Is the Hundred good for English cricket? An argument…with myself.

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

Let me just preface this post with a disclaimer. This is not about how the ECB have gone about promoting the new competition, in short, it’s been an absolute mess. From saying it wasn’t intended for existing fans, to the marketing and PR companies that have made it an easy target for mockery, you can’t defend the indefensible, so I’m not going to. If I were the ECB, I’d be looking into the agencies they’re using for promoting their product, as their techniques and current plans are having the complete opposite effect.

The Hundred is a difficult proposition for me. On one hand, I can see a ton of positives, but then I also understand why it’s received the backlash it has. I find myself arguing with… well myself, around The Hundred, what it means to English cricket and whether I should be supporting it or not.

I recently read the excellent interview in the cricketer magazine between Huw Turbervill and the ECB’s CEO Tom Harrison. If you haven’t read it, I’d pause right now and give it a quick read. While reading this it was obvious to me that Tom Harrison is a man who deeply cares about English cricket. He deeply cares about county cricket, and he's not quite the devil incarnate that some would have you believe.

The article above got me thinking about The Hundred, and the main criticisms levelled at it. When I think about it, I often can't decide if they have merit, or if it's just our own paranoia getting the better of us. So I'm going to look at The Hundred, trying my best to be impartial.

What's the actual point of The Hundred?

The whole point of The Hundred is to grow and diversify the game. Reaching younger audiences who aren't interacting with cricket in this country. It's designed to simplify and modernise the viewing experience by introducing more digital content and condensing the game into a 3-hour time slot. Its success will be based on how effectively it does this.

The master-mind (or master-fool depending on your viewpoint) of The Hundred is Scot Sanjay Patel and for him, it was very simple. The Hundred needed to do three things:

1) Needed to be quicker. Whereas T20 games can last around 4 hours. This game will be done in 2 and a half.

2) Simplify the scoring. You need 15 runs from 6 balls. (I'd argue it's already simple enough)

3) Change the perception of cricket as only being for the middle-upper class.

The Hundred isn't really cricket

This is an argument that I hear all the time on Twitter. I would say it's one of the most common arguments against the competition.

This angle is based on some tweaks to the rules and regulations of how the game is played. Forget that it's 100 balls, we've seen the 3-day test, 4-day test, 5-day test, 40 over game, 50 over game and 20 over game. If it needed to be slightly shorter to fit in with TV time slots then fair enough. I don't mind that. I don't see that as a huge problem.

Overs being reduced to 5 balls instead of six and bowlers being able to bowl 10 deliveries in a row. Certainly a tweak, certainly something different, but again, I don't really see the problem with this. With the teams switching ends every 10 balls, it speeds things up a little, I also like the element that bowlers who have their tails up can continue past their one over.

If the biggest problem people have with this competition is that they don't like 5 ball overs..then this competition doesn't have a problem.

I've looked at what happened when T20 was introduced, the power plays, the fielding restrictions, the IPL introducing timeouts. I don't agree with the argument that The Hundred is not cricket, that argument is paper-thin for me. Yes, it's different, but the foundation and basics are basically identical.

First-Class cricket is being pushed to the edges of the county season

I'm an avid county cricket fan, so this was my main pain-point when The Hundred was announced. If you give me the choice between a 4-day first-class match and a 3 hour game of cricket, I'm taking the 4-day match every single time.

This year, there will be no first-class county cricket played between mid-July and mid-August. 50% of all county games will be completed by the end of May. This is a big problem for me, the test-team is the ECB's cash cow, you look at test revenue in this country and you see how important it is.

Warwickshire recently posted record profits following a 2019 season that saw them host world-cup games, but also an Ashes game that generated the revenue that enabled them to grow their turnover from £17.3 million in 2018 to £26.6 million 2019. Tests will only generate that kind of return if we protect the integrity of our home county-championship. Look abroad and you'll see how tests are struggling.

However, you have to look objectively at this. The Hundred was nowhere to be seen in 2019, and the first-class county schedule was relegated to the edges of summer.

Tom Harrison all but confirmed that although the ECB collaborate, the scheduling is led by the counties. Counties can sell T20 cricket, they struggle to generate revenue through the first-class game. So they want T20 cricket during the summer holidays, and they don't mind pushing the first-class game to the edges. If it wasn't The Hundred, it was the blast. Introducing the Hundred won't help, but the marginalisation of the first-class game started long before The Hundred.

Can the county championship be played at the same time?

This is probably the answer for all those questions around this competition pushing the red-ball game to the fringes of the English summer. Ashley Giles has hinted this is a possibility in an interview towards the end of last year.

Look at last years county performers, the vast majority of them won't be playing any Hundred cricket. I'd argue it makes more sense to play the 4-day game alongside the Hundred rather than the 50 over game, as there will be less player cross-over between the formats, which protects the integrity of both, and avoids one of the competitions being watered down.

I have little doubt that this is the answer once the questions start arising around what England are doing to prepare for the 2023 World Cup in India.

The Hundred will lead to the end of the 18-county system

Ever since the Championship was established back in 1890, it has included 18 counties. (Correction: the county championship hasn't always included 18 teams) However, over the last decade or so, we have seen more and more counties descend into financial troubles. If you're not home to an England test ground venue, the chances are you're struggling to pay the bills and you're living hand to mouth.

A report in the journal of financial studies in 2019 concluded:

“Clubs competing in the County Championship are failing to generate profits, expand the supporter base or grow commercial revenues with a better national and international profile.”

The reality is that only Surrey can stand on their own. The ECB have been funding certain clubs for a while, but they can't continue unless they make more money. There are some counties that are on the absolute precipice, even with T20 revenue.

The ECB has promised every single county a payout of £1.3m per year from 2020 to 2024. Is it blackmail? Absolutely. The ECB needed to do something to get all county chairman on board, and it speaks volumes that they all jumped aboard as soon as this was offered. Which means they believe the £1.3m being guaranteed is better for their survival than trying to oppose The Hundred.

“There is enough money from the Hundred to make the game stronger and let counties build. There is a great desire from the counties and ECB to keep 18 counties alive and thriving,” said Middlesex’s Richard Goatley.

This is the key for me. I didn't want The Hundred and I still don't know if I'll watch a great deal of it. However, this money being generated as a result of The Hundred is absolutely vital for counties like Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

I've seen some people like Chris Waters at the Yorkshire Post saying that counties pushed it through based on "financial gain"...where as I argue it was probably more financial necessity that forced the issue.

For some the option was clear. Take the money being offered by the ECB and guarantee your future at least for another 5 years, or resist it and risk going under full stop.

I would oppose (vehemently) the reduction in county teams, we have a proud history in this country when it comes to county cricket and the red-ball format. However, even without the hundred, some of these counties looked on borrowed time.

Taken from a financial report by Sheffield Hallam university into the financial health of the English game, you can see how reliant some counties are on the handouts given by the ECB.

At the moment the ECB can afford this. But that doesn't mean it always will.

Did we really need another format?

This is where I have an issue. We already have first-class cricket, 50 over cricket and 20 over cricket. Do we really need another one? Why can't you invest the reported £180 million over 4 years that's been spent on The Hundred into the Blast? Or why not just spend the £6 million marketing budget that the Hundred has on promoting the Blast?

Here are some facts that you simply can't ignore. T20 is a global phenomenon. In 2019, 950,000 people flocked to see T20 blast matches in the UK. That's 15% up on 2018 and 47% up over the past 5 years. Surrey, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire all recorded records in 2019.

This is what the Blast is achieving without the ECB spending a huge amount of money on it. Imagine what it could do if it dedicated millions of marketing £££'s to this.

You have to put it into context, this tournament consisted of 133 games, which means we're taking an average attendance per game of under 8,000. Games tend to start in July and run through to the finals day in September. So it's longer than most T20 formats that have been successful like the IPL and Big Bash.

If you stick with all 18 counties and try and condense this into a 3 week period it would be very difficult. However, we could have easily made a new competition a T20 competition, but the argument is they didn't want it to clash with the Blast. Well you could have run the blast as two nine division leagues with promotion and relegation. That way you could condense it quite easily.

At least we'll have cricket back on free to air though right?

This is the main positive in The Hundred's favour. Tom Harrison is a TV rights expert and he brokered a deal with the BBC to ensure that for the first time since 2005, we'll have live cricket on free-to-air.

Couldn't they have just done this with the T20 blast? Well, that was my first thought. Apparently, the BBC wasn't too interested in the blast, they wanted something new and something fresh. That's on the BBC rather than the ECB, or maybe the ECB just didn't sell it well enough.

Hold on a minute, wasn't the new broadcasting deal, worth over £1 billion announced before it was revealed that it would be a new format? Yes, yes it was. I don't know if the ECB had discussed the concept of the hundred with the BBC when securing this deal, but when Harrison spoke about it following the announcement of the deal, he still referred to it as a "new T20 competition".

The thought process is that the BBC want something to fit in a slot of 6-9pm. The average IPL T20 game now lasts over four hours, deemed too long for tv audiences. When you consider that it's believed that only 15% of the audience who watched the World Cup Final were under 35 years old, it's easy to see that argument playing out.

My fear is that the BBC won't get the TV audiences it desires and it will eventually push this behind the red-button, which really is the end.

Don't we need it to succeed though?

In short, yes. Even if you hate the concept of The Hundred with every single fibre of your being. The decision has been made, the money has been invested and we need this to succeed for the future of English cricket.

Of 10.5 million fans of the game in this country, only 1.1 million actually attend matches, so roughly 10% of cricket fans actually turn up at the grounds each year. English cricket is failing to attract a diverse audience, that's the basis of why this decision has been made.

That could be for a number of reasons. Test cricket is very expensive. Grounds by and large are on the smaller side. A lot of first-class cricket is played mid-week when a lot of people are working. There are certain regions that don't have any cricket locally, anyone in Norfolk and Suffolk have to travel to either Essex or Surrey etc.

Even in the age of T20 cricket, in this country, the average cricket fan is white, affluent and around 50 years of age. The ECB decided that we needed a new format to engage the younger audience.

Is this just English ego rearing its ugly head?

We invented T20, but it was India who really made it a phenomenon. We created this spectacle and then failed to grasp its full potential. In honesty, in the T20 revolution, we've largely been left behind.

Outside of the IPL, a lot of T20 leagues around the world fail to make a profit. Especially at the start. With the blast being tied to counties, it's difficult to get a full and clear grasp of whether it's profitable or not.

I can't help but feel that the powers that be at the ECB are looking for lightning in a bottle. Regardless of what they do to the T20 blast, it will never be able to compete with the IPL. However, saying that, it's hard to imagine The Hundred competing with the IPL either.

We had our chance to dominate the T20 scene, and we missed it. Creating something new is our way of reacting. However Indian fans watch Indian players, and unless the BCCI all of a sudden have a change of heart, The Hundred will never feature Indian players, which means it'll never compete with the IPL.

So we're not going for that international dominance, merely national relevance.

It's a good platform for the women's game though, isn't it?

In some ways, the answer is yes, in others I'd argue it isn't. The highest-paid female players (£15,000) will earn half the amount of the lowest-paid male players (£30,000).

I understand the business aspect of these decisions. The female games won't have the same ticket sales, so by default, they won't earn the ECB as much money. However, the salary on offer is higher than that received in the women's big bash league.

This is the same year that Cricket Australia confirmed that they would top-up any prize money earned by the T20 women's team during the ICC T20 tournament this year so it was in-line with what the men earned.

I don't think anyone expected it to be the same, but the disparity is quite alarming.

The ECB are hopeful that they can convince there BCCI to allow female Indian players to participate in the Hundred, which would be a huge coup, as then it could become the marquee event in the female calendar.

Visibility is key and I can't criticise the ECB for wanting to get more women's cricket on TV or in front of people.

We weren't consulted, that's where the anger sits

This is a huge issue for county cricket fans. The ECB claimed that this competition is a result of numerous surveys and studies. Yet, I've not met a county cricket fan that was interviewed or asked their opinion.

To many, this is the ECB taking its current audience for granted and it's hard to argue with that. I'm sure the counter-argument will be that current fans aren't the fans the ECB is trying to appeal to, but working in marketing you always go by a simple principle.

It's cheaper and easier to retain a customer (fan) than it is to acquire one. Taking your current base for granted is a very dangerous proposition for cricket in this country.

Surely people will enjoy seeing the best players in the world?

First of all, let me just say that it's not like the T20 blast hasn't had star power. Outside of the English talent, we've seen Chris Gayle, Brendan McCullum. Dayle Steyn, Martin Guptil, AB de Villiers, Babar Azam, Faf du Plessis, etc etc etc.

The benefit perceived of having The Hundred is you have the best players in the world playing night after night for a condensed period of time. Rather than having star players dip in and dip out.

It's hard to argue that The Hundred doesn't have star appeal. Even if a lot of the Australian players will have to cut their tournament short due to international games being rescheduled.

For T20 fans, the argument will be that we already attracted some top talent. For me, I understand the appeal of a shorter tournament which can dominate the sports headlines for a month straight.

What about the 50 over game? We're turning our back on it.

It's hard to argue here. A lot of the one day cup games will take place at the same time as The Hundred, with the city-based teams taking priority in terms of who the players turn out for.

I have a huge problem with this. We've spent decades trying to secure the World Cup for England, and after the summer we've had, we're now relegating it to a 2nd class game.

ECB will argue that it gives our younger players a platform for development, with the seasoned pros out at the Hundred, it opens up slots for players on the fringe to play first XI games.

My counter-argument is that the benefit of having young second XI fringe players getting a chance with the first XI is to see how they do and adapt against better opposition. However, with all the teams fielding weaker teams, it won't have this effect at all. It now looks to me as though it's a glorified warm-up.

With us being at the start of a 4-year cycle which leads to the World Cup in India in 2023. It'll be interesting to see how the scheduling changes over the coming years as we start to prioritise the 50 over game over the T20 and shorter format variations.

As mentioned above, I think the answer sits with bringing the 50 over forward so it doesn't clash with the Hundred.

So come on, is the Hundred good or bad for English cricket?

Sorry to lead you on but we won't be able to answer this for at least 5 years, maybe even a decade.

If the Hundred draws new audiences who then go on to watch other forms of cricket like the blast, royal London cup and county championship, then it will be a huge success.

If the Hundred fails to gain an audience, gets relegated behind the red button on the BBC and takes revenue away from some of the smaller counties blast kitty, then it'll be a huge failure.

Personally, if someone tries to convince me it'll either be a huge success or a huge failure, I simply switch off, because as of February 2020, we just don't know.

The ECB is taking a huge gamble by investing loads of money into an unfamiliar format that has no international equivalent. They'd also be taking a risk if they put all their money into county cricket and the blast and the profits didn't improve considerably.

If the ECB did nothing. We were sleep-walking into several county teams going busy. Did the ECB make the right choice? Who knows. However, for the future of English cricket, I hope they did.

There are aspects I love about the Hundred and a lot I don't. I'm willing to give it a fair chance though.

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