Our opinion of The Hundred is that’s a bit silly and the way it’s come about with the ECB papering over mathematical cracks as they appear before its eyes has been laughable.
We also think that when they actually get round to playing the matches, it’ll be cricket. It’ll be cricket marketed in a way that makes you feel like maybe you ate some raw shellfish that had been sat out in the sun for a long time, but it’s the marketing part of the equation that’ll make you feel like that, not the cricket part.
The cricket part
The cricket part will be pretty much a Twenty20 game, only they’ll talk about how many balls are to go rather than how many overs. (Don’t tell anyone, but we’re actually fine with this. It makes sense. There’s no reason why they couldn’t count down from 120 instead of 100 of course, but let’s not dwell on that.)
As Dave Tickner wrote on Cricket 365 yesterday, The Hundred will involve a load of great players spread far more thickly across only eight teams. And some of the tournament will be on telly. Beyond all the match-shortening nonsense and weak arguments about fresh tactical dimensions, these are fundamental positives that even the ECB might not quite be able to override.
The Hundred is not doing much to win over existing cricket fans, which is stupid, but cricket is pretty much always marketed in a stupid way. Cricket thrives despite marketing efforts, not because of them. Cricket marketing is not a thing you get angry about. It is a thing you roll your eyes at.
But yet a lot of people feel angry. Beyond angry even. Some people are displaying that ears-flat, cornered cat ferocity that can only come when you’re out-and-out terrified of something.
How could anyone ever be scared of The Hundred?
We get that elements of The Hundred are pretty objectionable – like making up a load of teams and trying to magic-up rivalries out of nowhere – but why be angry about that? If it’s such a stupid, obviously-destined-to-fail idea, then just sit tight and ride it out.
The threat really lies in how much has been invested in the competition and what that might mean for other forms of cricket. The Hundred is only threatening if it is the thin end of a wedge being hammered through the UK game.
- Do you honestly believe that The Hundred is going to usurp Test cricket?
- Do you think that The Hundred will lead to the abolition of the counties and do you care about that?
Our own answer to the first question is no. For all that Test cricket is forever supposed to be dying on its arse, it’s still the biggest deal in this country. The Hundred is basically being funded with Test money. You might object to that allocation of resources, but it underscores the fact that taken in isolation the longest format is pretty safe. Whatever you suspect the ECB’s intentions to be, you can’t ignore your entire audience and get away with it.
The threat to county cricket is more realistic
The 50-over competition has been maimed already and next in the firing line is the T20 Blast. If The Hundred proves popular, then the current domestic T20 competition will offer quite a lot of calendar congestion and no particularly earth-shattering unique selling point. It could go too. (Or maybe its departure would clear the way for a rejuvenated county 50-over competition – who knows?)
Would the County Championship then be threatened? You can’t see how it would be directly threatened – it’s a very different beast and surely (surely!) there’s acceptance that the nation’s cricketers need to continue playing first-class cricket to sustain the Test team that is – as mentioned earlier – the peg from which pretty much all of this is hung.
So we wouldn’t particularly worry about first-class cricket as a concept, but there might be a threat to the counties. This is all very theoretical, but if The Hundred makes a case that spreading the nation’s finest players across eight teams is better than having them smeared across 18 then people may well conclude that we should either (a) ditch 10 counties or (b) ditch 18 counties and instead bundle everything up under the eight new names that are being used for The Hundred.
And that leads us to the second part of question two.
Would you care if county cricket clubs were abolished?
From a wholly detached cricket fan point of view, we would be very much in favour of funnelling all of the English first-class cricketers into just eight teams. You would get far more Big Name Bowler v Big Name Batsman moments in red ball cricket, which would be great, and runs scored and wickets taken would also carry greater weight when picking players for Test cricket (which is the format we care about above all others).
But it’s not that simple, is it? It’s not even a question of being a ‘fan’ of a certain county and not wanting to see your club fold.
For a lot of people, county cricket is a fundamental element of the British summer and, by extension, a fundamental element of their life.
It is not a commercial thing, but that is very much the point. To abolish it for commercial reasons sends the message that commercial concerns are the only ones that matter. You don’t have to think too hard to realise that applying that philosophy to every single issue in the world probably wouldn’t pan out amazingly well.
We put little value in tradition for tradition’s sake, but county cricket is an unusually timeless thing and as such something of a bastion.
Perhaps the feeling is that if county cricket can disappear, then anything can disappear. The idea that even county cricket could go raises the possibility that one day you might find yourself adrift in a world entirely devoid of touchstones.
That is an unsettling thought for anyone and maybe explains why quite a lot of people seem so crazily, disproportionately enraged about what is at the end of the day a fairly daft knockabout cricket tournament.