It’s been a busy couple of months for me, regarding The Hundred. First I wrote a 6,000-word piece listing a hundred issues I had with the new competition, followed by a 5,000-word post about the ECB’s reasoning for the new format as relayed to us by The Cricketer magazine’s Inside Cricket podcast. Last Sunday I also did a 1,200-word post about the statistics the ECB released during their website and logo launch. Needless to say, I’m pretty sick of the subject and wanted a break from the whole damn thing for a while.
Then Tom Harrison did an extended interview with Mark Chapman, Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell on the ‘Tuffers And Vaughan’ Radio 5 Live show. It is, if you really want to listen to it, available here as a podcast for the next four weeks. Now I’m not a fan of ‘Tuffers’ or Vaughan, I don’t listen to the show, and I can’t say I was expecting anything other than a PR puff piece.
Instead, it turned out to be a pretty disastrous appearance by the ECB chief executive. A word soup of marketing buzzwords, not answering most of the straightforward (and surprisingly pointed) questions, and being completely unable to present a rational, logical reasoning for The Hundred’s existence.
So I typed up the whole thing, and here is my latest 7,800 word monstrosity:
Mark Chapman: “Why are you bringing it [The Hundred] in?”
Tom Harrison: “It’s about growing the game. We know we’ve got three fantastic tournaments, county tournaments that do a fantastic job at bringing out loyal fans into the game. But we also know there’s a huge opportunity, if we do things a bit differently, to get hold of a much wider audience. Potentially, by positioning the game a bit differently, we’d be able to grow the game, open up that gateway for the game for generations of fans in the future. So it’s an opportunity for us to think slightly differently, and present the game in a way that enables many millions of fans who particularly haven’t had the opportunity to be part of the game to come in. And that’s something we’re excited about.”
One thing I hate about interviews with ECB staff is that so many of them are utterly incapable of speaking plain English when communicating with the general public. Talking like this might be fine if you’re a merchant banker (either the job or the rhyming slang) in a boardroom, but most people’s eye just glaze over as the business jargon just spews out in an uncontrollable and unintelligible blur. It is also very repetitive, so if you had a shot every time Tom said “opportunity”, “positioning” or “different” then you would die from alcohol poisoning halfway through.
Now I’m not expert, and I genuinely hate the language used, but I think the gist of this answer is that there aren’t enough people watching cricket in England. I agree with that. I think we all do. But that doesn’t answer the question, which is why they chose The Hundred to remedy that. Why The Hundred was the best option for the ECB to take. Perhaps they have a rock solid explanation for why they’ve made the decisions they have, but thus far no one at the ECB has made a convincing argument for it.
Mark Chapman: “You said ‘differently’ in that answer three times. With a ‘thinking differently’, ‘positioning it differently’, ‘doing it differently’. What does ‘differently’ mean?”
Tom Harrison: “Through the work that we’ve done, we’ve worked out that there are about 10.5 million fans of cricket in this country, and we are very successful at bringing about 1.5m million through the existing county competitions. The international game obviously goes a stage further and brings more fans in. But what we worked out is if we’re able to address three key issues, and that is about the time the game takes, the perception of the game, so the way in which the game is positioned in this county. In other words, are we making it easy for fans of different communities, diverse communities, young people, sporty families, to get involved in the game? That’s the second thing. And the third thing is: Are we making it difficult for people to understand the game through the complexity of the way the game is actually brought to screens in this country? So those three things are the three key elements that enable us to really work out we’ve got a big opportunity here to bring people into the game.”
I already addressed these “three key issues” in a previous post, and will be addressing two of them again later in this one, but I do feel the need to question the suggestion of complexity being a problem and The Hundred being a solution to it.
I could write my own explanation about why this is bollocks, but instead I’ll imitate England’s chief selector and copy Chris’s work instead:
“Cricket is NOT a complex game. Bowl ball, hit ball. Get batsman out, get runs. The basic tenets of cricket are extremely simple, as every 4 year old picking up a bat knows. There is nothing complicated about that. The complexity is added when you talk about the full game. Fine. But that is no different to any other sport. Football is a simple game too. But the offside law, with active/inactive, second phase and so on is extremely hard to grasp for all but those who already love the sport.”
“Rugby, which the ECB highlighted in their report about access and interest, is mind-bogglingly difficult to comprehend in its detail, and any rugby fan will freely admit that when at a game, they don’t have a clue why a decision has been made. Especially in the ruck and the scrum. That’s why you have Ref Link – to know what the hell is going on.”
“There are of course issues around accessibility to cricket, the foibles and traditions of it can be inaccessible. But the basic point that cricket is a complicated game is accepted without question. It just isn’t. It is no more complex than any other sport. Mums ‘n kids (to coin a phrase) have no more difficulty than anyone else in understanding its basics as they are. This does not mean for a second that there shouldn’t be a discussion around how to make it easier for people to get into it, but the starting point that cricket is too difficult in its essence for people to get into is, to be blunt, horseshit.”
All of which is true, but there is an even worse aspect to this argument by Tom Harrison: The Hundred (at least as described by Harrison and the ECB thus far) does literally nothing to simplify the laws of cricket compared to T20. Now there might be some aspects of the live coverage which the ECB are working with Sky and the BBC to change, making the game easier for novices to follow, but none of that requires a change in format to achieve. In fact, they could do it now with all three existing forms of the game if they so chose. So, if the ECB genuinely believes that the current cricket coverage is excluding new fans, why wouldn’t they press their ‘media partners’ to change immediately?
Phil Tufnell: “And how are you going to go about that? I mean it’s a hundred balls, there are two overs at one end so there’s less crossing over. Is that how you’re going to try and do it?”
Tom Harrison: “We reckon that, if we’re able to play the game in about two and a half hours maximum, more families are going to come into the game. That’s the feedback from fans. Over the last three years, we’ve talked to about a hundred thousand fans to really work out what are their feelings about cricket. Why is it that we’re only able to bring in this 1.5 million fans through the game when we’ve got this huge following of 10.5 [million] across the country. So the work that we’ve done is trying to define that to make that much clearer, and actually say if we do it in this way, if we make it simple, if we present it on television in a different way so that fans can very quickly get an idea of who’s winning a game, where we are at a certain stage. It’ll feel strange to listeners of this show, but we’re talking about a game which feels complex to people. People who have grown up with the game don’t find it remotely complex but new fans of the game, they do find it complex and we do have to try and address that through this tournament.”
It is fair to say that 2.5 hours is almost certainly preferable to people with children when compared to a three-hour game, but surely it’s still a long way from being ideal for parents? I can think of literally no films, or TV shows, or live entertainment, which expects children to concentrate or participate for longer than two hours. For pre-teens, ninety minutes might be somewhat of a stretch. Young children generally have low attention spans and small bladders (relative to most adults, at least). Does Tom Harrison and the ECB really expect us to believe that parents would have been less interested in a format in which games only lasted ninety minutes, or two hours?
Michael Vaughan: “After 2005, if the game had stayed on free-to-air television, do you think you would have had to turn to this project?”
Tom Harrison: “I think the world’s changed dramatically since then. In 2003, you’re five years before the iPad was invented. The world has changed a great deal in that time and we’ve got different challenges, as every team sport has. We’re very fortunate to have an opportunity through a change in culture in this country, it’s much more multicultural, more urban. Now we know that, by 2030, most of us are going to be living in and around cities, 80% in this country. That gives us a huge opportunity, as a game we know people love. If you give people an opportunity to be part of this game, they will love it. They’ll embrace it. And they will be your fans for the future. We just need to be very certain that we’re giving fans around this country an opportunity to get involved in it, in any way that we can.”
Even if all of this was true and in any way relevant to the question asked (and it’s clearly not), it wouldn’t explain why cricket in particular amongst team sports appears to have been the hardest hit. How would you justify the fact that cricket is less popular now with children compared to football, rugby, netball, basketball, American football, and a few other sports if “every team sport” is facing the same challenges? I mean, I’d argue that the ECB were a bunch of incompetent administrators who were driving English cricket into the ground. But how would the ECB chief executive rationalize why cricket in England has been perhaps the worst performer of all team sports?
As for more people moving into cities (and I would love to know where the 80% in 2030 figure comes from), that shows a rather large gap in the ECB’s logic. Is an eight-team competition which doesn’t cover large metropolitan areas like Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle or Bristol really such a good way to ensure most people have easy access to live cricket? Or that London couldn’t support a lot more than two cricket teams? There might well be an argument for having teams in new places to cover a larger proportion of England’s current-day population, but The Hundred doesn’t do that. It has fewer teams serving a lesser percentage of England and Wales, and in my book that’s not an improvement.
Michael Vaughan: “And just recently you did an interview in the West Indies with Simon Mann, where you said ‘The Hundred is already a success.’ Can you explain that?”
Tom Harrison: “I think what it’s done is helped us work very very differently with our broadcasters for starters, with our partners in the game. We’re now joined at the hip in trying to grow the game together. That’s a very different kind of relationship to the one we have going back a few years. It’s given us fresh impetus in a relationship with Sky. Sky have been cricket’s best friend for the last 25 years and enabled us to create the strong set of stadia we’ve got around the country. And it’s obviously transformed out relationship right through the BBC, and that’s huge for us because it enables us to work together with these huge partners to bring more fans into the game. So it is absolutely about the growth of the game, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t feel that we were taking this opportunity to take the game to those communities that potentially haven’t had an opportunity to be part of English cricket’s fabric in the past.”
So Sky is “cricket’s best friend” and helped build a “strong set of cricket stadia” Of the 18 county ‘cricket stadia’, only two are actually full for T20 Blast games (and neither of them is hosting a men’s team in The Hundred). What is the point of having great grounds if barely anyone attends them? Sky certainly haven’t been a great friend to first-class cricket, barely broadcasting any County Championship games over the past few years despite having the exclusive TV rights.
I have to say, Tom Harrison looks very well-rested for someone who has been in charge of an organisation which has missed plenty of opportunities in the past to broaden English cricket’s appeal…
Mark Chapman: “Did you have to come up with a new format because the BBC said a T20 game was too long?”
Tom Harrison: “No, not at all. This was because we were trying to address three key issues that came back from fans. One is about time, one is about ‘The game is complex. We don’t understand the game. Is there a way that we can make it more straightforward.'”
I actually believe this. When the BBC bid for the rights, the competition was T20. The BBC might have preferred a shorter timeslot, and the counties might have wanted the Blast to remain the premier English T20 competition, but I have to think that something as dumb in theory and execution as The Hundred has to have been created solely by the ECB.
Mark Chapman: “Who were these fans, by the way?”
Tom Harrison: “So we talked to a hundred thousand fans […] People who said they expressed an interest in cricket but for whatever reason they weren’t coming into grounds. They weren’t buying tickets. Their kids might play at school. They might have a loose connection through a father played at a local club. We know there are 10.5 million people out there who potentially would be part of this cricket community if we were able to make the game appeal to them in a way that we know we can.”
I think everyone was wondering which fans the ECB had consulted over The Hundred, because none of us were asked. It turns out we were too ‘engaged’ to offer an opinion. Instead, they appear to have asked ‘fans’ who were vaguely interested in the sport without watching it regularly. Which isn’t to suggest that the ECB shouldn’t try and tempt these people into a stronger affection for the game, but maybe it would have been useful to ask us lot as well…
Tom Harrison: “Through presenting it on television, through presenting it on digital channels in a different way, through getting young people and kids involved in a different way. So the three audiences that we know that we can get hold of are young people, sporty families, and diverse communities who have got huge passion for the game. We’ve done it with the Women’s World Cup, where you saw a very different audience coming in because we presented the game differently.”
Mark Chapman: “Although the Women’s World Cup is [50-over] cricket.”
Tom Harrison: “Yeah, it is. That’s a good point.”
I mean, let’s just applaud this. In seven words, Chapman absolutely destroys Harrison’s contention that a new format is necessary in order to reinvigorate English cricket.
Mark Chapman: “My point being, if there’s a perception cricket is too complicated, the Women’s World Cup wasn’t too complicated.
Tom Harrison: “No, the Women’s World Cup enabled us to say ‘If you really want cricket to do the job, it can do it.’ The things that we did there was create partnerships with different media organisations. We advertised the game in different parts of the country. We said at the start of that year, 2017, ‘We must sell out the World Cup final. No matter who’s playing.’ And that job was done before England qualified for that final. What it shows is the power is actually in the game itself. The game of cricket is a battle between bat and ball, and if we’re able to give that opportunity to people, to celebrate the game between bat and ball, and do it in a straightforward way, we’re clear that we can appeal to different audiences in a way that will safeguard the future for all of our competitions going forward.”
As the ECB’s chief executive says here, all that is required to bring new fans to English cricket is effective marketing. You can look at the number of people watching, listening and playing cricket in recent years to gauge their typical effectiveness in this regard.
I do wonder, regarding the success and popularity of the Women’s World Cup in 2017, how much the ECB had to do with it. It is an ICC event after all, so I don’t know which aspects of the marketing and media were handled by the host board. I do know that attendances for England women’s games plummetted back to their pre-World Cup levels the following year. If the ICC handled PR for the World Cup, that would demonstrate the inability of the ECB to promote the women’s game. If the ECB were responsible for the meteoric rise in 2017, that would suggest they didn’t really try in 2018. I honestly don’t know which possibility is worse…
Michael Vaughan: “I hear you on all the diversity, and trying to appeal to new audiences, get more people interested in cricket. How much of The Hundred is a commercial venture?”
Tom Harrison: “It’s about growing the game, ultimately. Remember that when people talk ‘commercial’, they talk about money, the investment that we get in the game is all pumped right back into it. This is about growth. In a very competitive environment where we’re having to work really hard, like other team sports, to maintain relevance in a context of ten, fifteen, twenty years’ time. I’m not comfortable as CEO of the ECB with only 7% of children getting access to cricket at school, so we’ve got a sports strategy which is designed to absolutely transform our footprint in schools.”
There is literally nothing stopping Tom Harrison and the ECB funding Chance To Shine so that they can reach every single child in English and Welsh primary schools, if not now then at least from 2020 onwards when they get the money from the new Sky TV deal. If Chance To Shine visited every primary school on a six-year rota, theoretically seeing every child in that time, it might cost the ECB about £10m per year. Surely a small price to pay for Tom Harrison’s comfort?
Tom Harrison: “Transforming the women’s and girls’ game is important to us, so that we can demonstrate to a twelve/thirteen year old girl what her pathway through the game. Whether it’s to play club cricket or whether it’s, if she’s talented, to go through the elite pathway into the England dressing room. There are numerous different opportunities there. The Hundred is one of twenty six activities that we’ve designed across the six pillars of the strategy going forwards. The plan to grow cricket. And we’re very confident that we can achieve that through thinking bravely, with a bold plan for the men’s and women’s game together, to enable us to achieve great things for the game.”
Women’s cricket. It’s not particularly a success story for the ECB. Right now, the ‘pathway’ for this hypothetic 12 year old girl is club cricket (if she can find a predominantly men’s team prepared to play with a ‘girl’), then the amateur county competition (where she would still have to pay for her own kit, uniform and membership fees), and finally, if she became one of the twenty best women cricketers in the country, perhaps she would get a central contract with the England team. There are simply very few opportunities for women to make a living from cricket compared to the men’s game. There are reports that the ECB wants to start a professional domestic cricket structure for eight women’s teams, but I’ll believe that when I see it.
As for the women’s half of The Hundred, the ECB hardly seems to be working on it at all. In the past weeks and months, a great many details about The Men’s Hundred has come to light through ‘good journalism’ or official press releases. The draft day, the pay levels of players and coaches, the budgets for marketing and in-game entertainment, and much more. Literally none of the reported information relates to the women’s competition at all. When I asked The Cricketer editor Simon Hughes about this apparent discrepency, he said there’s “No information because there isn’t any!” I think this shows the lack of regard the ECB has for the women’s game.
Their attitude is likely shared by the two broadcasters for The Hundred. Last week’s reports seemed to imply that the BBC would only show one women’s The Hundred game on live TV, rather than the eight they’re entitled to as part of their TV deal with the ECB. As for Sky, it seems unlikely they will show many women’s matches either. With both men’s and women’s competitions being played in the same 38-day window (each with over 30 group games) plus three men’s Test matches, there is simply not enough room in the schedule for everything to be shown. At least, not unless Sky and the ECB are prepared to show a women’s game on TV at the same time as a Test match or a men’s The Hundred game.
Michael Vaughan: “Just go three or four years in time. I’ve been working at the IPL, and the IPL games are taking too long, and The Hundred’s arrived and a shorter format. It’s probably what T20 was ten years ago. It was an hour and twenty minutes in the field, quick change around, an hour and twenty. Done and dusted in three hours. Now it’s two hours almost in the field, it’s taking too long. If, for instance, in two years’ time the Big Bash or the IPL want to turn to The Hundred, would that be a franchise that you would sell to these other countries?”
Tom Harrison: “At the moment we’re doing this for our own conditions, the challenges and opportunities that we’ve got in our own backyard, a bit like T20. In 2003, that format wasn’t developed to effectively be the thing that’s given cricket the shot in the arm that it has over the last fifteen years. It was developed pretty much as an answer to dwindling crowds at domestic cricket back in 2003. I think the same’s true here. I personally feel that there is an opportunity to take these playing conditions for a hundred balls into a wider context. That opportunity will be there for the global game to take advantage of it. We have things like the Olympic movement. We’re looking at things like how do we expand cricket into new territories. Parts of South America, the US, all of these parts of the world. The Hundred has got a role to play, if the game wants it, to help with that growth.”
Is the ECB headquarters located next to where the Metropolitan Police incinerate confiscated drugs? Are they sponsored by a Columbian cocaine farmer? Because I see literally no other reason why someone would expect other boards pay for the honour of using The Hundred as a format. This isn’t a comment on the The Hundred itself. I don’t think any countries would have paid for the rights to use T20 either, even if the ECB had had the foresight in 2003 to have copyrighted it. If other countries want a shorter format, they can just invent their own for free. F15 perhaps, or ‘The 99’.
Mark Chapman: “A couple of things on families. […] My wife took two of our kids to the Roses T20 game at Old Trafford last summer, and there were two, three lads sat behind who were so drunk before the teams had even come out that, when the teams came out, one of the lads shouted ‘Come on Gloucestershire!’ So I don’t know what game he thought he was at. But you will know, Tom, that going to a lot of cricket, a lot of T20, is like being on a stag do. And the finals day is one giant stag do. So what do you do to try and stop cricket becoming even more like going on a stag do, and in particular The Hundred? You’re trying to attract sporting families.”
Tom Harrison: “Look, it’s a good question. Ultimately, it’s really important that, across all of our competitions, families feel that it’s a safe and welcoming environment to watch cricket in. The Hundred is going to be positioned as family entertainment. This is something where a dad, a mum and two kids can go and have two and a half hours of fun watching world-class cricket with the world’s best players playing fantastic cricket in both men’s and women’s competitions, and hopefully get in and out of the ground within two and a half hours. That’s the plan.”
A game of The Hundred is projected to last two and a half hours. How is it that Tom Harrison expects families to get in and out of the stadium in 0 minutes? I can’t say I’ve attended any of the host grounds, but I’d suspect that when they’re full (which Harrison seems to expect) it takes quite a while for people to actually reach their cars or the transport links.
Mark Chapman: “Are they going to have fifteen lads dressed up as Scooby Doo, trying to build a beer snake behind them?”
Tom Harrison: “No. That’s very much around the kind of partnerships that we will bring together, working very closely with our venues to ensure that that environment in stadia is conducive to making families feel safe and welcome.”
Mark Chapman: “Will you have family stands?”
Tom Harrison: “I think there are family stands now, in most grounds. I think some of the behaviour that you might be alluding to is very isolated. Ultimately this is going to be positioned in a way that is literally designed to give families that day out that makes them want to come back time and time again.”
I’d love to have faith in the ECB’s promises of partnerships (whatever that means in this context) to remedy the rampant alcoholism of some cricket fans, but I don’t. There hasn’t been a single concrete suggestion which I have seen about how the ECB intends to counter the perception that crowds at the cricket, and in particular at the T20 Blast, have a lot of people drinking a lot of beer. Certainly, they have stated categorically to Mirror correspondent Dean Wilson that they won’t have alcohol-free games.
It is also disingenous for Harrison to suggest this was an “isolated” incident. For one thing, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the barrel. The two drunk lads at the Roses game Chapman describes could well have annoyed or worried dozens of people sitting near them.
More importantly, the idea of drunk cricket fans deterring other people from attending games can’t be news to Tom Harrison. In his podcast a few weeks ago, Simon Hughes describes the ECB’s most important reason for the launch of The Hundred as “a lot of people feeling the Blast is not a game for them because it’s largely middle class and largely white, and particularly a kind of beer-fest. […] It has become a piss-up, actually.” The experiences of the Chapman family are not isolated, and it’s insulting to everyone’s intelligence for the ECB’s chief executive to suggest otherwise.
Ultimately, it comes down to money. People paying inflated prices for crappy beer is a great moneyspinner for the host grounds. If the ECB attempt to curtail that in any way, the counties will demand greater hosting fees in exchange. ECB sponsors Greene King, Thatchers and Veuve Clicquot might also be perturbed to see their revenue from cricket grounds decrease.
Having said all of that, I can’t say I see a great future in using The Hundred to increase the numbers of families attending live cricket. Given the congestion caused by The Hundred and three Test matches being played at the same time, a large number of the games will have to be played in the evening. Having matches finish after 8.30 pm is far from ideal for many families, whilst games starting at 6.00 pm or 6.30pm are more-or-less perfect for the after-work drinks crowd. For all the ECB’s family-friendly rhetoric, I can’t see it panning out.
Mark Chapman: “What will it cost to go and watch The Hundred?”
Tom Harrison: “Well we’re working on that. We haven’t got the absoute, definitive answer to that question, but I can tell you that it will be affordable and it will be linked much closer to county cricket than international.”
Mark Chapman: “If attracting families from wider communities is the priority, why were Headingley tickets a minimum of £40 for adults and £20 for a child for this week’s warm-up one-dayer? That doesn’t strike me as ‘affordable’.”
Tom Harrison: “I think that affordability of international cricket is one of the questions we’ve got to answer. By developing a competition that is targeting families that haven’t felt like they’ve had the opportunity to be part of English cricket to date and watch world-class cricket. I think we will find that opportunity is there for people. This is about growing the game. We’re really serious about this. Our whole five year plan that we launched in January, ‘Inspiring Generations’, is all about growth. Yes, it’s about investing and underpinning everything that we feel passionate about. Our three county competitions. Underpinning Test cricket.”
Mark Chapman: “But if you’re talking about growing the game, if you talk about the dad, the mum and the two kids, that’s £120 to go to Headingley for a warm-up for an international one-dayer. Before you’ve even paid for car parking, travel, food, drink. £120 for a family of four for one day, that isn’t affordable for a lot of people, is it?.”
Tom Harrison: “I understand that. You’re talking about international cricket. It’s not a warm-up game. It’s a bona fide series between England and Pakistan in the lead up to the Cricket World Cup. So I think that’s premium entertainment. I think it’s positioned as that because it is international cricket at the top of the tree. The Hundred will be different because although the entertainment will be absolutely the top of the tree, the price for tickets will be very different and more reflective of what people can afford. And particularly the target communities that we’re going after. […] It demonstrates the opportunity that we’ve got.”
One of the statistics which the ECB published last week during their website and logo launch was this: 65% of ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are affluent (Someone who would be considered upper or middle class based on their job). Is it really that much of a surprise? The cheapest adult tickets for The Ashes are £60 at Headingley and £90 at the Oval. Families are expected to shell out over £100 to attend a pretty meaningless ODI in a season where England will play at least seventeen 50-over games. Plus ça change, as the French might say.
It also bears noting that this is an issue which has always been entirely within the ECB’s control. If they were worried about fans being priced out of attending cricket, they could have stepped in to lower the costs. The previous system of awarding international games, where the ECB essentially made counties bid against each other for the rights to host England games, likely had the effect of massively inflating ticket prices. Whilst the ECB moved away from that system a few years ago, the amount supporters have to spend hasn’t noticably declined.
Michael Vaughan: “How are you going to deal with those young families that come to cricket for the first time next year, on the back of (we all hope) winning the World Cup to see Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, potentially Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes. And they’re world champions. And then in a year’s time, little Johnny says ‘Mum, dad. I wanna go watch them in this Hundred.’ And they get to the time, they get the ticket, and they’re playing Test match cricket at the same time.”
Tom Harrison: “Yeah, there will be Test matches through this window. And this is because primarily we are an international cricket organisation. Our sport is based on international cricket. We are extremely serious about building Test cricket and continuing to be the kind of global poster child for Test cricket. We’re determined to retain and extend that reputation that we have internationally. Our international players will be part of The Hundred. The Test players won’t be able to play every game, because we simply don’t have the space in the schedule to be able to guarantee they playing in every game. But they will be part of it, and they will play in games. Hopefully at the beginning and at the end of the tournament.”
So England’s best known cricketers, the men’s Test team, will be missing for a large portion of The Hundred. I’m sure that won’t affect the number of people watching or attending the games at all…
Michael Vaughan: “The Australians come over for five one-dayers next year. The first year, The Hundred has to be a success for you all. Was there any thought, that you thought ‘You know what? We’ll give back those five one-dayers to Australia, and we’ll manoeuvre two Tests’ to make sure that all these superstars that I mentioned will be a part of The Hundred for the first year? This can’t be a failure. It has to be a success.”
Tom Harrison: “Yeah, it will be. I don’t think by over-delivering in year one, you necessarily guarantee long-term success. The Hundred will sustain itself through the phenomenal cricket that is being played by many of the world’s best players on the parks around the country, in the men’s and the women’s game. The Big Bash had exactly the same challenge, where they played international cricket in Australia throughout the window of that domestic tournament, and found that they were able to build on that success. I think we will have the same experience. We want fans to be genuinely excited by the calibre and quality of cricket that’s being played. It will be played at a time of year where families can go and see it, in the school holidays. Mid-July to mid-August. And I think cricket fans will absolutely love this. They will find that it’s a source of great entertainment. It will be brilliant cricket, played in some of our best stadia around the country. So I think there’s an awful lot to get excited about for cricket fans. As we start to bring some of those plans to bear over the next few months, we can start bringing some of this to life. I think that’s increasingly been the reflection of people around the cricket community that we talk to.”
I have to say, I would not be worried about “over-delivering in year one” if I was in Tom Harrison’s shoes.
I don’t think the ECB turning down ODIs would have ever been a realistic option for one simple reason: It would cost them a lot of money. As well as losing out on the ticket sales, they would also need to pay Sky a substantial sum for not playing the contractually agreed-upon number of international games. Like with ticket prices, and beer sales, the ECB has shown that they will always choose money over any other objective. I think that the only reason the ECB support The Hundred, with its limited free-to-air coverage, is because they believe it will make a profit.
The comparison to the Big Bash League is not particularly apt, because Cricket Australia had one huge advantage over the situation the ECB find themselves in now: People knew who the players in the first BBL were. Many of the cricketers in ‘BBL|1’ had previously played for Australia and, because international cricket was still shown on free-to-air TV there, many of them were household names. Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, David Hussey and Shane Warne, to name just four.
Who are the most famous current English cricketers that the ECB could get for The Hundred? Sir Alastair Cook and (should be Sir) Jimmy Anderson? Try and persuade Flintoff to come out of retirement again? After fourteen years exclusively on Sky Sports, there are no mainstream stars to use to launch the new competition.
Whilst I’m not involved in my local cricket club, I talk online with several people who are involved in theirs. One constant thing they all mention is how junior cricket grinds to a halt during the summer holidays. That’s when children go away on holiday, visit family members, go on day trips, etc. The mid-July to mid-August timeframe for The Hundred is therefore arguably the worst time of year for kids to be able to watch sport live on TV.
Phil Tufnell: “That was one of my questions. Who’s actually going to be doing the batting and the bowling of this Hundred, but you’re saying you’re going to be getting the world-class cricketers over?”
Tom Harrison: “Well all our white-ball specialists will be playing, anyone who isn’t in the Test team. […] We’re going to be playing in an ODI Championship next year. For the women’s team, all of our professional centrally-contracted cricketers will be available throughout. So there’s an awful lot to get excited about. But remember that fundamentally we also have to keep the international schedule moving, and that’s a really big priority for us as well. The Hundred can live alongside this and continue to flourish.”
Let’s recap who won’t be appearing in The Hundred:
That’s a lot of the ‘best cricketers in the world’ who won’t be playing in The Hundred. Most of them, you might argue. In fairness, the first three groups could apply to virtually every other major T20 competition around the world except for the IPL. The last two could be a significant issue in terms of perception of The Hundred, however.
As far as I can tell, no major T20 competition clashes with another. This allows the best overseas players to travel the world as mercenaries, which in turn helps promote the leagues internationally as those players will probably have fans in many countries. Some of the best and most popular of these cricketers happen to be West Indian. Andre Russell is one name which quickly springs to mind.
By scheduling The Hundred against the West Indies’ T20 tournament, the ECB are robbing themselves of some explosive players and lessening the appeal of the new competition to cricket fans in England and around the world. Incidentally, the CPL is starting in September this year, but that is in order to fit a lucrative series with India in the competition’s usual slot in the calendar. Unless the ECB are prepared to give a very large cheque to the WICB, I can’t see the same happening again next year.
Michael Vaughan: “I’ve had an email in from Henry Clark, and he says: […] ‘It’s all well and good to try and get new people watching the game, and actually I think The Hundred can have a huge positive impact. But to really tackle the issue of participation in club cricket, which is continuing to kill of clubs in our local league, the club game needs to adopt a similar stance. I’m now the only eighteen year old playing in my club team, where there was ten of my mates when we started at under-eleven standard. Players from the age of fifteen to eighteen are dropping out too consistently.'”
Tom Harrison: “It’s a common issue, and thanks for raising it. One of our frustrations is, we do an awful lot of work around demonstrating to leagues around the country that we have the ability to change formats in this game to suit players all round the country. We don’t control the leagues. Obviously they’re all autonomous. We’ve got leagues who are already experimenting with hundred-ball cricket for example this year. It was the leagues that started twenty-over cricket, it had been played decades and decades before it became a professional format. We need to keep working very hard with the leagues to educate leagues, particularly below first-team level. I played 120-over cricket for ten years through the leagues. There is still that intransigence with some leagues, to want to reform and bring in shorter formats, but it’s something we’ve got to keep working with the leagues on. To persuade them it’s the way forward, to keep people playing.”
Mark Chapman: “The ECB do do a national T20 competition for the 15s. We were lucky enough with my son’s team to get all the way to the national finals, which was an unbelievable day. The ECB give kit to all the clubs, and they have the music and they have the announcers, and the season as a whole was very enjoyable for the fifteens because it was all twenty overs. It was short format cricket.”
Michael Vaughan: “I’ve said for many years on this show that I think all cricket, potentially through a period of two or three months in the summer, every Sunday should be T20 Sunday. It should be the kids in the morning and then in the afternoon your club’s got to put on a festival of cricket which is twenty-over games between the adults and you put on the bouncy castles, the face-painting, the barbeques. You get the community down. Whereas in our time, where you used to go round the leagues and it would be the best teas, I’d want to see which club put on the best T20 on a Sunday. Saturday is for that long format. First team should be fifty-odd overs, but I’d say the second team (with youngsters coming through) shouldn’t be fifty overs. It should be 30-35 overs. Third XI should be 30-35 overs. I mean 120 overs, you probably started at twelve and finished at midnight.”
Tom Harrison: “You come off at about a quarter-to-eight. The other thing to remember here is that Sunday cricket is suffering as a result of this, around the country and we’re working very very hard to bring this to the attention of leagues, saying that there’s huge opportunities here to get people playing Sunday cricket. Short-format Sunday cricket. And actually, I think some leagues are concerned that will further take players away from Saturday league cricket.”
I’m not active in my local club, and so don’t particularly have a strong view on this section. I would suspect that those of you who are involved in club cricket might have some choice words to say about the idea of Tom Harrison or Michael Vaughan telling you which formats you should be playing, and when. My own recollections of playing cricket in my youth are that the games then were twenty overs long. I’m not 100% sure because I was in the under-13 second XI and we rarely made it that far.
My suspicion is that the number of kids dropping out of the system before reaching the senior teams has always been high, but the problem has been exacerbated by the sharp decline in the number of children taking up the game to begin with. All Stars was meant to remedy that problem, but it appears without success. Now the ECB hopes that The Hundred will have a positive effect.
I think the exposure on free-to-air will help a bit, but at the end of the day it appear that the BBC will only be showing eleven The Hundred games plus three T20Is. Fourteen days of free live cricket is a huge improvement on the last fourteen years, but a lot less than we had before that. From 1999 to 2005, Channel 4 showed up to thirty days of live cricket every year.
Mark Chapman: “Is this a difficult sport to lead at the moment, or an easy sport to lead at the moment?”
Tom Harrison: “It’s a privilege. This is a sport I’m incredibly passionate about. It’s my sport. It’s the one that kind of makes me tick as a person. So, for me, it’s a privileged position. I just want to make sure that everything we do is geared around growing this game for future generations.”
Tom Harrison was paid £719,175 last year, having received a 19% pay rise. That places him above the chief executives from the FA, the Lawn Tennis Association, the British Olympic Association, UK Sport, UK Athletics, the Rugby Football League and Sport England. In fact, the only two English counterparts to be paid more than Harrison were the chief executives for the Premier League and the Rugby Football Union. Nothing says “passionate” or “privileged position” to me like squeezing every penny out of a sports body for yourself.
You also have to wonder, looking at his performance in this interview, if there might be someone who would do a better job for much less money. Almost anyone, really…
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