once for this year – whereby Thursday’s corresponding men’s match at The Oval will be the 3pm curtain-raiser. While that perhaps adds another element of pressure to the women’s game, van Niekerk saw it as an important statement.
“That’s what this platform is and what the Hundred brings, is that equality where the females have the headliner,” she said. “And hopefully we can do justice by that.”
Given the increased visibility of women’s cricket in England through the Hundred, not to mention the benefits that exposure has had on developing rising talent, van Niekerk’s expectations remain high.
“The crowds and support for the teams has been incredible and, watching the men’s games, I just got really excited for our games as well, remembering how electric and amazing it was to play in front of a packed crowd,” she said. “I expect nothing less, I only expect more so I’m really excited to get going.
“Every single team is just ready and raring to get this Hundred underway. Even though it’s the second one, let’s make it the best one yet.”
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo