Abraham Lincoln famously remarked, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
England cricket is having that moment right now with the County Cricket vs The Hundred debate. From the outside, everything seems fine—2019 World Cup victory, Anderson-Broad still going strong, finally a somewhat stable opening Test partnership in Burns-Sibley, and an enviable depth.
Deep down, though, there are gaping cracks. Tradition, history, club cricket, professional contracts, indirect impact on Tests are stacked against city-based franchises, new format, media rights, and emphasis on limited overs cricket.
Today, I am not going to present an argument from an English perspective—David Hopps, Andrew Miller, and George Dobell (twice) provide well-articulated balanced views. On the other hand, I express my observations as an outsider.
Is Controversy Helping County Cricket or Hundred?
Full disclosure—I am not from England. I have no particular affinity with a specific county and do not follow much of the County Championship, Royal London One-Day Cup, or the T20 Blast (unless of course Alastair Cook is nearing another ton or Shaheen Shah Afridi takes 4 in a row). Nor did I watch a single game of the Kia Super League.
Yet the endless debates and discussion on social media against The Hundred piqued my curiosity. I have since watched almost all games of The Hundred and have enjoyed them too. While County Cricket fans are trying to fight for their side, they might have actually helped publicize the Hundred.
The Good, Bad, And Ugly
So has The Hundred lived up to the hype?
First impressions—the possibility that a bowler can bowl 10 consecutive balls has added an extra dimension. Rashid Khan went as far as to say it’s now possible to take three hat-tricks! Imagine the flexibility with swing bowlers and death specialists. When a Joe Root-esque part-timer keeps it tight, let him or her continue.
I also like the speed of the game. The over-rate field placement penalty and the swiftness of DRS decisions has reduced the time down to less than 3 hours.
Most importantly, the cricket has been good, and it looks like a fun family time. Affordable tickets, priceless expressions of kids, last over thrillers, Lizelle Lee-Jemimah Rodrigues specials, find of Chris Benjamin, Alex Hales-Ben Stokes drama, and Bairstow being Bairstow. All good.
There is always room for improvement, however. Graphics are all over the place, crowds are not sell-outs, and even umpire Nigel Llong had to ask the DJ to dial it down a notch.
Disparity in Score Decreases
The simultaneous matches with the Women’s Hundred is turning out to be a gamechanger. The level of women’s cricket was criticized in Women’s T20 Challenge when the Velocity were bundled for 47 although conditions were not ideal.
In the Hundred, when the women’s team only scored 113-93, the men’s teams did even worse 87/10 a few hours later in a spin dominated pitch. The average scores are 124 and 137 so far for the women’s & men’s editions respectively, and quality of cricket equally enthralling.
Can County Cricket, T20 Blast, and The Hundred Coexist—Yay or Nay?
One argument has been why not just re-market the T20 Blast instead of creating a new format?
If we all agree that County Cricket, T20 Blast, and the Hundred are to coexist, the question then becomes of scheduling.
- County Championship: 18 Teams, 3 Groups, 90 matches, April-July
- T20 Vitality Blast: 18 Teams, 2 groups, 133 matches, June-September
- The Hundred: 8 teams & 34 matches for Women’s/Men’s each, July-August
Add the home Test summer, the English rain, and this is a packed schedule. The issue with the T20 Blast is that it is played over 18 teams, broken over several months, with numerous games on the same day. The momentum is stagnant, regular international talent not retained, and coverage low.
About Time England Dominate The League World
England are the current ODI World Champions and one of the favorites for the T20 World Cup. If there was ever a time to invest in a franchise league of international standard, it is now before the likes of Eoin Morgan head towards retirement.
When the IPL was launched in 2008, India still had legends like Dravid-Tendulkar-Ganguly-Laxman to build stable fanbases & drive spectators to the ground but it was the 2007 T20 World Cup victory that ensured T20 would succeed in India. Yes, it might be weird that Jonny Bairstow from Yorkshire is playing for the Welsh Fire. There maybe no natural County support for an artificial franchise league, but Dhoni & Raina are not from Chennai either (far from it!) and probably possess the largest IPL fanbase.
England was reluctant to invest in franchise cricket and suffered till the 2015 Cricket World Cup debacle as a result. The rest of the world allowed India to become a monopoly in the T20 market. One can argue that losing Buttlers-Stokes-Morgans-Archers to the IPL 2 months in the year is indirectly hurting the County Cricket. Had English cricket invested in a T20 league earlier and provided it a window so it does not clash with domestic tournaments, they would have been at a better place. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
There is still time. Who knows, a high-quality concentrated domestic tournament can extend England’s golden era and throw up new stars.
Better players, more competition, more spectators/TV viewership, more money, higher salaries—Players, counties, leagues, everybody happy?
Why Not Follow the India Model?
With 38 teams & multiple groups, Ranji Trophy, Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and the IPL coexist. A separate window for the IPL ensures availability of homegrown talent as well as majority of foreign players. Ranji Trophy provides professional support, SMAT is scheduled strategically a month before the auction to showcase new talent, and the IPL, in return, provides developed players, academies, & scouting systems back to the domestic teams.
From the looks of it, ECB has almost made up its mind about the Hundred at least for a couple of seasons. So why not try to find a solution that benefits all parties involved instead of opposing it?
I will leave you with Michael Atherton’s warning on commentary today. Fans are drawn towards a new format because it is exciting and different. Administrators get greedy and keep expanding like the IPL and Big Bash. A few years later, the format becomes diluted and ‘loses its pizzazz.’
Just a short 1-month Hundred can probably survive and not hurt other formats. However, if this format is to spread to expand to more teams, other countries, or become an international format, then there will be detrimental consequences. Until then we can have some fun and adapt innovations from this experiment into the existing formats. Keep the Hundred simple, but do not forget the county game either.
Lincoln was right. Now England must choose—an internal divisive cricket Civil War or a mutual partnership?
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Copyright @Nitesh Mathur, Broken Cricket Dreams, firstname.lastname@example.org – 07/29/2021
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