Whether we like it or not, The Hundred is going to take place next summer. It’s happening.
Last Sunday evening, in a West London studio, the inaugural Hundred draft took place in what looked not too dissimilar to an episode of Top Gear. The concept has received much criticism: “It’ll destroy the county game” and “This is just another commercial, money making scheme from the ECB”, the purists have said.
Well, the ECB is a business and cricket is their product. Like any other business, they need to generate revenue by broadening their thinking and creating new products. The Hundred is the ECB’s latest property and, following the success of the T20 blast over the last 15 years, you can see why they want to expand on this, creating something very similar, albeit shorter, sharper and quicker. The ECB must be looking at the IPL and Big Bash with envy, following their huge, respective successes.
With anyone trying to do something new, there will inevitably be criticism. The biggest talking point – and rightly so – will be how it effects the existing domestic structure. The Hundred will take place next July during the domestic 50-over competition, and counties will be affected in some way or another. Sussex, Nottinghamshire and Surrey will be without nine players or more (Sussex topping the list on 11), whilst not a single Leicestershire player was recruited and only one from Northamptonshire. Then again, Premiership rugby has been dealing with a similar issue for years, as players are called upon by their nations for international duty throughout the course of the season, on the whole for even greater periods of absence.
KP Snacks’ visual domination across the front of all the kits with an array of snack-based brands (Skips, Hoola Hoops, McCoy’s Crisps, to name a few) has drawn criticism, particularly when child obesity in the UK is at a high. KP is not alone with the challenge of whether their partnership is in the best interests of the sport. The Premier League is increasingly having to answer questions on the number of clubs sponsored by betting firms and Ferrari’s Mission Winnow sponsorship under global scrutiny.
In response to the criticism this competition has received, the Hundred organisers have emphasised the sporting merits of the new tournament; how it’ll be investing funds into the game, attracting a ‘new’ audience, engaging local communities, promoting locally based talent on a global scale. Surely, these are all things to be enthused about?
To begin with, the televised draft got off to a strong start. Broadcast live on Sky, the producers gave it pride and place on their Main Events channel, following the coverage of Manchester United v Liverpool – one of their largest fixtures in the calendar, and certainly one of the most viewed. Socially and online, the coverage and trends on Twitter were – overall – positive and had moved the conversation on towards talk of the cricket and away from reasons as to why the Hundred might not be such a great idea. Following events at Old Trafford, the hashtag #TheHundredDraft quickly topped the trends within the UK, generating 632.8 million impressions on Twitter, whilst the sentiment of ‘positive’ mentions stood at 87 per cent.
Whilst many of the teams have been underpinned by global talent, including the likes of Aaron Finch, Imran Tahir and Glenn Maxwell (to name a few), there is also a huge amount of young, local talent that’ll be on display, giving them an opportunity to perform in front of the Sky and BBC cameras and playing alongside some of the world’s best players. Again, another positive note, which will hopefully strengthen the talent pool in the UK. Many of the teams have also shown a preference for picking players based at the same home ground, albeit tactically, but also giving local spectators a feeling that they’ re watching their side.
Much these days is made of the financial troubles in which many county clubs find themselves; the current situation at Durham springs to mind. As part of the agreement with clubs, the ECB will be distributing 1.3 million equally amongst all county teams, with the Professional Cricketers Association assuring all country cricketers that they will benefit from this new competition.
The novelty factor will also be an attraction. After all, it’s new, and viewers will be curious to understand this new format. The Hundred should have enough intrigue to lure in the avid cricket follower, whilst, if a strong marketing campaign follows it might have enough to attract this ‘new audience’ the ECB keep referring to. However, the question remains as to how the ECB will go about engaging this new audience. Perhaps they can take lessons from the Big Bash organisers, who focused heavily on the entertainment aspect throughout their games, luring in families with fan engagement (Fan Cam), music throughout the evening, and creating an almost festival like atmosphere.
On the face of it, very few know how The Hundred will turn out, but let’s get behind it and give it a go. What we do know is that eight incredibly strong teams, showcasing the world’s best men’s and women players, will be on display throughout the course of next summer, with the full-scale support of both Sky and the BBC to bring the competition to life. If it’s to be anything like this summer of cricket, it’ll be a belter.
After all, it’s just a game of cricket.