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.