The ECB’s PR machine has rumbled into action this week as preparations start for next year’s new limited over competition, “The Hundred”. Team names have been announced, kit designs revealed and superstars including Ben Stokes, Heather Knight, Steve Smith and Chris Gayle allocated to the 8 competing teams.
The prospect of some of the best cricketers in the world coming to our shores to battle it out in a 38-day festival of cricket is mouth-watering to some. With big-hitting limited-over competitions having proved wildly successful in Australia and India it is hoped that “The Hundred” can harness the momentum of England’s World Cup win and return cricket to its rightful place as the centrepiece of the English sporting summer.
The tournament is set to be played over the summer holidays, bringing the game to the attention of a whole new generation, and features both men’s and women’s leagues, providing much needed exposure to the women’s game.
However cricketing purists are less keen on the tournament. It’s 100 ball format, a departure from the 20/20 format used in most franchise competitions, has been widely ridiculed and labelled unnecessary. The format means ten, ten-ball overs are bowled each innings, rather than the traditional twenty, six-ball overs, and bowlers are permitted to bowl in either 5 or 10 ball spells, rather than an over at a time as they have done for centuries.
The ECB has argued that these changes are necessary to simplify the game and therefore broaden its appeal, whilst the shorter format also means that the game can be played in under 2 hours and so is more appealing to broadcasters. However many take the view that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and claim that the new format actually makes the game more complicated than the tried and tested 20/20 format.
Quite apart from the game’s complexity, traditionalists claim that the loss of cricket from the public consciousness (outside of major moments of triumph like this summer’s ODI World Cup) is due to the game disappearing from terrestrial TV in 2005, instead being hidden behind the iron curtain of Sky TV.
Whilst “The Hundred” sees some cricket return to the BBC, the fact that only 10 men’s and 8 women’s games will be broadcast on the channel, with the rest on Sky, seems perplexing when the ECB’s stated intent is to engage as many people as possible in the format.
There have also been claims that further focus on limited over cricket will take attention away from the County Championship, the traditional proving ground for young cricketers hoping to make their way in the longer form of the game, therefore weakening the test team.
However, others argue that increased attention on cricket of any format is positive. Since 2005 engagement in cricket has decreased dramatically. By attracting attention to cricket in general it is hoped participation rates will improve across the formats, with people becoming more aware of the longer form of the game once their attention has been grabbed by the big hitting of “The Hundred”, eventually giving the test selectors a greater pool of talent to pick from.
“The Hundred” is by no means perfect. It would be great to have all the games on free-to-air TV or for the country to suddenly fall back in love with the 5-day game. But with cricket’s popularity falling fast we can’t dismiss an idea that may well bring millions to the sport due to a few quibbles with the details.