Guest post by Annie Chave, who questions the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) reasons for introducing The Hundred, a new extra-short form of cricket at the height of the 2020 season, and explains the ‘Oppose The 100’ campaign.
I have spent much of the last year trying to understand the reasons behind the ECB’s addition of The Hundred to the already overcrowded cricketing calendar.
I’ve questioned many at the ECB, including [CEO] Tom Harrison; I’ve debated with Bumble [David Lloyd, the former England international player and coach, now a TV commentator] and with Bryan Henderson [head of cricket at Sky TV] Sky Television’s support for the new competition and, spurred on by many other fans of County Cricket, I’ve openly expressed my point of view.
I joined James Buttler in the ‘Oppose The 100’ campaign (I’ve worn the t-shirt) because we both felt that The Hundred would have a seriously detrimental effect on County Cricket, and we wanted to voice that fear.
The ‘Oppose The 100’ campaign has been both vigorously supported and angrily opposed. We’ve been accused of forcing our opinion on others. It’s too easy to forget the distinction between ‘expressing’ an opinion and ‘forcing’ it, but I recognise the concerns of advocates of The Hundred.
It has the potential, they argue, to reach an audience that County Cricket doesn’t, and we are blinding ourselves to the positives that The Hundred may bring to a part of the population that is untouched (and perhaps untouchable) by County Cricket. In any case, money has now done the talking for the ECB. The Hundred will be the dominant focus of the English game over the summer of 2020.
In response, the ‘Oppose The 100’ team has changed its narrative: rather than lambasting The Hundred, we have decided to concentrate on celebrating County Cricket by producing a magazine called County Matters. Our aim is to feature and highlight the current forms of first-class cricket in the light of the threats to it from The Hundred.
My own concern is clearly for the longer forms of the game, threatened as they are by the unilaterally declared scheduling for 2019. Despite some disingenuousness in the utterances of the ECB, the County Championship has been clipped to the fringes of summer over the last few years, but the calendar for 2020 will outfringe the fringes, like Claudia Winkleman replacing Audrey Hepburn.
There will be no red-ball cricket outside of the Test arena for 40 days at the height of summer, precisely when the days are longest and the weather best suited to leisure hours outdoors. With games scheduled at both margins of summer, the County Championship will be structurally disjointed, with a consequent further decline in public interest likely. No wonder Ashley Giles [ECB director of cricket] has already suggested that the County Championship should run alongside The Hundred in 2021 (presumably without those ‘top’ players who will have sold their bodies to The Hundred).
[Cricket journalist] Huw Turbervill has recently suggested that observing the treatment of the County Championship is ‘like watching a beloved pet suffer an agonising death’. This is what I want to fight and where I fear the knife of The Hundred may cut the deepest. I’d like to see this beloved pet revived with some real care and the appropriate medicine: something to build on its legacy.
White-ball cricket was brought in as an adjunct, and, whilst there is no denying now that it has its place, have we become too greedy for the quick fix and the easier revenue it provides? When money is the controlling factor, it is hard to incentivise Counties to get behind the Championship. There needs to be fresh life breathed into its neglected body with a recognition that it is a competition that gives real credence to the skills involved in Test cricket.
We are close to the point at which red-ball cricket – even at Test level – will be sacrificed to the gods of the ‘big bash’. For most players, it doesn’t provide the opportunities to earn life-changing wages. It’s already worth wondering why, as a developing player, you would aspire to anything other than white-ball cricket. If, through The Hundred, we prioritise city-based teams and an IPL- [Indian Premier League] inspired competition in this country, we risk diminishing public interest in Test cricket.
Over a comparatively short time, the game could be identified exclusively with its shorter formats, more to appease television moguls than fans. It may be that the ECB and the counties share the blame for not taking the Championship seriously enough, for relegating it to weekdays and to ‘out’ grounds during the season and for prioritising the ‘fast buck’ of the short form.
Look at the budget the ECB set aside to advertise The Hundred to see where their allegiance is. If they took the time and the care to market the County game to children, and to forge relationships with communities and minorities, then we wouldn’t be needing to create a format that is the very antithesis of County cricket and, as [cricket journalist] George Dobell quite rightly points out, is brought out in direct competition to its own sport. What governing body (other than a Cabinet of Cannibals) does this to itself?
Banner photo – Picture: Mark Hawkins / Composed Images
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