Well, there we have it. The ECB’s 100-ball competition, which will be played for the first time in July and August 2020, “will be something that cricket fans all around the country will flock to see,” according to ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, who was speaking to the BBC shortly after the tournament’s playing conditions were confirmed last week.
“Cricket fans”, eh? If you seek the opinions of current county cricket fans, it seems highly likely that most of them won’t be embracing The Hundred in any way, shape or form. Not at the venues and not on television, either. Flocking to see it? It sounds like the preponderance of them will be flocking off in the other direction.
And it’s not just cricket followers of long-standing – whose love for the game is quite probably underpinned by first-class cricket, but may well include white-ball cricket, too – who will give The Hundred a wide berth. Speak to the younger generation of cricket fans, to whom watching Twenty20 comes very naturally, and they don’t seem to show much interest in this 100-ball pantomime, either. Even for them, The Hundred, which will feature eight city-based franchise teams, will be too dumbed down. Changes of ends after 10 balls? Bowlers delivering either five or 10 consecutive balls? It isn’t something that seemingly holds an alluring appeal to older and younger cricket followers alike.
But the ECB, so they tell us, have done their marketing homework. “We’ve managed to excite people outside the traditional cricket bubble,” Harrison added. “It’s optimised short-form cricket. We’re getting people to re-appraise cricket in terms of their perceptions of what the game means to them and ultimately addressing the complexity of cricket – presenting it in a simple way.”
When the concept of The Hundred was launched, Andrew Strauss, the then England director of cricket, described the competition as something that was being directed at “mums and kids in the summer holidays”. Equally, The Hundred is a format that may appeal to sporting fans who are not necessarily cricket fans.
Whichever way, it appears as if the greater number of “cricket fans” have scant interest in supporting a franchise team that may include, at best, two or three players from their own county. Not to mention they would be watching a format that brazenly appeals to the lowest common denominator for the sake of the filthy lucre.
In the ECB press release that confirmed the playing conditions of The Hundred, Harrison said: “We remain totally committed to the existing, popular forms of cricket and will be committing significant funds and focus to all levels of the game, protecting and nurturing the core whilst reaching out to a wider audience.”
With the exception of what will effectively be a second-team 50-over competition, cricket supporters won’t be able to watch their respective counties in action for five weeks or more at the height of the English summer. And the ECB say they are “protecting and nurturing the core”. You could have fooled me.