The Hundred: The Next Step For English Cricket
Cricket is no stranger to administrative chaos and it’s constantly striving to reinvent itself to remain relevant at a time when US sporting institutions such as the NFL and NBA are looking to grab the attention of sporting fans in the UK. However, as Media Measurement Editor John England discusses, there is a genuine danger that English cricket could eat itself whole in the quest for a new audience that may or may not even exist.
As English cricket gears up for the busiest summer in its long and distinguished history in 2019, the custodians of the game in England and Wales continue to press on with their plans for a glitzy new domestic competition to attract a new audience to the sport.
However, this drive to sell cricket to a more diverse demographic is at odds with the game’s existing fanbase, which values cricket’s historical traditions over the gimmicky marketing ideas that have been mooted for the new tournament, which is scheduled to start in the summer of 2020.
This isn’t the first time the administrators of the game have risked incurring the wrath of county members and the wider cricketing community. The popularity of global T20 franchise cricket leagues, most notably in India, can be traced back to the Twenty20 Cup, which was derided by many as “a bit of fun” when it was launched in England in 2003. T20 has since become a phenomenon that has overtaken Test and one-day international cricket as the dominant form of the game as far as revenue, exposure and match-day attendances are concerned. Not to mention the earning power of the players.
I can remember the opposition faced by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) when it launched the Twenty20 Cup 16 years ago, but I also recall plenty of voices which hailed the boldness of the ECB in attempting to arrest the decline of the sport in England, where it still retained a reputation for stuffiness and exclusivity.
Today, the voices heralding the arrival of the ECB’s proposed new competition, which is known as ‘The Hundred’, are few and far between. And most of those appear to be key stakeholders in the project. Many commentators, including former great players of the game, have joined county members in mocking proposed innovations, such as a format of 100-balls per innings, player substitutions and scrapping the LBW law. The union of batsmen may well have appreciated the latter of those ideas.
But the ECB has continued unabated in the face of such widespread opposition from the fans who it will need on-side to help fill the stadiums once the talking has stopped and the new tournament starts. One would imagine that the governing body had carried out exhaustive customer research prior to revealing its intentions for the future of the game in England and Wales. But the feeling in the cricketing community is that this research was geared towards sections of the public who have no previous interest in cricket rather than those who effectively finance the game – the fans who purchase match tickets, merchandise, and pay for television subscriptions.
At Media Measurement, we have the tools and expertise to unpack social media discussions as they develop to assist clients in gauging public opinion and identify online trends from around the world and those who are driving the conversations. For instance, in the seven days after the ECB revealed its ‘The Hundred’ concept on April 19 2018, there were 56 tweets which contained both the phrases “hundred” and “ECB”. Although this is not a huge number, by narrowing the search parameters we can discover exactly which tweets spoke positively or negatively about the ECB and its proposal. This search can then be expanded to look at specific areas of the discussion, such as the reaction of the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) or county members, or the view of cricket fans from India or Australia.
Several recurring opinions emerged during the days immediately after that April 19 announcement. Most prominent among these was the suggestion that the ECB did not sufficiently consult the PCA or the members of County Cricket Clubs before announcing its proposals. The idea that the governing body was dumbing down the format of the game to entice mothers and children to attend matches was also prevalent (which mothers who already follow cricket took particular offence at!)
Whether these are fair accusations or not, it did seem to many commenters that introducing an entirely new format of cricket would effectively be a waste of the significant inroads the T20 Blast competition (and its previous incarnations) has made over the years, with healthy crowds regularly bolstered by post-work groups of people who came along predominantly for a night out and a few drinks, but may well return if they enjoy the sporting spectacle as much as the social experience.
Since those early days of planning for The Hundred, the ECB has fired a number of innovations out into the public domain and scepticism has often followed. Two trial matches took place at the end of the 2018 county season, which featured the England limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan. Morgan has been one of the champions of the new competition and the Irish-born batsman has a reputation for both straight-talking and supporting innovation. Former England captains, especially those no longer on the payroll at the ECB, have been less enthusiastic. David Gower for instance suggested that the new tournament was “12 years out of date” given the overwhelming success and popularity now enjoyed by T20 franchises.
Fast-forward to February 2019 and England have just completed a memorable run-chase to beat the West Indies in a one-day international in the Caribbean following a disappointing Test series defeat earlier in the tour. The day after the match, the ECB announces that playing conditions for The Hundred were now confirmed. These included a number of innovations to existing formats, such as new rules on how many deliveries a bowler can send down in succession, strategic ‘timeouts’ and the flagship idea of 100 balls per innings. Even PCA chairman Darryl Mitchell has accepted that The Hundred is here to stay. Mitchell has called on players and supporters to accept that fact and get behind the project for the good of the game in general.
Yet to be decided at the start of March were the identities of the teams that would be competing and the players who would take the field when the competition gets underway. A player draft system has at least been scheduled for the autumn and the venues have also been confirmed.
These venues include all of the major international grounds in England and Wales, although there was some doubt as to whether the ECB might remove The Oval from the list after Surrey, who play their cricket at the south London ground, emerged as the only county to vote against The Hundred. Once again, reports that this was a possibility provoked ire from the cricketing community and detracted from the fact that The Hundred had actually been approved by the counties.
Indeed, why should a county be punished for voting one way or the other? That is, after all, their democratic right. As I write these fears have since died down and The Oval, which has the second-highest capacity of any cricket ground in the UK, is sure to be one of the most important assets The Hundred will be hoping to utilise to make this venture a success.
So, despite the negativity surrounding the whole project from the outset, The Hundred is indeed happening. And, much like in 2003, cricket in England and Wales will never be the same again. The ECB were criticised for not capitalising on the success of England’s long-awaited Ashes series victory in 2005. This coming summer brings the ICC World Cup to England followed by the latest Ashes renewal and this time round the custodians of the game will be desperate to harness the full potential of both events before unleashing The Hundred on a sceptical cricketing community in 2020.
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