The Hundred chief Sanjay Patel asks county fans to "come and help us grow the game"

The man running the controversial new tournament tells SIMON HUGHES that the County Championship is still "the premier domestic competition"

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Sanjay Patel, managing director of The Hundred, hopes to transfer the passion shown for the World Cup to the ECB’s new competition.

He told The Cricketer: “For India against Australia at The Oval last Sunday there were 23,000 Indian fans. It was a brilliant occasion. Not all those 23,000 travelled from India. I estimate that 20,000 of them live in the UK.

“Those Indian fans at The Oval, the 15,000 Indian fans who’ll be at Edgbaston to watch England v India, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi supporters that have been to the matches, they adore cricket.

“What we haven’t been able to do is bring them back into our grounds outside the times that those teams that they follow are playing. With The Hundred we want to try and make that audience feel welcome. We want them to be able to bring food in, enjoy the occasion with their families, ensure that the atmosphere is not overly driven by alcohol. It’s a huge opportunity for the game of cricket.”

Many readers of The Cricketer have queried how fans are going to forge allegiance to a new team.

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The ECB are trying to attract a new audience to cricket with The Hundred

“The No.1 thing that people follow is individual players,” Patel said. “If we have brilliant players fans will follow them. I have seen that in the IPL. Every single fan gets excited when MS Dhoni walks out. People follow players first and then develop allegiances with the teams they play in.”

Traditional county cricket fans fear that the resources ploughed into The Hundred will further marginalise county cricket and ultimately cause a reduction in the number of first-class counties.

Patel utterly refutes that suggestion: “Absolutely not. We are attempting to grow the game. We are trying to attract families to cricket. We fundamentally believe that if you get more people into the game, everybody will benefit – clubs, counties and so on. With the money that we’ve generated from The Hundred we can invest in marketing all the other competitions. We’re going to increase the prize money in the County Championship to make sure it remains our premier domestic competition.

“And our strategic partnership with the BBC – so that cricket is on all their programmes and platforms – will mean cricket is watched, followed and talked about by more people. It’s a way of keeping the whole game healthy.”

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Transport yourself 14 months into the future, I say. What does success look like?

“During the competition I want to drive to the grounds and see posters for The Hundred, I want to flick on my mobile and see brilliant digital activity that young fans can get excited about and interact with, the grounds will be full of young people and families watching world-class cricket and on the way home people are left smiling and happy.

“Or success is a family sitting down together at 6.30pm on a Sunday and talking about it afterwards. And all the other existing cricket is still there for people to watch and enjoy as well.”

Patel appealed to readers of The Cricketer. “If you love the game, which you do because you read this magazine, come and help us grow the game.

“All the competitions are still there, and this is a great opportunity to introduce your children or grandchildren or other people to cricket and they’re going to have a great time.”

Let’s hope so, for all our sakes.

This article was originally published in the July 2019 edition of The Cricketer, out now. Try The Cricketer for three issues free this summer. Click here to sign up today

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