By Abi Curran
I don’t think anyone could have predicted a Becky Hill interlude at a cricket match five years ago but here we are. The Hundred seeks to prove its sceptics wrong and, whilst it is disrupting the County schedule, the steps it is making in bringing in a more diverse crowd are not to be shunned.
As we ease past the halfway stage of the tournament The Hundred is definitely making itself known. This could be due to the commercial fanfare of graphics being rammed down our throats by the likes of the BBC and Sky, or perhaps it is just the luminous Trent Rockets’ kit. Nevertheless, the way that I now know my McCoy’s from my Popchips is down to clever advertising and for that I say ‘‘give that marketing team a rise.’’
Back to the cricket itself. It really is great value for money seeing Moeen Ali come in at three, essentially block his first over (sorry, set) and then proceed to whack it around the park at leisure- for £15 you cannot say fairer than that.
The issue with having superstars who attract the big crowds is that it drains red ball cricket of its quality. Then there begs the question, how do players adapt in red ball cricket if they have been averaging fifteen an over for half of the summer? Will there be complete meltdowns at the crease and a crisis within Test and County cricket? Will England ever reclaim the Ashes?
Now, this debacle has been an age-old debate, stemming back to 2003 when the T20 format was first introduced.
Prior to that, county cricket took the blame for the fact that England players were not sufficient in tests due to lack of preparation and too heavy of a domestic schedule. It seems now that The Hundred is simply the scapegoat of this argument in a blame-chain hierarchy.
Yes, The Hundred may now negatively be impacting the strength of squads in other formats but the ECB cannot afford for it to fail, for the future of English cricket and in lining the pockets of its backers. The ECB has committed to spending £312 million on the new format in the next 5 years.
The Hundred also pays a pretty price to the counties, somewhat of a form of compensation for attracting the best players in the country. £1.3 million in annual dividend payments will be made to the 18 counties and the MCC collectively.
Some say that sceptics have a genuine concern for the future of county and test cricket and others say they are just stubborn. The truth is that cricket has always had an issue with accessibility and even elitism. The sport requires a more diverse fanbase which, inevitably, will lead to a more diverse talent pool in the future.
The Hundred, though gimmicky and fuelled by its punchy marketing campaigns, has the reach to attract a younger spectator from the cities who may even take up cricket themselves as a result of summers to come.
Even at a player level, a look to Durham University alumni only highlights the positive exposure gained by emerging cricketers on a national stage. Deputy Sport Editor, Harvey Steven’s, interview with Hundred hero Chris Bellingham is a beaming advert for the way in which cricketers are making a name for themselves through the new format.
Over in the women’s game, Durham’s alumni boasts Manchester Originals’ regular Cordelia Griffith’s whilst last year’s DUWCC IX Captain, Helen Fenby, anticipates her Hundred debut in the Northern Superchargers squad.
The women’s game seems to have been knitted nicely into the 100-ball format. As Kate Cross described after her first game, ‘‘I have never played in front of a crowd like that in international cricket, in the Big Bash, or anywhere.’’
It comes across that The Hundred is doing more to put women’s competition on an equal, commercial plane than any other professional team sport within the country. If we leave out the disparity of pay, as Ollie Phillips highlights, the two million people that tuned into Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals game are giving women’s cricket the attention it deserves.
It is true that this has all come about as a slight accident. The women and the men are only playing their games on the same stage, on the same day, because of Covid-19 security reasons. But what a way to commercially capitalise on such an equality-inducing aspect of the pandemic.
Cricket veterans, Phil Tufnell and Michael Vaughan, seemed confused at points in the commentary box during the inaugural match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals but they soon adapted to a format that is necessary for growing domestic cricket in England and Wales.
This is what current cricket fans will have to do in the face of The Hundred, adapt. The new format, through financial backing and broadcasting contracts, is here to stay and it needs to succeed for the future of domestic cricket at all levels. So let us embrace the fireworks, the helmet cams and the DJ sets.
Image Credit: Willem via Flickr