If I were from an older generation, I would have waxed poetic about how The Hundred reminded me of visiting my hometown after ages: the region’s aesthetics have become jarring, the administrators more obnoxious, and the things I loved the most about it are now buried under irrelevant schtick.
But I was born into the age of T20 cricket. I haven’t lived through the ‘good old times’ when red-ball cricket’s reputation was preceded by its monopolistic hold over the sport. Those days might have been truly good, but they are over. Now is the time for franchise-based cricket.
Make no mistake about it – the ECB’s policies have helped pioneer the sport as we see it today. Morgan transformed the big-hitting philosophy of the Windies into a more efficient and brutal one, almost making up for the years of ignoring opposition tactics inspired by the format their country invented. The makeshift squad’s success against Pakistan in the ODI series speaks of the insurmountable depth within their ranks. On the other hand, England’s first-choice squad is slated to go into the T20 World Cup as favourites. What better way to prepare for it than, err, playing a new format?
The criticisms of The Hundred have been well-documented: its existence comes not only at the cost of the red-ball season, but the Royal One-Day Cup as well; Counties have been paid a rather peculiar kind of ‘hush money’ which will ensure no profits are made from the tournament in the short-term; and most importantly, it’s destabilising the stasis County Cricket had achieved after a lot of struggles.
Against this backdrop, almost every legacy fan viewed the first week of the tournament with a healthy dose of scepticism. And the results are in after its conclusion: cricket remains a bloody good sport.
The impressive depth of white-ball talent in England and Wales has stabilised a shaky product. Right from the inaugural match of the tournament – decided in the final over of a topsy-turvy encounter – to the deluge of doubleheaders on the weekend, the action’s been top-notch. One glance at Cricket Twitter shows most critics coming to the same conclusion.
But to adopt the analogy of visiting one’s hold hometown, anyone who re-acclimatises themselves to the surroundings will realise all’s not foreign. The composition of the demographic continues to evolve. The effects of full-blown capitalism are everywhere to be seen. Yet, the essence of things haven’t changed, have they?
A town never really forgets its roots, even if it abandons the pastures for concrete and the rustic villas for Starbucked coffee houses. Similarly, the visceral joy of willow hitting leather evokes the same kind of feeling across crowds and nations. It’s the appeal of cricket, boiled down to the purest form. Test match tactics for an off-spinner and the rigours of T20 cricket Dilscooping might seem to be worlds apart, but they’re still part of the same universe.
For now, statisticians are recording The Hundred’s numbers under ‘Other T20s’. The two formats are virtually the same, after all. But the changes brought into play have the potential to cause wider impacts.
The simplification of an innings into the number of ‘balls bowled/left’ has helped the unacquainted understand the basics of the game faster. Allowing a bowler to deliver ten balls in a row is a flexibility many strategists have advocated for in the past – it rebalances some of the odds in the bowler’s favour. And who doesn’t like the prospect of in-game repercussions for slow over rates?
Being forced to bring an extra fielder into the circle during the death will have real implications in a game sooner or later. Once the teams get used to the demands of the new format, most matches will finish within their stipulated time for the fear of further disadvantage in a format where one moment can make all the difference.
Wisden adopted the practice of recording dot balls rather than maidens in bowling analyses in their almanack a few years ago. The Hundred’s scorecards might make it the norm around the world soon enough.
And who can ignore how good the women’s cricket has been so far? The Kia Super League was a great product during its short life. Yet, it could never leapfrog the WBBL in terms of quality or attention like The Hundred has the capability to. The recent matches have proved once and for all that when you give the same production value to both the men’s and women’s games, the ‘gap’ in quality between them reduces at once. Jemimah Rodrigues’ 92* can do for the format what Harmanpreet Kaur’s 171 did for women’s cricket four years ago. Imagine if female cricketers start getting proper wages and long-term investments from the game’s stakeholders as well.
With the margin of error being eliminated by forty further balls from regular T20s, every team in the competition has an equal shot at glory. ‘Cricket is a great leveller’ might be the biggest myth in the game after ‘Cricket is dying’ – disparity in resources and advertising forever plague certain sectors of the game. The parallel success of Associate cricketers like Qais Ahmed (4-13 vs Superchargers) will do its best to direct the UK media’s attention towards these neglected cricketing nations.
All things considered, The Hundred has been effectively advertised so far. A lot of the coverage was negative in the lead-up to its delayed launch, but that’s better than getting no coverage at all, eh? Likewise, free-to-air cricket is better than having no cricket. Throw in BBC and Sky’s over-the-top efforts to lure in new fans, and a couple of years might be all it takes for cricket to regain its space in the public conscience.
When you put all your eggs into the same basket and throw it in the air, hoping someone catches the bait for you, there’s a slim chance of everything being alright by the end. English cricket’s future hinges on this improbable outcome. For a nation stereotyped as being gloomy and pessimistic in its outlook, this tournament surely does bring a lot of optimism to the table.
The Hundred concludes on 21st August. It might be considered a huge success on its own by then – but critics will remain wary of its effects on the rest of the country’s cricketing ecosphere. Either way, there’s no going back now.
Patting oneself on the back will do no good until you’ve made some real impact. Yet, many in the commentary box are employing hyperbole at every given opportunity, while the producers have broadcast ‘mums and kids’ at a higher density than the actual audience demographic merits. The philosophy of ‘faking it till you make it’ is a good one. It’s also necessary to avoid falling for your own stories if they have no grounds in reality.
As a result of The Hundred’s existence in a packed domestic calendar, catastrophe might embark upon the Counties, plunging them into an all-out war where survival can only be guaranteed if you have Darren Stevens on your side, riding on top of a horse and smashing off opponents’ heads with the Championship Trophy. This outcome will hardly be any less dramatic than those who claim all’s well in the paradise ECB has built for itself thus far.
Thanks for unpacking all this from afar Abhijato. I think the main point is that The Hundred isn’t very different from T20. So what, exactly, was the point? The obvious point, of course, is that simply doing a T20 wouldn’t allow Tom Harrison at the ECB to pose as a revolutionary (his CV must come first, after all) and the ECB wouldn’t be able to licence the format and sell it around the world after they incompetently forgot to do this with T20. If The Hundred has been entertaining then it’s because, at the end of the day, it’s cricket. Have The Hundred games been anymore entertaining than what we’ve seen in the T20 Blast recently? And what about England’s superb T20 against Pakistan the other day?
The main bone of contention with The Hundred, however, is that cricket could have been made more accessible – putting it back on terrestrial TV isn’t exactly rocket science – in far less damaging and polarising way. It would’ve been even more successful if the majority of cricket fans and county members were on-board. Which they’re not. Consequently the tournament, to me anyway, is another typical example of ECB hubris, arrogance, and incompetence. And if it succeeds beyond the initial hype – and I have my doubts about this – then it will only be because (a) short form cricket is inherently entertaining (who knew?!) and (b) the ECB have thrown so much money at it … money which could easily have been spent on tweaking existing competitions that didn’t endanger the existing domestic structure. The ‘getting it on terrestrial TV’ argument doesn’t wash as the BBC signed up when it was scheduled to be a T20.
Basically, the Hundred is the worst iPhone ever made. But it should still sell because, at the end of the day, it’s an iPhone. What’s more, the advertising is absolutely everywhere, and it’s being given away effectively for free (ticket giveaways) or with massive discounts. You can’t fail if you’re giving a good product away for peanuts.
What all this will do to the company in the long-haul remains to be seen. Cannibalisation is rarely a good approach. Nor is alienating your existing customers. I’ll end it there as I’ve probably already stretched the analogy too far.
I think you’ve said just about everything to be said about this white elephant.
If I could just add that unlike any other existing format it seems in direct competition with what’s already there, with its city teams and mercenary players being a one tournament blow out, then everyone goes back to their normal formats, involving the existing county structures. Even the 20-20 bash fits in with what’s already going on and isn’t purely a marketing exercise. The Hundred further deprives season ticket county holders of some of their best players for a key part of the season, without any bonus. How many Yorkshire members want to see Bairstow plying his trade in Wales. Each match feels like a friendly without any committed support and the chance of it developing any with only 1 tournament a season is remote. I have watched a couple of the games and can’t understand what the hype relates to. There have certainly been many empty seats despite the give away tickets. It reminds me a bit of the short lived International cavaliers games of the sixties, promoted by Ted Dexter, though even that had a purpose, to test the waters for a limited overs competition in an era that had none.
I still don’t see the need for this competition. The Blast was fine. The ECB could have allowed more overseas signings per team if needed. I have no affinity for any of these teams. The One Day competition and Blast now suffer and are relegated to a secondary status. The next step of course is that the red ball game migrates to these Hundred teams and the counties disappear. Maybe the red bal game will become “The Thousand”.
I have been enjoying the Hundred (I was seriously opposed when it was first mooted, but decided once it became a reality to accept it and see how it panned out), and I have also been relishing seeing youngsters who might otherwise have been kept waiting coming to the fore for their counties (yesterday Harry Duke at the age of 19 played a blinder of an innings for Yorkshire against Leicestershire, reaching his first professional century along the way). I also appreciate the fact that in the Hundred the women’s tournament is not a sideshow but an integral part of the competition as a whole.
“a format where one moment can make all the difference.”
This is not a plus, it’s a minus and a massive one. Are you really blind to the dangers here?
“And who can ignore how good the women’s cricket has been so far?”
Those who are intent on signalling their virtue certainly can’t. Women’s sport is not as good, everyone knows it but few dare say it. There wouldn’t be separate teams if it was. If it can survive on its own then good luck to it but others needn’t watch nor read about it. Promoting “women’s sport” isn’t really what this is about anyway because, if the US is anything to go by, the “women’s” game soon becomes flooded with transgenders. The true agenda is to abolish gender distinctions for those who haven’t noticed.
In all the “successes” of The Hundred, I don’t see any mention of crowd figures (minus the free tickets). Couldn’t be they aren’t really all that good, could it?
“Women’s sport is not as good”??? It might not be as powerful but the skills are definitely there. I don’t follow women’s cricket much but I know that Sarah Taylor is incredibly adept behind the stumps.
You make a good point re: the ticket sales. The ECB’s target is to reach 60% capacity across the tournament. That’s a very low bar to reach, especially as they’re giving away thousands of tickets for free. It’s worth mentioning, of course, that although the attendance at the first couple of men’s games were encouraging, they’re still a long way short of what they’d get for county T20s, especially in London. The problem is that the media rarely report this. The broadcasters are just cheerleaders. It’s like the BCCI at the IPL. No dissent or independent thought is allowed.
IF the crowds diminish as the competition progresses – highly likely once the initial curiosity dissipates, the Olympics progresses, and the football season starts again – then the commentators will still be saying how lovely the Emperor’s clothes are.
I have to take exception to your comments about the women’s game. I have been following the England-India matches and seen a few of the Hundred games and the standard has been excellent. Just because the bowling is not always as fast and the sixes not always as huge does not make it “worse”. The skill levels are similar and the games just as exciting.
You should be embarrassed by your post.
I watched the first women’s Hundred and the men’s at Edgbaston. The thought of watching more of it doesn’t appeal and I am a huge cricket fan. I really don’t like the merry go round of watching the same eight teams play each other for weeks on end. That is off putting especially when I have no affiliations to any of the franchises and too far from any to actually watch a game. I don’t like the format and I hate the five or 10 ball ‘overs’. I especially am irritated by the umpire holding up a blank white card from his pocket to remind us of the possible change. Surely that will be edited soon? Why not just hold up his hand? I hated the long overs or short overs there seemed no real pause in the overs which gives rhythm to every other form of cricket. The ECB must be aesthetically blind. Thinking just about runs is not only reductive but it hides all the charms of cricket, the captain and his discussions with bowlers and field changes etc. (wasting time) and I was amused by the commentators using all the old cricket terms despite themselves. Maybe it will slide back into the cricket groove. But the damage done to the Counties and all places beyond the eight cities is going to be felt for a long time. There will be a fight back. There always is and Test cricket will still be the pinnacle and a hundred times more interesting.
An excellent article.
It is still way too early to judge if the Hundred has, or will be successful. The holistic view might be that if more viewers are tuning in to take a look, some may stay to enjoy other forms. Some may even take up the game…
teacher and playwright
The batting and bowling has been good. I was disappointed by some ropey fielding in the first few women’s games but then you’ve had some absolute stars in the field like Kirstie Gordon, so yeah that shut me up. For me, the commentary has been the weakest part of the spectacle so far, even though I’ve been switching from Sky to BBC to see if one is less bad than the other. I’ve never been a fan of Nasser’s perpetual hyperbole and clichés. I think EBR is getting better at her job and is less abrasive than she was. I do like professional northerner Alex Hartley though.
Zero interest in this. although good to see lancs have unearthed another good SLAer in Jack Morley, and Danny Lamb is playing a blinder. Just hope he doesn’t get head hunted by the “Manchester lacking originals”.
Cricinfo just seem to be adding the stats to a players 2020 figures. I am not enough of a stats guru to know if Wisden is doing the same.
Dom Sibley is also sat on the sidelines carrying drinks. Why are the test players who are not making “100 ” appearances not allowed to go back and play some 50 over for their county sides? At least Ollie Robinson is now going to get some bowling in for Sussex, albeit it is hardly ideal preparation for tests.
Agree with James.
“The tournament brings a lot of optimism to the table?” Really? This is not the start of something great for English Cricket but it’ll likely be the death of it. There has to be a going back otherwise this bastadardisation of the great game by the cronies of the rotten ECB will make Covid look like an itchy nose.
Toxic Twitter says “the action has been top notch”. Surely the writer cannot believe that. It’s T20 on speed with and is crickets version of a migraine hangover. 90% of people on the BBC HYS hate it. The devastating effects on the Test team alone are only too clear to see and you’d never know we are the World 50 over champions would you, and the ECBs policies or lack of them, will do nothing to reverse this.
You know if the Blast was being played NOW with the schools off grounds would be full. The one day cup could have been played in June with a full complement of County players available.
I don’t know what the 100 is but it’s not cricket. It’s an ECB vanity project, crickets version of HS2 if you like. I hope it fails and is washed away in a sewer of despair. Cricket needs rebuilding and refocusing now so this has to fail to achieve that.
It appears that the crowds are made up primarily by those who go to 20/20 i.e. mostly males who are interested in drinking lots of booze and making lots of irrelevant noise while the match is taking place.
The ECB wanted this competition to be for “people who don’t like cricket” and also mums and kids.
If the usual crowd attends and the behaviour s unsuitable for their targeted audience who are probably being given free entry, they are unlikely to return if they have to pay.
There will be no loyalty to these made up teams and many supporters of counties will not be interested in seeing players even if they are recognised.
One other point- who else in the cricket world is going to play this format?
Exactly. The other problem with freebies is that it automatically devalues your product before you start. So why would you them want to go back and pay? As a matter of interest do they have areas specifically for families? At least your away from the boozers and swearing, although I wouldn’t want young children near any of the usual T20 crowd who have been starved of the hit and giggle for almost two seasons.
In a week or so there will be the 100, The 1st Test, the One Day Cup, the Olympics continuing and I think the start of the football season. Something has to give and I think I know what it might be. Hope so.
Interestingly bar one game and a rain off all the men’s games have been won by the “home” team. IPL betting cyndicate infiltration perhaps, or maybe……no I’ll leave that thought for now.
Maybe we could persuade the Barmy Army to go to Hundred matches and leave the Tests for those who actually enjoy watching cricket in peace…
Peter Drake.teacher and playwright
I know this is going to shock many of those who know me but I’ve a confession to make; The Hundred- I’m loving it! I like the colour, the vibe, the audience engagement and the fact it is all wonderfully free on TV or Youtube.
So far there have been some electrifying performances, particularly from Matt Parkinson and the beast that is Marchant de Lang. I can honestly say this is the only competition where I have started to watch every single game on air. Heck, I’ve even been sitting through some of the women’s games.
It shows how shallow I have become as I have decided not to follow the Manchester Originals because the kit is so bland – instead I’ve gone for the dazzling yellow and red Trent Rockets.
It has been interesting that some of the most eye-catching moments have come from bowlers when everyone expected a festival of big hitting but that’s a good thing.
It was astonishing to see Liam Livingstone being booed at Old Trafford as he was playing for the opposition Birmingham Phoenix but it was all good-natured (I think).
All the arguments against The Hundred have been made – many from those who haven’t watched a ball I vouchsafe – and they have a lot of merit.
The BBC’s graphics, explanations about what a bouncer is from disc jockey Greg James and interviews by Love Island star Chris Hughes are all a bit cringey. And the lack of information about who some of the players are is a bit annoying – the main culprit being Isa Guha who keeps repeating so-and-so has a great record in domestic cricket and leaves it at that.
But when you see so many kids actually enjoying themselves, well, that’s no bad thing.
I will be probably be shunned in some quarters from now after committing this heresy but hey, get over it lads!
In memory of Mike Hendrick, here’s a reminder of how exciting a low-scoring ODI can be:
The match had real jeopardy involved because the winners would avoid WI in the WC SFs. These days there’d be another ten games and Pakistan would have to be drawn against India to maximise the moolah.