Last Wednesday I went to the dentist. On the same day, The Hundred started.
Why are these two events related? Well, I approached both of them with a sense of complete dread. I loath dental visits with a passion and to regular readers of this website my feelings on the Hundred are no secret. After both events I experienced the same feeling, that of pleasant surprise that the event had not been as awful as I imagined it would be. In fact it had been quite tolerable, but it was still not something that I would choose to experience again.
First let’s start with the positives about the Hundred, for I was determined to set aside my usual curmudgeonly cynicism and find some.
It is a gamechanger for women’s cricket. It was wonderful to see so many young female fans at the opening night at The Oval. It is hugely significant for female cricketers in this country to have the chance to play in front of such a sizeable crowd, as well as the opportunity of equal exposure on Sky and the BBC and parity on prizemoney with the men. Maybe now more people will come to realise what a truly outstanding and dignified leader Heather Knight is, the Gareth Southgate of cricket, perhaps. Certainly, she is a more successful and impressive captain than many of her male counterparts.
I watched the opening game of the men’s Hundred at the same venue the following night. The BBC coverage and the pyrotechnics certainly did give it that “big event” feel that the ECB have been craving. There was clearly a fission of excitement in the crowd at something new. The cutaways to interviews with You tubbers and singers also worked well.
Of course, a lot of this went over my head. As a 30 something man I have no idea who “Chunkz” is, but I am reliably informed that young people know him well. Real stars seem to have been booked to perform at some of the games as well. Lady Leshurr might not be familiar to many cricket fans but, as a teacher, I can tell you that my teenage students have been enthusiastically playing me her music for years.
The game itself does feel more like cricket than I thought it would, although it still feels like a lower quality version of T20.
This leads us nicely onto the negatives of the Hundred, of which there are many.
The actual game differs so little from what we already have that one wonders what the point was in creating it? It is T20 with less strategy and intelligence. Getting rid of overs needlessly alienates those who already follow the game, particularly when they are replaced with “blocks” of 5 balls that are overs in all but name. As with much of the new competition it just feels like change for the sake of change.
The team names are still hopelessly vague and derivative. Those who have championed the idea of city based sides for many years will feel very let down by “Southern Brave” and “Northern Superchargers”. To support a team, fans need to feel a connection with it. Who can feel a connection with words such as Southern or Northern when each one encompasses half the country?
If the ECB were going to create city franchises, something which I do not believe was necessary in the first place, then they should have gone the whole hog and named all the teams after actual towns, as they do in football. Northern Supercharges play at Headingley so they could have become the Leeds Superchargers.
There might even have been a team called Newcastle who played in black and white and were captained by Mark Wood and coached by Steve Harmison. A side named Bristol could have appealed to some in the West Country whilst Southern Brave play their home games at the Ageas Bowl so could easily have been labelled Southampton Brave. This is all before we get on to the preposterousness of a side called Welsh Fire being captained by a Yorkshireman in Jonny Bairstow.
The Hundred also frustrates due to the almost North Korean-like zeal of the broadcasters to deny even the possibility of there being anything negative about it. When Isa Guha and her fellow presenters on the BBC enthuse about the “amazing “and “incredible” size of the crowd at The Oval, which was, whilst impressive, certainly not at full capacity, it is worth remembering that Surrey regularly manage to sell out the ground for T20 Blast games, despite charging higher ticket prices. It is strange how the BBC do not feel the need to enthuse over that.
The ECB, however, will do everything to ensure that their new baby is a success. Many of the tickets for the opening night were given away free. It will be interesting to see how many of those fans will return once they have to pay for the experience.
The much-trumpeted TV viewing figures may also be misleading. How many people were just tuning in out of curiosity and will drift away once the novelty value has worn off, one wonders?
I, myself, having sat through the opening nights, felt very little desire to view any more games as the competition progressed. Instead, I preferred to watch the county Royal London one-day cup being live streamed on You Tube, as Northamptonshire’s bowlers were smashed around the park by Glamorgan.
After all, just like my trip to the dentist, once it was over there was no need to experience it again.