Following on from the inaugural draft that took place this week, and the attempts at building hype around cricket’s new limited overs roadshow, questions still remain over the point of The Hundred’s existence.
‘The Hundred’ isn’t exactly an ambiguous title – it’s succinct and self-explanatory. It describes a format in which each side has 100 balls to post a total, which is ever-so different from the old and stale T20 (or “The One Hundred and Twenty”) scene.
The tournament consists of eight fresh, ‘exciting’ franchises and is scheduled for lift-off in July 2020.
It may be gleaned from this article that it is an argument against The Hundred. Not at all. What it is, however, is an exploration on what the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is expecting to achieve with it.
Given that the tournament is to take place in around nine months’ time, the scheduling of the draft is odd. That is well and truly enough time for the shine to wear off the concept, and for the smoke to settle following all of the fireworks.
This means that the ECB is either going to drag out a laboured, unnecessarily long marketing campaign (which is quite ironic given the subject matter) or they’re going to pick it up again closer to the commencement date.
The big theme in the early spruiking of the concept was about attracting a new audience. ECB Director of Cricket, Andrew Strauss told the BBC in April of last year:
“What we’re trying to do is appeal to a new audience, people that aren’t traditional cricket fans,”
“We want that audience but a different audience as well, who perhaps would like things slightly different. That’s the driver behind this idea.”
Having seen the success of various T20 leagues over the past decade or so, it is difficult to identify where the new audience is going to come from.
The Big Bash, for example, attracts many ‘casual’ observers and those who really could not care less about cricket. The brevity of proceedings is a large contributor to this, but so is the atmosphere and game-day experience for kids and the otherwise uninterested.
These attendees do not seem to have an issue with an extra 20 balls per innings. In fact, would they know they’re missing? Is there a yet-to-be-tapped market where the audience cannot sustain 20 whole overs, but 100 balls is fine? It is difficult to believe that the attention span of the millennial is that precarious.
Further, Strauss opined that the T20 game is becoming drawn out, meaning that in some leagues, games are stretching out to four hours. Because of this, the game is not as compatible with children and their bedtimes. Again, does this extra time act as a deterrent to new audiences? Doubtful.
Is it an inconvenience for existing audiences with young children? More likely. In any event, given the origins of T20 and its very reason for existing was for fans to be able to watch an entire game of cricket in a short timeframe, perhaps over rates can be addressed in the existing T20 competition.
With the growth of the T20 domestic scene globally it has been an oddity that the English, creators of the T20 game, have fallen behind with the scale and interest in their local competition. Only in recent seasons have the crowds made real progress.
Seemingly, the ECB have learned one valuable lesson from other domestic leagues, however, and opted for brand new franchises that are separate from the county sides. It’s a concept that has worked all over the world and is a savvy move from organisers.
The need for a new format of the game to implement such a setup was probably unnecessary though.
On the flipside, can the English cricket calendar sustain both the Vitality Blast and The Hundred? The Big Bash proved that more games didn’t necessarily mean more interest. If anything, interest waned as the season went on. A 38 day addition to the fixture list may prove to be a little overkill.
No doubt the ECB were hoping that there would be genuine intrigue and excitement in what Michael Vaughan described on Twitter as a ‘pioneering moment’ for the game.
Instead, aside from those involved in playing or broadcasting, the reaction on Twitter (albeit an echo chamber at the best of times) has largely been underwhelmed, bored or contemptuous.
Those in the latter camp have even succeeded in getting the hashtag “#OpposeThe100” trending. Similar to Australian rules football, where the AFLX was ridiculed rather than embraced, the ECB may not have entirely read the room.
Those in vehement opposition to the concept have various reasons; including its perceived tackiness, its effect on the County game, the potential impact on already diminishing techniques of batsmen, the fears for the Vitality Blast (as touched on above) and the suspicions that The Hundred is nothing more than a cynical cash grab.
While the need to tinker further with the game is debatable, and worrying to some who already fear for the health of the longer form, it is yet another development in the commercial push and expansion of the game. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not The Hundred has truly captured the imagination of either the established cricket fans, or the prospective new audience.