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The UK’s imminent divorce from the EU acts as an analogy for the ECB and The Hundred… and it’s not too late to back out, argues SAM MORSHEAD
A referendum which did not address the whole equation, palpable feelings of disenfranchisement, a governing body ignoring popular opinion, a fast-tracked process begun rashly and in haste, and a total refusal by those in charge to show their working.
The Hundred has all the hallmarks of botched government policy and needs to be stopped. Here’s why.
With his customary eloquence, Mike Atherton opened the year in The Times by saying he expects The Hundred to be a success.
Frankly, the ECB cannot afford for it to fail. And therein lies the rub.
What constitutes success? Is it the revenue generated by the competition? The eyeballs which follow on social media? The mysterious new audience’s bums on seats?
If you buy into the idea that success is satisfactorily evaluated by these metrics and these metrics alone then, yes, it is highly likely that The Hundred will be a winner. But at what cost?
Well, let’s start with the answer in pounds sterling.
The marketing budget for The Hundred is said to be five times larger than the amount the ECB currently sets aside for England matches, while every game will reportedly receive £180,000 for “production” costs (roughy four-and-a-half times the weekly staff wage bill at Durham).
In total, the inaugural edition is expected to set the governing body back more than £40million. So of course it’s going to overshadow the rest of the domestic cricketing landscape in 2020.
Will crowds be big for The Hundred?
To ask county cricket to compete with this bulging-pocketed behemoth is to return Custer to Little Bighorn armed with nothing but a cucumber and a motivational audiobook.
Inevitably, it will be noticed.
Yes, it will be on free-to-air TV, and yes this is one of the project’s very few positives - though whether or not the mysterious new audience watch, own or know what a television is remains unclear - but otherwise the ECB are reliant on their considerable coffers.
Having dug a hole for themselves so deep a muffled 'Waltzing Matilda' is audible through the topsoil, you can’t blame the decision-makers at Lord's for having a go - after all, this untried version of the sport, universally unloved by the game’s core demographic, is to become the governing body’s flagship competition (insert facepalm here) - but it feels an awful lot like a gambler doubling down on 20 because he’s convinced himself it’s time for Blackjack.
Sure, he could fluke a card. He might just as easily go bust.
Some county figureheads are said to be uncomfortable with the budget being set aside for the competition. And understandably so.
While most voted in favour of the new tournament on principle in 2017 - only Middlesex and Essex objected, Kent abstained - they did so without knowing exactly what form the competition would take, lured in part by the promise of £1.3m each.
Would those 15 counties cast their ballots in the same box if given the choice again 20 months down the line? Or would they have rather seen a reinvigorated Blast, injected with ECB capital, promoted to a wider market?
And what happens when, in the future, the eight franchises create enough value to entice prospective buyers? How can county cricket face up to private money and suffer anything other than a first-round knockout?
Given the ECB are, we think, targeting individuals who do not have a working knowledge of cricket as the core fanbase for The Hundred, does it really matter whether or not the best players in the world take part?
It seems absurd to suggest it, but is this particular brainfart more about concept than substance?
We know the world’s top batsman, Virat Kohli, is not a fan and the India skipper middled it when he said: "I’m all for leagues but not to experiment".
Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? An experiment. A live experiment. Like sending 89 lorries in convoy from Ramsgate to Dover to test customs procedures.
Why should the English game be a labrat for a problem that does not need solving?
It is an incontrovertible truth that the world’s most talented T20 cricketers, the men who drive the T20 world around its T20 axis, are what stands between the ECB and a lucrative competition.
Getting them over here doesn’t necessarily require gimmicks, nor does it need a reinvention of the cricketing wheel. It needs a decent budget, an agreement with the BCCI and a commitment to delivering a high-calibre, globally-watched tournament.
As it stands, only one of the three criteria has been met.
Virat Kohli: Not a fan of The Hundred
The ECB’s stance that their new competition is not for existing cricket fans is one of the most perplexing elements to the entire fiasco.
Why on earth a governing body would not want to include their loyal consumer base in a project which they are giving both top billing and an enormous warchest of funds might make sense behind closed doors, but in the public eye it is rude, dismissive and hugely insensitive.
Cricket fans in England and Wales pump substantial amounts of money into the game via ticket fees, memberships and TV subscriptions, and their investments ought to entitle them to be heard.
The ECB are risking the alienation of a lot of traditional supporters in their single-minded commitment to delivering The Hundred. So what would the impact of that look like, not on revenues at the very top of the game (there will always be someone willing to pay for England tickets, at any price), but on the ECB’s constituents a little lower down the pecking order?
Many county regulars are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the way in which the game is being run, and the scheduling of the 2019 season has led some to cancel memberships.
Does The Hundred have the potential to push more over the edge? A scroll through the blogosphere and across Twitter suggests yes. Would that constitute "success"?
The new competition comes into effect next year
Presuming the ECB are "successful" and the eight grounds of The Hundred are packed with wide-eyed cricket virgins, what happens next?
Between August 2020 and July 2021, there will not be any other 100-ball action for these men, women and children to watch. Instead, they will have to be quickly weaned onto a different sport - one with complicated scoreboards, six-ball overs and teams representing real-life regions.
Will they cope? Will they tune out? Would they have perhaps been better introduced to cricket in the first place?
The ECB should look at the successes of the T10 tournament in the Middle East, if they are desperate to pack a match into a lunch break. Or study the evolution of Associates in T20 to witness how our sport’s reach is wider than ever before. Or even look into how the recreational sport retains the interest of boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18.
Come the start of the 2020 domestic season, it is a very real possibility that England will be reigning world champions over 50 overs.
It seems somewhat odd, therefore, that the country’s sole competition in that format is to be hidden at the back of the shelf like a five-year-old tin of marrowfat peas, while The Hundred takes pride of place.
In running the One-Day Cup at the same time as the new tournament, and excluding all overseas players from participating, the ECB will devalue the competition. It will become a second-class event played by a majority of second team players, with attendances reliant on those existing cricket fans who refuse to buy into The Hundred.
What sort of product is that? And what impact will it have come 2023?