The Hundred in review

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On Saturday, the inaugural season of The Hundred drew to a close as Southern Brave Men and Oval Invincibles Women came up trumps in two brilliant games at the Home of Cricket. This first season has been a real success, attracting larger crowds, first-time fans, and, ultimately, the huge amount of attention and debate should be taken positively.

As the old adage goes, all press is good press. However, very serious issues remain and the ECB must not be complacent going forward. County Cricket loyalists still fear the game they love may be lost forever as the wave of commercialism breaks and the game threatens to get shorter and shorter as the TikTok-ification of societal attention spans spreads.

But cricket, especially English cricket, has been in desperate need of innovation for some time now. The Hundred has the potential to secure the financial future of the game.

However, while cash is king, the competition must iron out the creases and move beyond sheer commercialism and establish real roots, passion, and authenticity between teams and fans in order to guarantee its long-term success.

The competition is somewhat gimmick-ridden and, given the intense focus on marketing and new audiences, it is genuinely remarkable how poor some of the early decisions have been. The ‘simplified’ scoring graphic that frames every shot is terrible both visually and practically while scrawling ‘Pom-Bear’ or ‘Hula Hoops’ as a dominant sight across Jofra Archer or Jonny Bairstow’s chest was never likely to enamour cricket ‘purists’ or fly off the shelves.

Though these are not reasons to write off the format, these are simply small kinks that remain significantly easier to either amend or accept than it would be to revitalise the T20 Blast competition. The same competition that failed to retain viability or longevity after an initial spike.

The Hundred must do all it can to avoid this sad, slow, slump into obscurity.

This comparison with the T20 Blast is significant, and most important of all is that word, longevity. I remember sitting at the Blast finals day at Edgbaston in 2016, taken in by it all – the carnival atmosphere of fans in fancy dress, drinking, singing, and cheering provided fresh entertainment (having been brought up by my Grandpa on a clear Test cricket diet) –  and assuming the Blast had finally taken off and this world was here to stay.

But, despite Blast teams retaining direct links to county sides, and attendance figures remaining respectable, the competition has lost a lot of its appeal. Once it lost the momentum of its prime (2014-2017) the talent went elsewhere, the crowd lost its enthusiasm, and the once bright light flickered.

Outside of the occasional remaining star, how many squad members could the average cricket fan name from their local blast team? The Hundred must do all it can to avoid this sad, slow, slump into obscurity – there are only so many times the ECB can shorten the game, change the language, or brighten the kits. 

What will define The Hundred is not years one-to-three but years three through to ten. It is this period that separates the flash in the pan success of novelty brands and the genuine establishment of a successful English cricket format.

The IPL is set to finish its fourteenth season this October and it continues to go from strength to strength. It is often venerated as a uniquely brilliant competition; combining the financial power to attract all the greatest white-ball cricketers in the world with what is assumed to be a distinctly cultural Indian love for the game.

This combination of passion and commercialism is fundamental to the IPL’s success but the success of the model is not unattainable in England. It would be naive to expect a recreation of the extraordinary atmosphere and attendance figures of the 68,000 capacity Eden Gardens or perhaps even to expect the entire cricketing world to stand still in the way that it does for the IPL.

But the IPL is not perfect. The painful commercialism of the ‘Vivo IPL’ as the commentators shout ‘UnAcademy Cracking Six’ as a contractual obligation every time the ball clears the ropes is comparably irritating to the qualms many have with the language and imagery of The Hundred. Similarly, the enforced decision to play the 2014 and 2021 in the UAE removed it from its unique, passionate, Indian fanbase.

The point being, despite clear imperfections, the rampant commercialism and two disrupted seasons, it consistently remains the most entertaining and the most successful cricket league in the world. 

I simply do not believe there is insufficient interest in English cricket to make a successful, profitable, and engaging tournament format. The ECB have revealed that The Hundred had 16.1 million TV viewers this year, 57% of which are believed to have not watched any other live cricket this year, and that this was the most attended women’s tournament in history (including women’s internationals).

Bring in the international stars, give the tournament its own period in the calendar, and commit to forming links between teams and the community and The Hundred may just move to the next level.

Consider these remarkable statistics on top of the record number of UK IPL viewers in recent years and one thing becomes clear: the appetite exists. This appetite, however, must be turned into passion and loyalty from fans in order to ensure the long-term success of the competition.

It is fantastic and vital that The Hundred is bringing fresh fans into the sport but it is loyalty that fills seats when the novelty stops.

Norwich City F.C. had an average attendance of 27,019 in the 2019/20 season despite finishing dead last in the Premier League. While football operates in a different stratosphere, the point remains – fan loyalty sustains sport when the sport itself fails.

Southern Brave’s performance on Saturday was extraordinary, completely dominant and enthralling with bat and ball, but when I sat at the Rose Bowl (Ageas Bowl) watching a rather less enthralling game against the Northern Superchargers I couldn’t help but notice a lack of passion from both the Brave’s stars and sections of the crowd. The contrast to the feeling at Trent Bridge for the England v India test the day before was striking. Test cricket and football alike are sustained in their low moments by passion, authenticity, and long histories.

All the marketing in the world cannot artificially generate that. But bring in the international stars, give the tournament its own period in the calendar (the removal of global superstars Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, and Jos Buttler for the Test side mid-tournament undermines the status of the competition, just as it begins to heat up), and commit to forming links between teams and the community and The Hundred may just move to the next level. 

The commercialism, novelty, and mid-game concerts may never cease to be an irritation but the inaugural season of The Hundred has undoubtedly been a success.

Interest has been high, the players committed, and the benefits for the women’s game extraordinary. Iron out the creases, and most importantly develop passion and loyalty with players and fans and the ECB may have finally got it right. The Hundred could be here to stay.

Image: Herry Lawford via Flickr

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