Cricket Needs To Be Louder Than Arguments

Over three years on since initial plans for a new one-hundred ball cricket competition emerged, The Hundred finally gets underway on Wednesday, with the women's sides for the Oval Invincibles and the Manchester Originals opening the new tournament.


No matter your view on the-thing-that-must-not-be-named, I hope we can all agree that it'll be nice to see the cricket. After all, it has been a hectic journey to this stage. Two auctions, eight teams, innumerable controversies and infinite arguments later, I, for one, will just be pleased to see bat and ball face off.


So, just before 6:30pm on July 21st, when captains Dane Van Niekerk and Kate Cross lead out the Invincibles and Originals, I look forward to seeing how the teams will fare.


Despite numerous withdrawals, including some players withdrawing twice, which has left Cricinfo's Matt Roller breaking numerous stories, cricketing stars will still be there.


Rashid Khan and Shafali Verma, Sophie Ecclestone and Jos Buttler, some of t20 cricket's biggest names will be there, along with a set of impressive internationals, with solid English back-up.


Other big names, such as Sunil Narine, Marizanne Kapp, Rachel Priest and Quinton de Kock will also be playing. And while the ECB would prefer some Indian men's players, and a lot less withdrawals, the talent will be on show, with the overall quality of the sides better than most Blast sides, if not quite at IPL level.


And, although the decision to start a Test series halfway through the tournament makes little sense in terms of English player availability, the squads should be good enough to still impress, as you can read about in our bumper team preview.


However, while most of us will just want to see good cricketers take to the field, it is not that simple.


The county schedule is packed this year, and with England having lost 1-0 to New Zealand earlier in the summer, county fans will understandably question why a third white-ball competition is being started just two weeks ahead of a five Test series against a formidable Indian side.


But, the ECB will be even more worried than fans are angry. The governing body of the sport have used up all their 'political' capital on this, and what little goodwill they had left amongst fans is gone. Every match needs to be a sell-out, television viewing figures need to be in the millions, or else, while the competition may last, it will be a failure.


Not only have the bet the house, but they've bet counties' houses, and the bank as well.


Part of this is the ECB's own fault, with the initial marketing so poor that nearly all cricket fans are now against the competition. Some of the negative early steps range from the lack of evidenced research shown publicly in support of The Hundred's need, having each side sponsored by a crisp company and the team names!


Oh the team names.


For the life of me, I have no clue why the Manchester Originals are not the Manchester Bees, why the Trent Rockets have no association with Robin Hood, and if you're going to make the team based in Wales wear red and call them Fire, why not just go the whole and call them Dragons!


To be fair to the ECB, cities are more identifiable than one of the 27 counties in the UK, and having eight sides not only concentrates talent but also allows for a shorter window. So they got that bit right.


But one's identity with a side cannot just spring up overnight. The etymology of Arsenal being the Gunners, and West Ham the Irons is known by basically nobody, and yet the identity exists.


You cannot create that overnight, but tapping into something to do with these cities, instead of meaningless adjectives like Invincibles or Spirit is annoyingly sloppy.


Nevertheless, Despite this rocky start, the marketing has progressed. The introduction of Topps trading cards is a positive, as is the involvement, albeit mild, of LEGO. And while I have no clue who they are, inviting BBC Music and young acts to perform at venues should prove exciting, for those interested.


However, it has not been a simple case of a solid partnership after a few early wickets from team ECB. The collapse has continued through the inability to truly commit to gender equality.


Not only will the highest paid women earn less than the lowest paid man, but the broadcasting schedule shows the not so hidden priority is the men. Just one group stage women's game will be shown live on BBC Two, with others being on the website, despite all of the men's games that the BBC will show being live on BBC Two.


And recent reports from Izzy Westbury show that, despite rhetoric about equal prize money, the ECB is once again falling far too short, with the lack of professional contracts meaning some are being forced to leave their full-time jobs to play in The Hundred.


Far from "[valuing] men's and women's sport exactly the same", The Hundred takes baby steps toward equality, by being embarrassingly slow to respond to the actual issues that women's cricket faces, as the focus is on PR, not progress.


And as so much depends on this coveted new audience, of which, the ECB have been sexist at best, and patronising at worst in their targeting of, with Andrew Strauss' comment on mums a prime example.


However, despite the misgivings, and the continuous stumbles, things, oddly, look okay, The Hundred's managing director Sanjay Patel told Simon Wilde that the competition would "generate 350 million revenue in year one", a fantastic achievement, even if I don't quite believe it, or know how!


Presuming the new audience is reached, and the ECB are desperately trying to do so, then The Hundred has the potential to save cricket.


Okay, this is somewhat hyperbolic. But, despite continued high attendance for all of England's home international fixtures, and the t20 Blast, counties still struggle financially, and the number of people playing cricket is declining, both among adults and children, with a dip from approximately 420,000 in 2008 to around 290,00 as of 2019.


It is clear, from these figures, that cricket does need action. The ECB have banked on this being a shorter, more accessible, family friendly form of the game. Whether that translates into the engagement they need will be seen over the next few weeks.


The best way forward is some of the world's best cricketers playing some high quality cricket. Them drowning out the noise, and performing would be a welcome shift from the debate around The Hundred. And yet, no matter how good the cricket is, I doubt it will matter in the end.


If The Hundred works, then we can all celebrate a surprising achievement. If not, then not only will the ECB face a crisis of confidence in the UK, but cricket will need resuscitating, no matter how good the players are.

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