Hotly anticipated by some, dismissed before the first ball has been bowled by others, the England Cricket Board’s (ECB) latest competition ‘The Hundred‘ finally gets going tonight.
After confusion and delay because of covid-19, it is joining the party later than expected, but it is joining nonetheless.
It is therefore vital the cricketing world makes sense of it, its position and which ramifications it could have for the wider (English) game. We will try to do that here in a coldly logical, unbiased manner, as any professional *cough* journalistic organisation would.
So why has this 'new’ format been introduced?
According to official literature, The Hundred has been introduced 'to attract younger and more diverse crowds to watch cricket‘.
While this will most likely become true, this is more incidental than the ECB pulling a master stroke to champion diversity in cricket.
The game-play itself does not warrant a new, more diverse audience that wouldn’t have been collected by Twenty20 cricket.
The game lasts only 20 balls less than a T20. There are fewer change-overs due an over being either 5 or 10 balls. There are strategic time outs for the teams etc. etc.
What is different, however, is that the total broadcast time will be under 3 hours, perfect for television that is not stuck behind a pay wall.
A noble pursuit by the ECB to allow cricket to be shown to the masses? Of course. Having cricket on terrestrial television, after a 15 year absence, will bring a larger, more diverse group of viewers, but that has nothing to do with it being The Hundred.
The England Cricket Board must recognise that they actively chose to put cricket behind a Sky Sports paywall, thereby limiting its reach, and must recognise that in prioritising income over accessibility, this had negative consequences for the diversity of cricket viewers in England.
Could it be that the ECB have gone ahead with this so they they can protect the income they gain from the exclusive broadcast deals, and satiate the need for attracting a new audience? A good step, but for us, its a step that has come about 15 years too late.
There is a big push for gender equality also. Women will, for example, share the same prize money as the men.
A good step that should be welcomed? Definitely. However, yet again, the England Cricket Board has had the financial firepower to treat Women more fairly over the years.
For example, their broadcast deal with Sky in 2017 was valued at around £1.1 billion (£1100000000).
There is so much money in English cricket, yet there are glaring instances where women's cricket doesn't seem to be a priority whatsoever. Look at how the women had to play on a used surface for their one off test match against India.
The ECB must ask itself why it has taken the introduction of a new tournament to make this progressively more equal treatment finally happen?
The End of English Cricket
No matter what your opinion, it will be exciting to watch. Cricket (almost) always is.
That being said, there is SO much cricket to interact with nowadays. Countless big money franchise tournaments (PSL, CPL, IPL, BBL), domestic T20 and ODI competitions, Abu Dhabi T10, International Cricket and now also The Hundred.
Asked in an interview, Jos Buttler said that test cricket 'probably‘ takes precedence over T20 cricket. Probably?! There should be no doubt!
The day that Test Cricket is no longer the pinnacle of the game, where those are more concerned about The Hundred than the longest format, is the day where cricket in England has changed beyond the game it once was.
With the short form taking over the game, we are currently seeing extraordinary stroke thrive, but at the expense of hyper-inflated salaries and corrosive consumerism. It took the BCCI how long to suspend the IPL this year?
With competitions like The Hundred, how can the ECB realistically expect players to perform at Test level if they're so concerned with white ball cricket. With the money they can earn, who can blame them for going months without playing a red ball game?
Look at James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Brilliant, injury resistant Test Players. The secret? No white ball cricket. However, new players would be silly to follow their lead, given the financial incentives present in the shorter form of the game.
Rather than use The Hundred as a more of the same game, the ECB should have taken the opportunity to make it genuinely new and exciting.
Everyone has to bat, so why not make sure everyone has to bowl? How about you have one super fielder who can deduct runs from their total if they catch it. Or have mixed gender cricket teams?
Failing that, allow the best of the players to focus on red ball cricket, and use the depth in English cricket to fill the gaps left in the lesser white-ball competitions.
This isn't meant to bash The Hundred for the sake of bashing The Hundred. Indeed, I would very much love to report on it one day.
But for as long as the ECB's priority remains white ball cricket, however, the longest format will become ever more marginalised.
This is not a judgement of that reality. All formats have their merits, and a discussion of why red or white ball is the superior format is best reserved for the pub.
But with The Hundred, fans will keep being entertained with short form cricket at the the expense of Test Cricket.
While huge sixes are the order of the day, the greed-is-good capitalist model will continue to impose itself on the English game. If this continues, there is a very strong case for this undermining the longest format of the game entirely.