'The Hundred has now been postponed. It's time to cancel it all together'
The Hundred has always been a divisive and controversial competition but now more than ever is the time to reassess this shabby excuse for a tournament.
Back in 2016 when the ECB held discussions with the 18 counties on whether they would like to see a new T20 franchise tournament it seemed like a good idea. The idea of a tournament which would be the English version of the IPL or the BBL was simply to good of an opportunity to miss. At the time, the T20 blast was half as popular as it is now and interest in cricket was declining so the ECB's argument seemed valid. Therefore, an overwhelming majority of 16 counties voted in favour of this new idea. Little did they know what this tournament would become.
This is where the first cracks in the idea of the hundred start to show. In 2017, it was proposed that the tournament should be city based. This raised concerns among the counties already. Essex raised the point that having a city based competition would focus the competition on certain areas of the UK instead of showcasing the whole country. Middlesex were worried that they would not be able to use lords as a ground so also voted against. And finally, Kent spoke a wall of silence suggesting that they were so divided on the idea that they could not decide. All these objections should have immediately raised alarm bells with the ECB. If not all the counties agreed then surely they could have foreseen the negative press and concern among cricket fans. However, with the offer of shed loads of cash for agreeing it was unlikely that counties would say no and stand up for themselves. So as expected in April 2017 38 ECB members voted to approve the idea of a city based t20 tournament. That was it. This 'T20' tournament was coming.
The next cracks showed when there was an announcement about format changes. This really did start to raise even more concern. Following the ECB's 'marketing research', which they spent huge amounts of money on but was pretty useless (more on that later) they decided that T20 cricket was no longer relevant despite growing numbers in the blast and recognition as a good format across the world. So here comes the magical idea of ........ One Hundred Ball cricket. I really would love to know what possessed them to think let's not do the tried and tested format but take a gamble on something that no one has ever heard of or seen before. But I digress, when the format was originally announced it looked more like cricket then it does now.15 six ball overs and one power over at the end with 10 balls to make the magic number of 100. Still though, the changes to the LBW law and the so called 'strategic time outs' raised countless questions. A 'trial' game was played under these rules at Trent Bridge in September and whilst it was perceived as going well , the argument for 100 balls and not 120 was still not there. Then came the finalisation of the format which just essentially stuck two fingers up at the game of cricket. 10 ball overs and change every 5 balls. Yes, that is not a misprint that is really the format. If the hundred is a success then the fans of the hundred will go to a proper game and think what on earth is this. It's just unneeded to be honest.
Above: Trent Bridge Trials in 2016
Then there is the finances. So much money has been spent on the hundred. To start with there is £1.3 million pounds a year for each of the counties (even those not involved) which wracks up a bill £24 million pounds a year. Then there was the ridiculous marketing research which told them they need to engage women and children ( Any cricket fan could have said that before this) which cost about an extortionate amount of money. Add to that player wages which cost £13.1 million pounds, marketing which costs £4.8 million pounds,£5.8 million pounds for event delivery,£3.4 million on the women's hundred , £1.5 million in administration fees and the bill each year costs an extortionate £58.6 million pounds a year. That is staggering. What's more is that the cost of postponing the hundred this year has been estimated at £10 million pounds. This is the danger. There is a feeling among fans that such levels of spending are no longer affordable, or justifiable, at a time when the vast majority of counties have furloughed players and there is such uncertainty over the future.
Plus there is the un-matched impact on women's cricket. The ECB gambled when it decided that the only form of women's domestic cricket would be the hundred. Cancelling the growing Kia Super League seemed stupid but they did it anyway. Now it has backfired. The hundred has been postponed, and with it women's cricket in general has also been pushed back. It seems likely there will be no women's cricket this summer due to the ECB's horrific gamble backfiring. This has led to one women's player, Katie Levick saying that the ECB's decision to postpone the hundred has 'ruined' women's cricket and that people should not be celebrating it. Indeed she has a point, we should not celebrate it because we should only celebrate when it is cancelled. And those are incredibly strong words.
'Devestated' Katie Levick (above) says the impact of the hundred postponement has ruined women's cricket
Do I blame the players for going along with the hundred. No. If you had a bunch of money offered to you for 4 weeks work you would hardly say no. So it is understandable that not one of them criticises it. However, when you look at it the rest of the world's players think it is an absurd proposition. Virat Kholi has openly criticised the tournament as being yet another 'commercialisation' of cricket whilst New Zealander Jimmy Neesham said that he didn't see the need to 'tinker' with T20 as it is already 'very successful'. Expert assessments showing yet again the problem with the hundred.
Now we come to the main issue with the hundred. The affect that it has on the counties. The new competition shines a spotlight on just eight of them. Admittedly, it is a 'city' based competition however it does not excuse from the fact that some of the counties are left dead and alone by the decision to hold the hundred in just 8 venues. It means that they miss out on the revenue that having a crowd gives a club and in turn a tournament. Moreover, the counties chosen were often the bigger ones who are more stable in terms of finances. It leaves small clubs such as Kent, Gloucestershire and Hampshire missing out. Plus, the fact that the one day cup, which is a big money maker for the counties, has been sidelined means that counties once again lose out.
First Class : The Hundred has a huge impact on all 18 counties
In the current climate, because of COVID-19 the majority of clubs are already facing financial difficulty and the existence of the game as we know it is under threat by a tirade of economic uncertainties. Many clubs will struggle this summer despite the ECB's assurance of help. Clubs are furloughing staff and re-thinking the way that they deal with money. This is a damning reality and therefore means that now is the time to reassess. I can slightly, just slightly, see an argument for a fourth tournament if it is a T20 franchise similar to the IPL or BBL. But now is not the time for that. Neither is it the time for taking a gamble on a tournament that costs huge money and gives counties less certainty. Now is the time to reflect. Admit the mistake. Scrap the hundred to ensure the future of the counties. Move on.
Unfortunately, Tom Harrison is adamant that he will carry on with his controversial brain child. When he announces the postponement of the competition he said that the hundred is 'even more important' now and that COVID-19 doesn't 'dilute the case for The Hundred, it absolutely accelerates it and makes it something cricket needs to get behind.' Those words make me face plant. It suggests to me that he knows his car crash invention is wrong but he is going to plough on despite the opposition.
Mastermind - The brain behind the hundred ECB chief executive Tom Harrison
The fact is that the ECB may never ever cancel the hundred. And maybe it will be a success and I will eat my words in 2021. However, I doubt it. The opposition fans from cricket fans far and wide shows one thing. This is not proper cricket. This is not a good option and this is not wanted. The hundred has too many flaws to count and now more than ever is the time to reassess. Postponement does not go far enough it is time to cancel it.