Amid controversy, will The Hundred prove to be a success?
Some of the world’s best cricket stars have made themselves available for the draft of The Hundred, an inaugural 100-ball cricket competition starting in England and Wales next July. Eoin Morgan, Chris Gayle and Steve Smith have all registered their desire to play in the tournament, which will allow audiences to watch the best talent in the world compete on British soil once again.
Nonetheless, the competition has many critics, including former MCC chief Keith Bradshaw, who called the new tournament “an innovation for innovation’s sake.” This has created a situation in which many of the world’s best stars are on board to play in the tournament, but lots of fans, administrators and organisers view the concept as completely unnecessary, leading one to wonder whether The Hundred will be a success.
100-ball cricket was first proposed by the ECB in 2016, after discussion with the Professional Cricketers’ Association and the MCC. The following year an ECB vote approved plans to proceed with the project. Through the simplicity and anticipated drama of the new format the ECB hope to attract a new audience to cricket and raise both participation and attendance levels, a claim backed up by the England Test captain, Joe Root.
The tournament involves one team each from Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Southampton and Cardiff, as well as two from London. This city-based approach differs from the county setup that has dominated English domestic cricket for so long. This model is similar to the Big Bash League in Australia, which, with its flashing stumps and baseball caps, has been a big success and attracted a new, younger audience to the cricket Down Under. Whilst there are only forty balls fewer than in your regular T20 game, the new format will see a change of ends after ten balls. Bowlers will be able to bowl a maximum of twenty balls, but can decide to do so in divisions of five or ten.
It is certainly different, but with the inclusion of the world’s best players, a revolutionary format and the new city-specific teams, one can understand why the ECB is optimistic about the potential of the tournament, especially considering England’s recent World Cup victory.
However, The Hundred still raises many contentious questions. Even though the tournament aims to boost participation amongst youngsters, only a few games will be shown on freeview television. The dominance that broadcasters have over cricket (and sport more generally) is a worrying development, and cannot be ignored.
For cricket to thrive, it must be widely watched and widely played, and the ECB’s decision to choose money over a more general promotion of the game may come back to haunt them if grass root passions aren’t rekindled.
There is also a concern about the opportunity cost of not investing further in counties, clubs and state schools, which, despite the success of the national team, have seen drastically reduced participation of late. This gives rise to the fear of an over-commercialised game, in which board-level power has disproportionally surpassed the needs of the game at a more basic level.
Concerns about the detrimental impact the format could have on the red ball game are also valid, especially given England’s apparent inability to remain at the crease for long periods of time, as shown in this year’s Ashes.
The arrival of The Hundred next summer promises to be an exciting development in English cricket, but its triumph hinges on the fragile assumptions binding it together. And the weather.
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