For some the Hundred is a saviour, showing off talent, boosting the women’s game and a hit with new fans and TV audiences… but will it kill cricket as we know it?
- The new Hundred competition has sparked a deep divide in the game
- Former ECB board director Andy Nash says it has been ‘severely detrimental’
- He claims 12 counties could breakaway to safeguard the future of county cricket
- Another critic has compared it to the attempt to set up a football Super League
After all the fireworks and sets of ‘fives’, the ECB’s shiny new competition the Hundred ended with a flurry of sixes last night at Lord’s.
Oval Invincible’s women sealed victory to show once again this last month how women’s cricket has flourished like never before over the five weeks.
But these are early days for the tournament and there remains a deep divide between the furiously cynical and those adamant it has been truly good for cricket.
Southern Brave men’s team and Oval Invincibles women’s team celebrate Hundred glory
Andy Nash, former Somerset chairman and an ECB board director from 2004-2018, was highly critical before the tournament started and is blunt on the direction of English cricket.
‘The Hundred is having a severely detrimental impact on the county cricket schedule,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. ‘The 50-over Royal London Cup has been downgraded.
‘When I was at the ECB, we had a 10-year plan to win the World Cup in the men’s game and the women’s game. Both were achieved, an absolute high point in English cricket.
‘And here we are in the middle of waiting for the next World Cup in 50 overs and we are no longer playing it. It’s now a second XI competition where you’ve had less than a week between the quarter-finals and the final, which is laughable.
‘Then we move to the Twenty20 Blast which has been strangled. You can’t have the world’s best players when it’s over a five-month period. Then we have a four-week gap between the quarters and semis, and then after the semis there’s another four-week gap to finals day which is stranded in September. It’s been euthanised.’
Oval Invincibles claimed a 48-run victory over Southern Brave at Lord’s on Saturday
Another former county cricket administrator compared the tournament to attempts by football’s wealthiest clubs to form a breakaway league, and added: ‘It’s one step beyond the Super League but it’s just that the ECB have the leverage to make it happen because they want to make it happen. It’s a power play.’
The boost given to women’s cricket though is undeniable, as seen from the crowds attracted and standards on show. New talents such as 17-year-old Alice Capsey — who hit 59 at Lord’s against London Spirit — have also been given the platform to thrive.
The match between London Spirit and Southern Brave at Lord’s on Sunday, August 1 attracted 15,189 spectators. In contrast, the entire 2019 Kia Super League attracted 27,000 (an average of 870 people across the 31 match days).
Southern Brave women’s coach Charlotte Edwards, a former England captain, is clear on the transformation.
‘I always thought [the Hundred] would be game-changing for women’s cricket but I didn’t actually think that it would have the impact so immediately like it has had,’ she said. ‘I’ve had the best four weeks of my life really just watching these girls play cricket and suddenly see that girls think cricket is cool — that’s probably been the most pleasing thing for me.
The women’s game has been the biggest winner from the Hundred due to huge attendances
‘I am pinching myself to sit here and think we’re playing domestic games of cricket in front of 10,000 people and its pretty normal.
‘If it hadn’t been for the investment from the ECB 12 months ago, this would not have happened. The players weren’t ready to perform at this level 12 months ago but they absolutely are now and they’re showing what investment can do.’
Former Sri Lanka captain and Southern Brave men’s coach Mahela Jayawardene is similarly effusive. ‘For the men’s game, we have seen lots of young talent being given an opportunity and they’ve done well,’ he said. ‘You can see the impact the Hundred will have two or three years down the line in the same way the IPL has lots of young Indian cricketers coming through.’
The ECB believe their TV viewing figures are impressive. According to them, 10 million people have watched some of the action, about 50 per cent of whom hadn’t watched any other live ECB cricket in 2021.
Viewing figures for individual games, arguably, are less impressive with 1.21 million having watched the first men’s game on BBC2. Sky Sports figures for individual matches have varied between 200,000 and 350,000.
The ECB say that about 90 per cent of approximately 450,000 tickets were sold (before the eliminator game and the final), with 22,500 given away free. They hope to improve that next year.
The Hundred has been exciting and attracted a new young audience to cricket this summer
‘It’s throwing cricket’s doors open and growing the game — getting more people playing and following the sport. That’s good for the whole of cricket,’ said Sanjay Patel, managing director for the Hundred.
‘Each county benefits financially from the Hundred and receives £1.3 million a year from the ECB because of the competition. They have a direct stake in the Hundred and will benefit from its success.’
But Nash’s forecast on county cricket strikes a different note.
‘My personal view is that 12 counties will break away from the 18. Twelve is the number you need — two-thirds to change the constitution — and I think they will break away to take control over the domestic agenda,’ he claimed.
‘Those conversations are going on now [between county executives] on the implications of the Hundred, its detrimental effect on the county structure and its effects on the future of the game. Professional cricket as we know it is facing an existential crisis.’
The tournament has proved popular across the country, engaged marginalised parts of society and the women’s cricket platform is arguably its defining feature this year. For the sake of English cricket, it must work otherwise further financial calamity could be just around the corner.
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