Take your mind back one year. It is summer 2021, and Liam Livingstone has just hit his 27th six of the inaugural hundred.
He is cheered on by thousands of screaming kids, many of whom would have been at their first, or one of their first, cricket games.
The ECB’s new 100-ball tournament was an absolute winner it seemed, so why doesn’t Cricket Australia do the same?
The idea for the very first professional 100-ball was proposed in 2019. It was to feature eight city-based franchises (the first ever franchise tournament in English cricket), a draft, and the inaugural season would run the following summer, although proceedings were of course delayed a year by Covid-19.
The aim? To introduce young kids (especially girls), women and anyone who hadn’t seen the sport before to cricket, and hopefully to convert those people into long-time followers of cricket.
Isn’t that part of what T20 offers, I hear you ask? It is, but I like to think of The Hundred as T20 on steroids, even simpler, quicker and more exciting than before.
So, have they achieved their aims? I would say partly, and just remember that was only the first season. They introduced many many new people to cricket, and crowds always seemed like they were enjoying the spectacle. Will these people become hooked to cricket off the Hundred, of that I’m not so sure.
Let’s use the person who brought me into this world, my mother, as an example. She is certainly part of the tournament’s target audience.
Female, part of a Swedish family that had never heard of cricket before my brother explained it to them, and crucially, someone who doesn’t like cricket.
She is exactly the sort of person the ECB would like to attend The Hundred. And so she did, with a bit of convincing, going with my brother, my dad and I to the Southern Brave vs Oval Invincibles double-header. Before the game, she said even if she “really enjoyed” the women’s match, she wouldn’t stay for the men.
Believe it or not, she stayed for the whole thing, and thoroughly enjoyed it. She described it to me earlier today as a “party” and she liked it because it was very clear on the scoring. After all that, she hasn’t bought tickets for this year. When I asked her why, she said part of how good last summer was was the “novelty” of it and I think she accidentally found The Hundred’s biggest problem, “after all it’s just cricket.”
No matter what the ECB do, The Hundred will always be cricket, and not everyone likes cricket.
Having said all of that, I think The Hundred will convert some to cricket, and if it converts enough of them, then surely it has fulfilled its purpose? So back to my original question, should Cricket Australia consider a similar tournament? I think no, and I’ll explain why. The Hundred has done many things to appeal to children and not the traditional cricket audience.
As I’ve said before, it is the first franchise tournament in England, with teams such as ‘Fire’, ‘Rockets’ and ‘Invincibles’ playing in brightly coloured kits with unusual designs. There are fireworks, along with live music at every game at a fun interactive app.
Also, to encourage more kids to go, tickets are as cheap as $AUD 8.74, even for double-headers.
I instead suggest a reform of the BBL. My plans aren’t anything too radical, as it is already pretty good at attracting a diverse audience, which is why I don’t think a new tournament is necessary.
The structure is already in place to get new people into cricket. It has marketable teams, cheap tickets and some big stars. They’ve also just announced the introduction for a draft, which I think is great.
If I were Cricket Australia, I would make the BBL even more appealing to kids. There would be live music, a mobile game, or maybe even players doing stupid Tik Tok dances, to be honest, anything to make them watch it.
I would get more games on free to air TV and would revert the WBBL back to running at the same time as the BBL, and introduce double-headers.
The WBBL would also have a draft, and this draft would be the main focus of my ideas. I would pump money into this draft, having a wage structure similar to The Hundred, and attracting the biggest players, male and female. I would copy what The Hundred with allowing each team two players on central test contracts.
If possible, I would schedule it not to clash with any international cricket, as one downside of The Hundred is that players selected for a test series, both this year and last year, will only be able to play at the start of the tournament before leaving for an England tour.
Most importantly, I would pump money into the draft and the BBL, advertising it everywhere, and make sure the world is watching my T20 tournament which will challenge the best global leagues. A tournament, to rival The Hundred.