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The ECB Don’t Need The Hundred. They Need To Be Bold With The Blast

Worcestershire triumphed at Edgbaston on Saturday, defeating the mighty Lancashire in the semis and then much fancied Sussex (Jofra Archer and all) in the final. It was a fairytale in many ways because Worcs have never been to finals days before, had the youngstest team in the competition, and were missing their overseas batsman Callum Ferguson.

Worcs’ stars were mostly young players who’ve come through the ranks: ice-cool keeper Ben Cox, and 20 year old medium mystery bowler Pat Brown. And of course there was Moeen Ali, who had a brilliant day as both captain, batsman and bowler. Love ya Mo! As a Worcs fan I was pretty emotional at the end. There have been more lows than highs over recent years, so this was a day to savour. 

However, tempting at it is to crow about the county I support, today I’d like to discuss The Blast in general. The competition seems to be going from strength to strength, and I have no idea why the ECB can’t be content with what they’ve got. Finals Day is always a superb occasion, and attendances in general across the group stages seem to be going up and up.

The bottom line is that the fans identify with The Blast. They love it. They look forward to it. So try to overshadow something so good with something so unproven and so, well, a bit crap?

Today Frazer Loveman looks at The Hundred and the problems it faces from a slightly different angle. Although he reaches a familiar conclusion – after all, he’s a proper cricket fan – I love the route he takes to reach this conclusion. Over to you, Frazer …

I’m not sure if anyone reading this has watched any of India’s Pro Kabaddi League, or even knows what Kabaddi is, but for those of you who have not experienced the jewel in the crown of Sky Sport’s late-night schedule allow me to enlighten you.

The Pro Kabaddi League was inspired by the success of the IPL, taking one of India’s more traditional and sports and supercharging it with franchises, a player auction and new scoring quirks designed to up the excitement. Rather than having a home and away season, the PKL became a touring circus, with two matches a night in venues across the country drawing packed out crowds. The success of the PKL both ‘in venue’ and commercially has led to an expansion in the number of franchises in just four years.

The PKL is instructive for cricket fans because it shows that there is a way to bring in new crowds to a sport that may be seen as outdated or unpopular. This follows in the steps of the successful inceptions of the IPL and it’s Australian sibling, the Big Bash. However, the ECB have decided that, in order to boost public interest in cricket, they do not need to follow this path of changing an already existing product, instead choosing to introduce a new competition ‘The Hundred’ to run alongside the County Championship, 40-over competition and the T20 Blast.

‘The Hundred’ has myriad problems, not first that the format itself is just an inane overhaul of 20/20 cricket, especially now it appears that the ECB are debating the idea of 5-ball overs; making it a 20/20 game anyway, but with less cricket for your buck.

Another problem arises from the 8 proposed venues for the competition, which exclude the entire Westcountry and anywhere north of Leeds, locking out two regions of fans from the competition while giving London two teams for some unfathomable reason (full disclosure: this author is a Westcountry boy).

These proposals have been defended by the ECB, and by Hampshire CCC Chairman Rod Bransgrove on BBC’s Test Match Special during the recent test between England and India at the Rose Bowl. It should be noted that Bransgrove is hardly an impartial voice given that Hampshire/Southampton have been lucky enough to be designated as one of the ‘Hundred’ franchises. And Bransgrove staying in the ECB’s good books may increase the Rose Bowl’s chances of securing more Test Matches.

However, Bransgrove raised some interesting points during his interview. The first was that the new format would be more popular with families and kids than any other existing competition, which was precisely what we were told about T20 when it was introduced.

Why is it the case that this new format would be more popular? Well, per Bransgrove, it is because the franchises will be more marketable, a point he emphasised by citing the Southern Vipers Women’s Blast franchise, which he claimed had been a particular success in terms of merchandise sales to younger fans. The ECB have also announced that ‘The Hundred’ season will run concurrent to the school summer holidays, which will promote attendance by children and families.

These points are valid, but there is a simple argument to be made that solving these problems doesn’t require the introduction of a new competition, but a serious overhaul of the existing T20 Blast competition. Both the IPL and the Big Bash have seasons that last around two months, the same as the T20 Blast’s current schedule (which even includes a break for County Championship fixtures in the middle and for a fortnight before Finals Day), and their audiences have grown over the years, including a significant younger demographic.

The one thing the ECB’s plans for ‘The Hundred’ have got right is the reduction in the number of teams, even though the geographic dispersal is a mess. A solution to this would be to have some city based franchises (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton) but also some regional franchises, similar to the Western Storm in the Women’s Blast, which could play games across multiple regional venues (for example: Taunton, Bristol and Cheltenham) with a revenue sharing agreement between franchises, as exists in US Sports where profits from big market franchises are dispersed through the league to encourage ‘competitive balance’.

Shifting to a model of around 10 franchises would also allow for the kind of marketisation Bransgrove has cited as an advantage of ‘The Hundred’ with teams being able to introduce new kits and merchandise that play to a younger market, as both Kent and Somerset have done with their T20 Blast kits this year.

The final change, and the one that would be hardest to implement, would be requiring a quota of T20 Blast matches to be shown on Free to Air television. In Australia most Big Bash games are broadcast on Free to Air Channel 7, with only a few being subscription only. If you want kids to pick up cricket, and see either ‘The Hundred’ or the Blast as the solution, then it is imperative that their access is not shut off by geography or the finances of their parents; Free to Air TV allows watching cricket to become a regular event and not a one-off privilege.

The model exists for an exciting, popular, short-form cricket competition, and in Australia and India the introduction of such a competition appears not to have been to a significant detriment to those nation’s test sides. This model is T20, not some new half-baked idea that has no precedent anywhere else in the world. As the Kabaddi fans of India will tell you, sometimes the wheels of tradition just need a bit of grease to get going, not a reinvention.

Frazer Loveman

2018-09-17T17:24:33+00:00September 17th, 2018|County Cricket, ODIs & T20, Talking Points|26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Sean September 17, 2018 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    I basically don’t think there is anything wrong with the Blast as it is except the terrestrial coverage that is being awarded to this ”Hundred” nonsense should be given to the Blast. Give the Blast the support it has been denied, that will be given to this Hundred. But essentially there is nothing wrong with the preexisting format.

  2. JC September 17, 2018 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    I’m a county member but I wont be going to any of this 100 ball nonsense. What I would do with the blast is have 2 divisions – an elite division of 8 where each county can have up to 4 players not eligible for England – the majority of these games would be televised – the top 4 would play in finals day. The 2nd Division would have the other 10 teams and be allowed 2 players not eligible for England. The top 3 in Div 2 and the bottom side in Div 1 could also have a finals day to decide who got promoted. 2 finals days and plenty of interest
    There’s no need to necessarily play games in the school holidays as all the games are in the evenings anyway and a lot on Friday, Saturday and Sundays – if ECB want to attract school children they need to play county championship games at outgrounds during July and August when the kids are off during the day

    • James Morgan September 17, 2018 at 6:43 pm - Reply

      Not a bad proposal that.

      • A Shaw September 18, 2018 at 11:16 am - Reply

        That would be another nail in the coffin for those struggling counties currently already effectively permanent in div 2 of championship. They would become permanent in div 2 of Blast too. No chance of winning anything, with players poached by bigger counties at an even more increasing rate.

    • Marc Evans September 19, 2018 at 11:10 am - Reply

      Agree in principle with what you are saying JC but if you get dodgy weather or bad light you end up losing a lot of time, as club facilities are relatively primitive. This has always been an issue with attracting kids to county cricket in a country where weather, all year round, seems fairly unpredictable. It’s the only game so affected by this. I suppose at least if you get rained off at a local club ground there’s only a relatively short journey home. Having been a parent with this predicament you need a plan B just in case, whatever the forecast.
      Maybe schools should do more in organising trips to county games. After all kids should be enthusiastic for any opportunity to get out of lessons. However school trips seem comparatively rare these days, with prohibitive insurance costs and the like.
      As far as limited overs stuff goes, the more complicated you make it the less accessible it becomes. I thought that would have been obvious, yet the 100 appears to be careering in that direction. It all seems like changes for changes sake to me. Interesting that on Sky they appear to be concentrating on those sympathetic to giving it a chance, only playing lip service to the fact that it is much criticised. I guess they see it as another cash cow for their exclusive TV stranglehold on all facets of the game.

  3. Doug M September 17, 2018 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Two t20 competitions will not co exist. No other country has 4 domestic competions. Either the blast or the 100 will go down the swanny. Probably the later, although the ECB will do everything, including charging 10p entry to make it a ” success”.They’ve got too much invested in it, such as paying off the counties. You could tinker with the blast but why muck around with something so successful? It’s a vanity project. I still want to know where all these mum’s and kids are coming from, and why do the ECB assume they will flock to evening matches in the summer hols and mix with the boozers. Personally the best place to play it is the dark side of the moon where no one can see it.

  4. Marc Evans September 17, 2018 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    A problem with promoting the white ball game as a family affair as it stands is that it has to sit side by side with a lot of heavy drinking and laddish behaviour that goes with the territory. This is fine for other adults, who are used to this being par for the course in public entertainment generally, but parents of younger children could well be put off by being in close proximity to this. It doesn’t set much of an example either, as the cricket itself becomes secondary to ‘partying on down’ in true British style. In soccer most clubs monitor drinking at grounds and intrusively drunken behaviour is clamped down on, but cricket seems to almost encourage it as part of the occasion, with Sky leading the way in showing all the self indulgent rituals.

    • Cricketcricketcricket September 19, 2018 at 9:11 pm - Reply

      Agree with this.. Cricket has a problem with beer heads at games already and that actively puts families off.. why are parents and kids suddnely going to come to another beer infested game for the beer heads

  5. maggie September 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm - Reply

    Agree with Doug. Why would mums, who presumably are not cricket fans as those are the people the ECB wants, decide out of the blue to take their kids to a 100 competition without any prompting from an existing cricket fan? And if they are so prompted, hopefully the existing cricket fan would prefer the Blast where they have a local team they can follow and feel part of.

    Equally with the merchandise idea, given that many parents must spend a lot of money buying yet another football strip each season for their kids, will they be that keen to do the same for cricket? Not sure. Would be interesting to hear the exact figures for the Southern Vipers merchandise sales.

    I suppose the women had no option but to sign up to the ECB plans, it must have been like having a gun held to your head, but I think it’s a dreadful thing for women’s cricket to have to play the 100 as their only form of ultra-short form cricket, with presumably different laws/rules to the T20 they will be playing internationally. And there is a good following for the women’s teams so I fear that their supporters might be keen to watch the 100, as they won’t have anything else, and get dragged into supporting the men’s teams as well as a result. I wonder if they’ll play them on the same day, does anyone know?

    • James Morgan September 17, 2018 at 6:46 pm - Reply

      A cynic might suggest that the ECB can claim The Hundred ball concept is a success (even if the men’s event bombs) if the women’s version goes well. Of course, if it does go well, it will probably just be because there’s no rival short-ball women’s format 😉

  6. John September 17, 2018 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    My post to this effect didn’t make it to publication last time, but I just wanted to award you a well deserved A+ for the Full Toss this summer, especially for your Test match reports. It really has added to my enjoyment of the season and I’m very grateful to you. ‘Morgan must try harder next term’ would be grossly unfair – but do, please, keep up the good work !

    • James Morgan September 17, 2018 at 6:48 pm - Reply

      Many thanks John. Appreciated.

  7. Andy Cheese September 17, 2018 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    T20 makes tons of money all over the world. Why not in the UK ???? Put the money into marketing. Any idiot (not the ECB mind you) can see this.

    • John September 17, 2018 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      Andy
      I think you miss the point. This has less to with cricket than it does with money. By establishing and owning the 100 format, the ECB has it’s eyes on controlling not just the game and the format, but the revenue stream associated with the rights, in a way it can’t (now) do with T20. The whole thing is an abomination- and how those who control the women’s game have fallen for it I don’t know – but that tends to sum up how the domestic game has been run for some time now. Gold helicopter anyone ?

  8. marees September 17, 2018 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    I would prefer 3 conference * 6 teams (to be played along with 50-50 on Fri-Sun weekends) 3*3 matches in one week-end

    followed by a televised superleague of top 3 from each conf play the 6 other teams during school holidays — on a one match per day basis (will have to cancel international test matches during superleague)

    the conferences can be divided by geography & population as follows:
    NORTH
    Newcastle—Leeds—Manchester—Nottingham—Derby—Leicester
    WEST
    Birmingham—Worcester—Wales—Bristol—Somerset/Devon—Southampton/Northampton
    East
    London—London—London—Canterbury—Brighton—Northampton/Southampton

    the TV rights for the 3 conf league matches and the superleague can be sold separately to 4 bidders

    I reckon the Northern conf will fetch more money as TV rights because of larger cities & colder weather

  9. Jackie Litherland September 18, 2018 at 8:42 am - Reply

    What a sad day when money leads the development in sport. That’s what is wrong. How to develop cricket is not the first question.
    The great virtue of the Blast is the spread across the country. We are lucky to have 18 counties with drawing power in the regions. The Blast has great potential.
    The ECB has been led by greed since the days of Clarke and Stanford. The Blast does seem to be taking off. It does take time. The BBL took time.
    Graves is trying to Americanise the sport just at the time when England is trying to establish its identity. He’s got the mood wrong. County cricket has county traditional loyalties. You can’t underrate how important a factor that is. All sorts of crazy theories are being aired. Why? If the Blast works then stick with it.
    The Hundred cuts out too much of the country. Graves wants it to float independently so he can sell franchise goods to mums. That is Costcutter mentality. Also it’s old news. The mood is swinging away from such blatant commercialism. Anyway up North in Durham we’re rebuilding. Durham being the victim of cutting down the Test ground counties to eight. That showed the corrupt ruthlessness of the ECB – Hampshire was the beneficiary of Durham’s calculated removal from Div One. However Bransgrove is deep in this with Graves. Led by such venal motivation the outcome is unlikely to be good no matter how much arm twisting has been involved. No one wants the Hundred.

  10. John September 18, 2018 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Having read the reports of the trial games, I do wonder about the ECB’s thinking. The original concept, or so we were told, was to come up with a simpler form of the game for people who found a conventional scoreboard difficult to understand; for an audience which couldn’t cope with 120 balls an innings but which would flock to see 100, oh yes, and most of them, according to the ECB would never have heard of Stokes and Root – who they were nevertheless going to use to front their marketing campaign.
    What they have come up with is a form of the game which makes medieval alchemy look positively simple and which, on the basis of this morning’s press, even professional cricket correspondents struggle to understand. It’s difficult to see that what they’ve come up with comes anywhere near to meeting the initial brief.

  11. StephenFH September 18, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

    The 100 is a relatively minor variation of the T20 game and others around the world are likely to have a why bother reaction to it; internal strife within English cricket, end of. FTA live coverage of sport such as it is now is World Cups and Wimbledon, and for the game to return to the Beeb with domestic cricket for beginners is rather odd really as well as being a big admission.

    It will be up against the big kick-offs in August and resented by many within the game which is all rather unfortunate because the size of the problem it is intended to address is not doubted.

  12. Sean September 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    They were hyping up the Kia Super League as well, ”done so much to further women’s cricket”, and now they’re going to scrap it and leave female cricketers without a twenty20 competition! Claire Conner is a disgrace for backing this.

    • John September 18, 2018 at 1:12 pm - Reply

      I agree with you. I couldn’t believe what I was listening to when I heard her defending it. When in doubt I presume money has changed hands !

  13. AndyB September 18, 2018 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    The problem with the hundred is exactly the same as the problem with the blast – and it is shown by the success of Worcestershire on Saturday (and I say this despite being delighted that they won). The short format introduces an element of the random which moves the event away from a competitive sport to pure entertainment. The best team does not necessarily win, simply because the length of the format fails to give sufficient time to average out luck and temporary form in the outcome. This is fine as long as you only want to be entertained. I love cricket and want to see the best players and teams rewarded.

    Similar problems exist in the likes of snooker, where 3 frame shootouts mean nothing, whilst the 35 frame world championship gives a meaningful result. 20/20 is a bit like playing football over 10 minutes and being surprised when there are some odd results.

    • AB September 21, 2018 at 11:33 am - Reply

      Of course, the way other sports get round that is to have an extensive league season followed by playoffs that are best of 5 or even best of 7.

      Over 7 games, the best team usually wins.

  14. Sean September 18, 2018 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    Reading what was trialed, it strikes me that it is more complicated than twenty20!!

    They’ll need to invent terminology for ten balls. They’ll also need to invent a signal for the umpire for when ten balls are finished. The umpires will require a signal for a change of bowler. There will be rules regulating usage of this ”strategic time out”.

    There will still be overs (five ball overs). There will still be powerplays. There will still be restrictions on number of overs a bowler can bowl.

    How can the ”mums and kids” cope with this information?

    • Doug M September 19, 2018 at 5:52 am - Reply

      I read the draft rules an couldn’t make head or tail of it. Not sure how mum and the kids are expected to understand it. A very silly and stupid vanity project by idiotic “suits” in the ECB that I am beginning to think is going down the toilet before it ever starts. I don’t read anywhere about anyone who wants it, apart from Women’s cricket for some odd reason.

  15. AB September 21, 2018 at 11:38 am - Reply

    I wish people would stop holding up the BBL and IPL as examples of “successful” tournaments. The BBL loses money hand over foot, and the IPL is a total joke. A country of 1.4 billion cricket fans, and they can only support 8 teams, and can barely hold their interest for 6 weeks of the year? That’s an unmitigated failure of epic proportions.

    If the IPL were a genuinely successful competition on a par with something like the MLB, it would last 8 months, and feature over 100 elite teams supported by 1,000 professional 2nd and 3rd tier sides. Its so far off that its laughable.

    The Blast, limited as it is in its current guise, is actually the most successful T20 tournament in that it manages to support 18 professional outfits in a country of 60m people.

  16. munawar September 28, 2018 at 9:12 am - Reply

    They were hyping up the Kia Super League as well, ”done so much to further women’s cricket”, and now they’re going to scrap it and leave female cricketers without a twenty20 competition! Claire Conner is a disgrace for backing this.i have this url http://www.cricketmagazine.net its working same like your site

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