If I told you today that the ECB’s new Hundred competition would involve ten overs of ten balls, all bowled from the same end, using florescent yellow balls, with only eight fielders allowed at any one time, you’d probably believe me. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous an idea may seem. Anything and everything is now believable because a host of equally ridiculous ideas have already been proposed seriously.
How is one supposed to know the difference between a piss-take and reality anymore?
To say the ECB have bungled their new franchise T20, I mean Hundred, I mean T20 with shorter overs thingy, has been nothing short of an embarrassment. When they launched the Hundred concept I argued it probably had very little to do with innovation and everything to do with appearing to be innovative. I claimed the ECB were obsessed with looking funky and modern, and they didn’t really care about anything else. In essence, the Hundred was just a vanity project.
With each passing day I’m more and more convinced that I was right. How else does one explain the absurd depths the ECB are plumbing in order to ‘differentiate’ their competition from the IPL (and other tournaments they’re plainly jealous of)?
The original idea behind franchise cricket in the UK was ostensibly to ‘re-invigorate the game’ (a cynical code for ‘making money’ in my view), however I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the actual motivation was simply get one over the IPL and earn ‘great innovator’ tags for the competition’s architects. In other words, it’s about ego.
At first we heard that The Hundred would consist of fifteen six-ball overs with one ten-ball over – a product, I imagine, of a marketing bod in a boardroom (who knows very little about cricket) saying “the number 100 is pretty sexy, and it sounds catchier than T20, so let’s just do that”. I imagine everyone in the room went “yeahhhh love it”, until one spoilsport at the back of the room said “but the number 100 isn’t divisible by six”.
Having seen the public reaction, and perhaps more importantly to the ECB the reaction of the PCA, the meeting has now reconvened to resolve this apparent mathematical paradox. After much umming and ahhing the great minds have belated discovered that 100 is divisible by 5. So their solution is to bowl 20 five-ball overs instead. Genius! Job done!
The problem, of course, is that the ECB and their marketing consultants are the only people in the entire world who can’t see that their baby is a bastard. In fact, it’s a full on botchling. The more they try to look innovative the more they look like desperate clowns fumbling in the dark. Changing ends every five balls is just going to make the game seem more fragmented to the uninitiated.
The latest reports are that the Hundred will further try to ‘differentiate’ (code for further try to ‘be funky’) by enabling teams to pick 12 players, even though cricket as a sport has only involved XI players for generations. The ‘idea’ (code for shit proposal’) is for squads to have a specialist batsman or bowler who doesn’t have to field. This player then becomes a kind of designated hitter – much like they have in baseball, apparently.
One suspects this idea occurred randomly when Tom Harrison and Ed Smith, who is reportedly as big a student of baseball as he is a fan of The Economist, bumped into each other in a cocktail bar. They obviously forgot that the ICC tried something similar (the ODI super subs) in the noughties and it failed miserably. Only the ECB could revive something that made no sense whatsoever and was soon retracted.
So where, exactly, does The Hundred stand today? Let’s briefly recap:
It’s a tournament that targets people who don’t like cricket – in the forlorn hope that cutting the number of balls will make all the difference to these people – whilst alienating the sports traditional fanbase.
It’s a tournament that has been criticised by just about every single independent cricket writer, and people still don’t know exactly what the format will involve.
It’s a tournament that will overshadow and probably jeopardise the very successful and much loved T20 Blast.
And yet, despite all of the above, the ECB are prepared to invest millions and risk the very future of the sport unnecessarily to implement it. The mind boggles.
The fact ‘The Hundred’ concept was launched (badly) before the ECB even knew exactly what it would entail tells me everything I need to know. The important thing was seemingly to introduce something new, something that was different, something that made a bunch of ageing men frequently portrayed as elitist stick-in-the-muds appear as great innovators. I suspect this was the prority and they didn’t particularly care about the fine details.
One can imagine how that initial meeting wrapped up now:
“Well done gents. This is going to make us look really clever and our bank balance really healthy”.
“But what about the fine details, you know, the stuff we need to think through to make this work?”
“Think? Think? We don’t need to do that. It’s what we pay our marketing consultants, the guys who know nothing about our idiosyncratic sport, to do”.
And that’s why we’re in this mess. It’s amazing to think that the counties were coerced into this bollocks. After all the arm twisting, and all the money spent, the ECB didn’t even have a plan. How. Bloody. Typical.