Kevin Pietersen on cricket’s controversial new format, the Hundred, and why he’s excited

Cricket’s controversial new format, the Hundred, starts on Wednesday.

The 100-ball tournament will run until August 21 with eight men’s and women’s teams made up of 15 players, with up to three overseas stars. 

Sportsmail’s Richard Gibson and Nasser Hussain spoke to Kevin Pietersen, who is part of the Sky Sports team, ahead of the launch.

Cricket’s controversial new format, the Hundred, gets underway on Wednesday evening 

Richard Gibson: Kevin, what do you make of the Hundred?

Kevin Pietersen: I don’t mind something being the new kid on the block. I love innovation, progressive thinking, so this excites me. I’m excited to be a part of it, to watch it, to learn about it and that’s important because the first year is going to be a learning phase for everybody — players, commentators and fans.

I’m never going to shy away from something that’s new, that looks to take the game forward, that makes the right noises.

RG: Are we too reserved in our approach to cricket?

KP: What do you think! We should have had a tournament like the IPL, Big Bash League, Caribbean Premier League, Pakistan Super League 15 years ago.

Sportsmail's Richard Gibson and Nasser Hussain spoke to ex-England batsman Kevin Pietersen

Sportsmail’s Richard Gibson and Nasser Hussain spoke to ex-England batsman Kevin Pietersen

It wouldn’t have been as big as the IPL, but we would have had every single great player, developing player and good player playing in the UK every summer for six weeks. It would have happened.

Guys like to earn the pound, and what better place is there to be in the world than the UK in the second half of summer?

We had our first Twenty20 international in 2005, so they’ve had 16 years to work it out. Hopefully the Hundred can be that now.

RG: Would England have been even more successful in one-day cricket if the Hundred had come earlier?

KP: One hundred per cent. I played in an era when only four or five of us were playing IPL cricket and we were all frustrated sat in England teams, asking: ‘What on earth are we doing blocking the ball? Why are we picking players who block the ball?’ 

Now you’ve got an England team full of IPL stars who get dropped if they block it. It’s a complete change in mindset.

Nasser Hussain: This will keep improving the cricketers we already have and help the wildcard players that come in each year, offering them a great learning opportunity. My concern is what is happening to our red-ball batting because we still have a lot of work to do with it — and that is not just a problem for English cricket.

The depth in white-ball cricket is pretty strong around the world; in red-ball it’s incomparable. 

The problem now is every competition wants this perfect weather window when the pitches and crowds are at their best — whether it is the County Championship, T20 Blast, the Hundred, Tests.

Pietersen was one of a few England players to play in the Indian Premier League during his era

Pietersen was one of a few England players to play in the Indian Premier League during his era

RG: The Vitality Blast is doing fine. Do we need a new tournament?

NH: I am not one to knock the Blast. I’ve loved covering it. We started Twenty20 cricket, and it’s been fabulous. A fortnight ago, we were at Headingley for a Roses game and it was an outstanding standard, went right down to the wire and the crowd were involved.

Unfortunately, not all games are like that. For all those matches, there are quiet 2pm kick-offs with not many watching that don’t have the same quality. It’s diluted. As broadcasters we are diluted, too.

We could be at Chelmsford screening a game while Chris Gayle is at Taunton smashing a hundred and our Twitter feed is full of questions asking why we are not there. 

We can’t be at nine grounds at the same time. The Hundred is more concentrated, with the top home and overseas talent and broadcasters at every game, so if something magnificent happens, people see it.

Ben Stokes will play for the Northern Superchargers

Moeen Ali is part of Birmingham Phoenix

Ben Stokes (left) will play for the Northern Superchargers while Mooen Ali (right) of Birmingham Phoenix 

Also, the players who came in for England’s matches against Pakistan need a platform like this. Whether it be Phil Salt, Saqib Mahmood, whoever. They’ve had a taste of the spotlight and want a stage to keep showing off their skills, be tested and learn.

Look at the coaches involved —Andy Flower, Mahela Jayawardene. We have been using franchise tournaments around the world as finishing schools and I see the Hundred as our finishing school for the England side.

KP: You can develop even more youngsters. Put an Indian third team together and they’re going to be damned good because they have strength in depth. You have that depth here. One of the reasons there is a monster gap now to Test cricket is because you don’t generally get overseas players over and doing the traps any more.

When you and I played, Nasser, the best of the best were here every season — Muralitharan, McGrath, Donald, Pollock, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram. But the world’s top players will now only come for a short amount of time.

When you have a superstar who comes in for four weeks, the young players learn. You can never stop learning, and that is what I took from my IPL experience — sitting next to Jacques Kallis, captaining Rahul Dravid, being on the field with Virat Kohli. If you don’t turn up with open eyes and ears, it’s a missed opportunity.

The tournament will be made up of eight men's and women's teams with a squad of 15 players

The tournament will be made up of eight men’s and women’s teams with a squad of 15 players

NH: People are making too much about the difference in the length of the game, and the new concept. The difference is the equivalent of a rain delay. And it’s not a case of alienating existing fans.

If you’re keen on T20 cricket, you should be loving the Hundred. It’s just 20 balls fewer. We’re trying to grow the game. We’ll have to explain it to those who find it a bit complicated but not dumb down for our regular viewers, those who got us to where we are now. It’s a balance we must get right.

RG: The Hundred aims to provide equal prominence to male and female cricketers. Could it transform the women’s game?

NH: It’s been hit hard by Covid. It’s come back strongly through a wonderful series between England and India, but women’s cricket was forced to take a back seat in 2020 when the ECB’s focus was on salvaging men’s cricket.

So, for them to take centre stage in the Hundred is more important than the men doing so. They will be playing in front of big crowds and on terrestrial TV, and with that they will be analysed more, face greater criticism. But they would want it this way. It is great that some of the Indian players will play, like Shafali Verma, Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues, because the standard of cricket we have seen so far this summer has been outstanding.

RG: How important is it to get male Indian players into the Hundred?

KP: The male Indian players make the TV numbers shoot through the roof, and they also make the crowds. They’re so well supported. Politically, if the two boards are on that level and conversations are happening then that would be a huge coup for English cricket.

The Hundred has the potential to transform the women's game, which was hit hard by Covid-19

The Hundred has the potential to transform the women’s game, which was hit hard by Covid-19

RG: Has the loss of world-class overseas talent, because of Covid and international tours, devalued the tournament?

KP: It’s a proof of concept for all of us. When you look back to 2003, T20 was hit-and-giggle. Given the development of T20 cricket and the seriousness around the game now, it is going to be fascinating to watch how this unfolds.

NH: I agree with Kevin. When the IPL started in 2008, you had an ageing Shane Warne dragging Rajasthan through and winning it. The standard wasn’t great. It grew. You must give this thing time. Don’t be comparing it to the Blast after two weeks. Let it settle in, so it becomes better with time, and the leading players around the world want to come and play.

KP: In the long term, if the ratings are good, and financially it sustains itself, it will be a success. T20 cricket wasn’t tested on social media. This will be.

The support will be there. The British public support sport better than anywhere else in the world. It’s crazy. I’ve never been in an atmosphere like Wembley for the Euro 2020 final — until we missed the penalties!

In the short term, it’ll be judged on the pace of the game. How quick the players get through. A lot of us get cross when a T20 goes to four hours. You have your time, bowl to it. The best players make decisions quicker. If games are drawn out, it could be an issue.

NH: T20 games are supposed to be short, sharp fun but I have watched games in India where they’re still broadcasting games at half past midnight. Taking your kid to a game in the evening, you’re worried about the journey home; the commute, trains, buses.

So, it’s vital players not only stick to those time frames they are given but, if they don’t, the penalties of bringing extra fielders in the inner circle are implemented. Umpires mustn’t be afraid of penalising.

We are getting to a stage where we are considering this delay, that delay, a DRS, a Covid break, a Covid sanitisation, and providing 10 minutes leeway. No, it must be a quick-paced game. There are too many stoppages. Yes, you do have to have tactics and at times the captain has to change the field. But if you tinker too much you must be penalised. I would like a countdown clock on the ground.

The tournament will run until August 21 with every match live on Sky Sports while the BBC will show 18 matches

The tournament will run until August 21 with every match live on Sky Sports while the BBC will show 18 matches

RG: What can we expect from a tactical perspective?

NH: With 20 fewer balls, it might make players go even harder. It might be a case of ‘every ball must go’. Some might see passages of play in which they need to be smart and soak it up, but you can’t be wasting deliveries because it could cost you at the end.

As a captain, it would be pushing me more towards using my faster men and that’s why I like the Southern Brave squad — with Jofra Archer, Tymal Mills, Chris Jordan, George Garton. In that middle period of an innings, if you have got extreme pace on the ball, that is going to be harder to hit, especially when they throw in variations. Although spin still has a huge role, people are getting better at hitting the spinners out of the ground now.

KP: I always played myself in and felt I was at my best when I gave myself an opportunity. I was lucky that I had scoring shots.

In white-ball cricket, people tend to bowl fairly straight, and I could hit balls from ‘fifth stump’ through midwicket. In Test cricket, I looked to get myself to 10, no matter how long it took. In one-day cricket it was about facing 10 balls. T20 was five to 10 and having a bit of a watch before I started to take calculated risks. I always wanted to go hard in the powerplay but not to lose a wicket between overs six and nine because it could put you behind the game — it’s the period in which the spinners come on and teams try to claw it back. I’m not so sure there is a middle-overs period in 100 balls, though. I know that in T10 cricket it’s just whoops-a-daisy every ball.

NH: Kevin, you’ve played in a lot of these franchise tournaments. Apart from great players, what makes a good franchise side? How do you get them all together from different cultures and teams?

KP: You can’t guarantee success, but you can build it in loyalty to players. And loyalty to staff. That is fundamental in producing consistent performances and breeding winning. Look at Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings.

The consistent performers are the brands, the owners, the management structures that are loyal to their employees. Players then don’t play under pressure, don’t think about the next season, they think about the now. When you feel safe and secure as a player, you perform.

I think back to my experience as a young player in South Africa. Someone got injured and I was dropped as a result, just before the toss. Compare that to the UK, when I joined Nottinghamshire and Clive Rice said to me, ‘KP, you’re going to be at six and bowl off-spin all season for me’. I was like, ‘What do you mean all season?’ When he told me I was going to play every single game, it was a new lease of life for me. With that loyalty, it was then up to me.

Chennai Super Kings are one of the successful franchise teams to play in the IPL

Chennai Super Kings are one of the successful franchise teams to play in the IPL

RG: The India Test series starts during the Hundred. How do you see that going?

KP: We must do something in this country for spinners. Because we don’t have one. I was unpopular, after the 2019 Ashes Test win at Headingley, when I tweeted that I hoped Jack Leach didn’t just get remembered for being the Specsavers man — because he can’t bowl a hoop down a hill.

You must win games — like Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann did — with the ball. I say the same about Dom Bess. He can’t bowl, there’s nothing about him. So, there’s an opportunity for somebody in this country to earn a hell of a good living.

NH: Of what I have seen of India, if England can get a par score in the first innings, with the seam-bowling resources they have, then they should be confident.

Rishabh Pant at six in England is one place too high. India will have to find a new opener as Shubman Gill has been ruled out and can they afford to pick Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin if the ball is moving around? If they play on flat, belting pitches they can.

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