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The Hundred: early days yet

Questions might be asked about the need for yet another format in cricket, its fourth, but The Hundred in England has been about Jemimah Rodrigues so far. With two quite incredible knocks, 92 from 43 balls and 60 from 41, she guided Northern Superchargers to victories. Clearly this is one Indian who loves the format.

But the questions remain. Does lopping off 20 deliveries, giving bowlers 10 deliveries per stint (or five; there are no ‘overs’) and a 25-ball PowerPlay make The Hundred a) all that different b) easier to understand or c) more likely to bring in a new set of fans who can’t watch sport without music, colourful graphics and strategic timeouts? More importantly, will the new fans come in at the cost of the existing ones, thus merely retaining the numbers if not actually reducing them?

Wisden said when the idea was mooted that “The Hundred hung over the English game suspended only by the conviction of a suited few…”

Feeling left behind

The England and Wales Cricket Board which probably felt left behind by the IPL and Australia’s Big Bash League, appears keen to give the world its own home-grown franchise cricket. I can’t see a World Cup for The Hundred happening anytime soon; to be honest, there shouldn’t be one anyway.

As at least one writer has pointed out, the complaint is not that it is unlike anything before, but that it is virtually indistinguishable from what we already have. The decimalisation of cricket (100 balls, change of ends after 10 balls, a bowler’s limit of a maximum of 20 balls) can be carried too far. Will the 22 yards be changed into 20 metres (21.87 yards), the 30-yard circle into 25 metres (27.34 yards) and so on pointlessly? Perhaps even a 10-member team rather than 11, to round things off. Somehow it is difficult to believe that what is keeping England’s youth from the game is the want of a decimal system.

Artificial respiration

Cricket-lovers in India have always found it hard to believe that the game needs artificial respiration. When the 40-over and then 60-over formats were introduced to bring the crowds back into the grounds in England, Indians didn’t see the need for such gimmicks here.

When the first World Cup was held in 1975, India participated like a team under protest. This wasn’t the cricket they knew; in any case, crowds were not an issue in India which then had packed houses for Ranji and Duleep games.

Likewise with T20. One cricket board official was quoted as saying, “We will never play Twenty20 cricket.” It was a sentiment reflected across the country then.

What changed everything were the World Cup victories, the 50-over in 1983, and T20 in 2007, followed by the IPL.

The Hundred is only a few games old, but gimmicks aside, doesn’t look different from its 120-ball cousin. Cricket has made the mistake before of changing its essential nature and then throwing huge amounts of money at the new product rather than strengthening what exists already. The message administrators thus send out is: No, we don’t believe in the game either.

The new audience — the reason underlying the change — is setting itself up for bewilderment at any other cricket match. After all that 10-or-5 balls stuff, they will then be exposed to the regular six-ball over and wonder where they (or the umpires) have gone wrong. Short-format cricket at least had the advantage, perhaps the decency even, of ensuring the game looked and felt the same.

The Hundred may or may not work as a domestic tournament and if it does, England might be tempted to push for it to be accepted at the international level. It might be tactically more complex, especially for the fielding captain. And you can wear jeans in the Lord’s pavilion which must count as a major innovation.

It is proving noteworthy in one area, however, and that’s in women’s cricket. Women aren’t paid the same amounts as the men, but they play their matches first followed by the men’s.

Live television has already given someone like Jemimah Rodrigues a wider audience, and the teams the exposure they continue to need.

Huge TV audience

The opening match, between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals drew the largest television audience for women’s cricket in the UK.

Many have compared Rodrigues’s debut innings with Brendon McCullum’s 158 that gave the IPL its stamp of acceptance. We should resist the temptation to over-interpret.

Is this cricket’s future? Is this the best format for the Olympics or will some bright suit figure out that a 10-over tournament would be ideal? Thanks to the television deals with both BBC and Sky, is The Hundred too big to fail?

Most importantly, will it be England cricket’s saviour or ruin? Right now there are more questions than answers.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 2:27:30 PM |

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