The Hundred: long wait for new cricket adventure must end in success for all

On April 19, 2018, the ECB hosted a meeting of journalists to announce The Hundred, which begins this Wednesday. There were two distinct quirks about the event.

The first was that it was not an event at all. The “meeting” was remote – unnecessary in an era before Covid-19 – conducted entirely by telephone. It was stale and at times ridiculous, with the three keynote speakers Tom Harrison (CEO of the ECB), Sanjay Patel (who would go on to become CEO of The Hundred) and Clare Connor (who was to move on from overseeing the women’s competition) , talk to each other from time to time. There was a strange contradiction, like the last one on a compulsory 10 balls, which was then brought back a few minutes later.

For a marquee ad, one of the most seismic in recent council history, it was strangely small fry.

More particular than the superficial, however, what format. Because until this conference call, every sound the ECB made indicated that the new competition was an eight-team Twenty20 affair. It wasn’t until that fateful Monday that full details of cricket’s fourth format fell into the public domain, beyond news in 2017, that something big was on the horizon as part of a deal. of exceptional distribution.

There was nothing particularly wrong with it. There was no explicit lie, although perhaps the odd lie of omission. When Harrison wrote about what was to come in the 2018 edition of the Wisden Almanack – released earlier in April – he never hinted that it wouldn’t be T20, but never hinted that there would be a new format either. It was a little too cute.

Stepping into more than three years, here we are, after more high-profile launch parties, a fractured national fanbase and a tournament that, delayed by a year, seems more worthy of hope than careful planning. The powerful delta variant of Covid and the unpredictability of contact tracing has decimated entire teams in the past fortnight – whether English men or various county outfits. But the brief trip to the start line on Wednesday also served as a reminder that every moment since The Hundred entered the lexicon of cricket, there have been constant PR rejections, whether figuring out what it would really be like or trying to somehow justify why a fourth format was necessary.

The founding principles are well intentioned: to make English cricket more self-sufficient, a push to reduce the number of participations, develop women’s cricket at all levels and make the game more accessible to previously ignored socially and economically diverse communities. A £ 1.3 billion deal with Sky and BBC between 2020 and 2024, Dynamos and Downtown Initiatives, the Hundred Women and Affordable Tickets for Families ticked those four boxes.

Conspiracy theorists argue the case that the express plan was to destroy County Cricket as we know it. But given the way the money is planned to be distributed, that never really rings true.

Nonetheless, the ECB has struggled to demonstrate good faith through its own public and private messages. We told the traditionalists The Hundred was not for them, and took it personally. Even the potential “new audience” felt small, with simplicity being the key to attracting moms and kids in particular. For those in the middle, we talked about the need to reduce the duration of T20 matches to adapt to terrestrial television schedules. The IPL matches, which last four hours, were cited, ignoring the fact that the Blast – England’s national T20 competition – had avoided this by imposing punitive penalties on slow teams to ensure matches did not go late.

It didn’t help that every public statement by then ECB President Colin Graves exacerbated the spurious tones. While he rallied to mainstream supporters with well-meaning reservations, by association, the governing body followed suit.

We then came to a point where a new quirk was leaked every week. Different colored balls, in-game replacements with teams of up to 15 players, simpler scoreboards and “outs” instead of wickets, to name a few. Most fell by the wayside, the most dramatically “outs”, which was a key aspect of the BBC and Sky briefings among its team of commentators before a backlash on social media brought organizers back. of the competition.

From the outside, it seemed like a lot of it was being created as it went. In a way, the pandemic has helped. While a 2020 launch would have been ideal for riding the wave of winning England’s 2019 Men’s World Cup and an entertaining Ashes series, sources within Sky and the BBC admit. that he would have been rushed to set the tone and framing necessary to do justice to England’s new standout event.

The inaugural draft which took place in October 2019 was instructive, although it is now on the verge of obsolescence given the number of prominent absentees because of you-know-what. Sky Sports Studios in Isleworth have been decorated from top to bottom in the branding of The Hundred. And while there were regrets that it had gone on for too long, as well as the ECB’s insistence that players and journalists be kept apart – creating a duller and more formal atmosphere – it marked a number. important firsts.

From that moment on, the two broadcasters set no limits to their ambitions, working together throughout. The most avant-garde movements have seen them align with pop culture through their respective associations with musicians and through their other outlets – Sky, for example, will rely on Sky Arts to showcase artists outside. – field of competition, while the BBC has their plethora of radios.

Sky also takes its award-winning coverage to new heights with computer-generated avatars to enhance both their analysis and the overall viewer experience. Created with MetaStar Dimension Studio, these avatars will allow them to go further in technical analysis, which is likely to feed their coverage of other formats. Indeed, such innovation will benefit the way traditionalists consume the formats they cherish.

Not that these fans will necessarily buy into that sentiment. In fact, one could argue that “established” fans of the game have seen their skepticism flare up even more over the past season – any quick analysis of the online discussions of county cricket will highlight the resentment of so many. lifers of cricket. That the surge of positive Covid cases means the competition from more than 50 counties will be pilfered if there are needed replacements in The Hundred hasn’t helped on that front in the week leading up to opening night.

(Getty Images for the ECB)

Likewise, some of the altruism that underlies competition has collapsed. Women’s competition, for example, has been hailed as a giant leap, overtaking the work of the now defunct Kia Super League. The equality of prices and the fact that it all opens with a women’s game between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals were seen as unequivocal statements of support.

However, this was punctured after a story in the The telegraph of the day revealed that Australian stars such as Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy have been offered an additional £ 10,000 on top of their original salaries to honor their deals. Given the disparity in pay – the women’s contracts range from £ 3,600 to £ 15,000, while the men’s lower tier is £ 24,000 and rises to £ 100,000 – this has confirmed that more money was available but intentionally not distributed accordingly. It underscored how wrong it was to pay women so little compared to men, something that was easy to fix but was not.

The question we come back to is why did it have to be like this? Why did the ECB see fit to spend the majority of its £ 70million on this unicorn? Why did they play so much of their game on it? Because they believe in it. And despite all the legitimate criticisms of their practices in recent years, pretending they want to ruthlessly destroy everything that constitutes the status quo has always been several steps too far.

The point is, we don’t yet know the effect of The Hundred, positive or negative. Ticket sales are said to have exceeded 350,000 – though not all of them are “sales” – while a profit of £ 50million in its first year has been reported. Only time will tell if these numbers and the ECB’s intuition come to fruition as they wait.

For now, the show is finally starting and, as bitter as it turns out, you have to swallow it. Whatever The Hundred is, everything it isn’t and everything it turns out to be can be discussed on the outskirts. Above all, it must be a success. Failure would be too costly to bear.

Add a Comment