NOTE: The Hundred – the savior of cricket or a disastrous gamble?

NOTE: Cricket’s savior or a disastrous gamble? Whatever your take on the divisive new Hundred, everyone agrees the competition needs to work

  • The ECB has thrown money at eight invented teams and a new format
  • Critics think cricket leaders should have just backed the lucrative T20 Blast
  • Supported by TV, the Hundred will promote both the men’s and women’s games
  • Tournament must not fail, because if it does, the game will take years to recover

Wednesday at 6:30pm, English cricket at The Oval unveils a match that will be either the savior or the biggest bet ever taken by a group of sports executives, depending on your preference.

Some believe The Hundred is cricket’s Brexit, and it certainly caused few shades of gray. But Brexit got 52 percent. As the women’s teams Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals prepare for the curtain raise, that’s a mandate The Hundred would kill for.

In one corner stands the ECB, furiously juggling nothing short of the future of the game. They are backed by Sky and the BBC, who have both invested deeply in the project. Judging by the many press releases and Zoombriefings, there is fanaticism in the air.

The Hundred, backed by Sky and the BBC, will help promote men’s and women’s games

In the other corner are those who wonder why the ECB didn’t just back the T20 Blast, which helped fund the provincial game.

They fear that the money thrown at eight made-up teams and a fourth format in an already heaving game list will prove to be fool’s gold.

Both sides agree on one thing: the Hundred must not fail. If so, it will take years for the English game to recover.

ECB officials are optimistic as D-Day approaches, apparently ‘blown away’ by the public’s reaction, even though everyone knows someone who has been offered free tickets. Without the new tournament, they say, the sport will wither behind the paywall they set up themselves 15 years ago. This, they say, is cricket’s chance to rid itself of revenue from the international game.

ECB has thrown money at eight made-up teams and a fourth format in a crowded playlist

ECB has thrown money at eight made-up teams and a fourth format in a crowded playlist

ECB has thrown money at eight made-up teams and a fourth format in a crowded playlist

The fact that there will be 18 men’s and women’s matches on BBC Two and iPlayer is clearly a good thing; as well as the unprecedented exposure for the women’s game. But what about collateral damage?

The Hundred will take place simultaneously with the 50-over Royal London Cup, which will resemble a second XI competition – even more so if one of the new city teams is hit by Covid, requiring more raids on county staff.

Remember this is a format in which England are reigning world champions men and women. The four-day championship continues to be relegated to the Siberian months of the season, while the Blast feels like an uneasy inconvenience as its popularity should remove the need for anything shorter. Insisting that The Hundred is risk-free is wishful thinking.

Then there are the finances. Like the rest of the world, the ECB has been stung by the pandemic. But their cash reserves tumbled even before Covid-19 and continue to move south – from more than £70 million five years ago to just £2 million now. The board says the competition has paid for itself, and much more, in the form of the £1.1bn TV deal signed in 2017 (although the plan was to host a new T20 competition instead ). But The Hundred has overstretched resources.

The Hundred mustn't fail, because if it does, the English game will take years to recover

The Hundred mustn’t fail, because if it does, the English game will take years to recover

At a briefing this week, officials spoke enthusiastically about its “scale and visibility” as if these were inherent qualities rather than the result of the ECB’s massive marketing efforts.

Still, the fans who have expressed their anger on social media but are dismissed as a vociferous minority by the administrators reasonably wonder why the same care and attention could not be given to pre-existing tournaments. And as more foreign players withdraw their services due to a combination of Covid restrictions and more lucrative offers, claims that The Hundred will provide world-class entertainment are becoming shaky.

Who knows? The coming weeks may surprise us all. The crowds can flock to the stadiums, allowing the ECB to tick off its modest target of 60 percent capacity in the first year. Cricket’s groaning schedule can be adept at finding space, even if administrators are concerned about the mental health of overworked players.

The Hundred may one day drive out Twenty20 and become cricket’s route to the Olympics. India may even allow their players to compete in a format whose value has been questioned by Virat Kohli.

Then there are the alternative scenarios. At the moment they are disturbing many.