England v South Africa – World Cup 2019 Open Thread

It’s been over three months since England’s most recent Test match, and almost two months until the next one against Ireland at the end of July. So far, they have had four T20Is, eleven ODIs plus two 50-over warmup games in that time. We now have at least another nine to look forward to in the group stages. All of which is to say I already feel a little burnt out and low on enthusiasm for the shorter forms of the game, even if the current England men’s ODI team is relatively likeable and fun to watch.

After the recent minor injury concerns for Morgan, Rashid, Woakes, etc. in the past couple of weeks, it seems likely that England will select their first-choice side with Vince, Wood, Curran and Dawson missing out. Surprisingly, the actual team news hasn’t seemed to have been discovered by someone in the print media through “good journalism”. They’ll be very confident, having won their last four ODIs (ignoring the two warmups) against Pakistan

South Africa are on an even better run, having won their last six ODIs. Five of those were against Sri Lanka at home, but still. They will be hoping that their bowlers, particularly Rabada and Ngidi, can take a few early wickets and force England to consolidate rather than trying for a score over 400. England are seen as favourites for the game, but I wouldn’t be an England fan if I wasn’t worried…

I missed the coverage of the opening ceremony last night, although by all accounts it was a damp squib (in more ways than one). Wet weather, low turnout and lacklustre production values all give us a glimpse of what we have to look forward to next year with the ECB’s launch of The Hundred.

Speaking of which, it appears that Will MacPherson of the Evening Standard has discovered the names for six of the eight The Hundred teams. They are, if you haven’t already read them:

  • London Spirit (Middlesex)
  • Welsh Fire (Cardiff)
  • Southern Brave (Southampton)
  • Birmingham Phoenix (Warwickshire)
  • Leeds Superchargers (Yorkshire)
  • Trent Rockets (Nottinghamshire)
  • Me Pissing Myself Laughing (Being Outside Cricket)

There’s a lot to look at there. It’s quite hard to pick out one thing to criticise, when they’re all so bad. “London Spirit” was the first to be leaked on Tuesday, and it was roundly mocked. Now, compared to the other five, it might honestly be the best of the lot.

I am, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, a pedant. Perhaps the one thing which annoys me most about these team names is that some of them are plural nouns (Rockets, Superchargers) and the rest are singular nouns (Spirit, Fire, Brave, Phoenix). This genuinely irks me. There are other inconsistencies which are almost as frustrating, not least the team’s locations with cities, regions, nations and (bizarrely) a river used for the team’s identity. The names are bland, generic and have little tying them to their host teams, which may well be the point.

Trent Rockets is clearly the most ridiculous name of the bunch. It just sounds like a parody. ‘Rockets’ is a fairly typical team name, the most famous example being the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and there’s no obvious connection to Nottingham. Choosing something from a major American sports team has to be one of the lazier choices available for an overpaid consultant. But “Trent”? I guess it was their attempt to extend their reach outside of Nottingham, but it may well be so vague and meaningless as to alienate even some cricket fans in their home city.

“Southern Brave” would be another major embarassment for the ECB. It’s a vague nonsense of a name for an English sports team, but it would work well for an American band. Texas Country band Southern Brave certainly think so, which is why they currently have the @SouthernBrave Twitter handle (and likely much more besides). Choosing a name where you can pick up the social media accounts is almost the first consideration for companies nowadays, and it’s funny to see the ECB and the counties fail to clear even the lowest of hurdles.

It was reported last night by Lawrence Booth that Surrey had rejected four options from brand consultants FutureBrand: London Fuse, London Rebels, London Union and London X. A wise choice, given the options. There’s no word yet on Lancashire, the other host county yet to choose a team name. It bears pointing out that Surrey and Lancashire are perhaps the two best host counties in terms of commercial success, and that they are therefore arguably better equipped than the other teams to stand up to the ECB if they think a mistake is being made.

One thing the names appear to overlook (not unlike virtually all aspects of The Hundred so far) is the women’s competition. Whilst all of the names are gender-neutral, it appears unlikely that many (if any) of the games for The Women’s Hundred will be played at the same grounds as the men’s. Welsh Fire at least makes some sense when played in Cardiff, less so if they are playing their home games at Taunton. If the Trent Rockets women’s team are in Derby or Leicester, neither of which are on the River Trent, how will that help attract local fans?

If you have any thoughts, on the World Cup or The Hundred team names, please post them below.

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Dissecting The ECB’s The Hundred Talking Points 2: From The Horse’s Mouth

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…

Congratulations on reaching the end of this ridiculously long post. If you still have the strength, please comment below.

Lies, Damn Lies, And The ECB

The ECB launched the new logo and website for next year’s The Hundred competition last Wednesday, including a press briefing and numerous interviews. Neither was particularly well-received, with stock photos on the webpage being widely mocked and the logo not managing to excite many potential fans.

Wisden editor Lawrence Booth and The Cricketer editor Simon Hughes also seemed to be under the impression that the ECB would also be releasing their research which led to the creation of this new format. From its initial inception as a T20 competition, through the creation of a new hundred-ball format to the present day,  the ECB’s representatives have always consistently said that their decisions were based on a large body of research. That the Hundred was the result of a logical, scientific decision-making on the basic of rock-solid evidence. Instead of a full release however, The Hundred’s managing director instead published a handful of statistics on a single side of A4 paper. This is in spite of Sanjay Patel claiming there were a hundred million ‘data points’ the ECB used to shape their choices.

As far as I can gather from the media reports, these are the figures which the ECB released:

  1. Ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are 95% white.
  2. Ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are 82% male.
  3. 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)
  4. Ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket have an average age of 50.
  5. 75% of families would prefer a game that is under 3 hours in length and finished by 9pm.
  6. Almost 75% of families want “fast-paced, high energy action” to be the priority.
  7. 10.5 million people are interested in cricket in England & Wales, but only 1.1 million attended games. Rugby union, which appeals to similar demographics, has a total attendance of 5 million per year.
  8. 9 million non-cricket fans might be interested in cricket if it was simpler to understand. Many of these say it is a more complicated sport than football, rugby union and American sports.
  9. For adults, cricket is a top 5 sport in terms of the size of its ‘engaged audience’. In children it ranks 7th, and in teens 11th.
  10. 5% of children aged 6-15 has cricket as one of their top 2 favourite sports.
  11. Roughly 75% of current cricket fans started liking the sport before they turned 16.
  12. 7% of primary school children are playing cricket.

The first thing which leaps out at me is that many of the stats seem highly selective, to the point where it seems like the ECB is cherrypicking the figures to justify their decision. Take for example the term “cricket”. By using the catch-all term rather than specifying formats, the ECB is using people who are fans of Test cricket to justify something even shorter than T20. In 2015, almost half of the total cricket attendance for professional cricket was in Tests and County Championship games. Is it really a surprise that the average audience for these games are old, since the majority of scheduled days are workdays for most of England’s adult population? Is it a surprise that the average audience for Test matches tends to be wealthy, when the cheapest adult ticket for the first four days of the Oval Test this summer costs £90?

It’s worth noting that Surrey CCC have issued a rebuttal of the first four stats by helpfully releasing their own format-specific numbers. Their T20 sales figures, which you would expect to have far more relevance to The Hundred than ones including Test cricket, suggest much younger people are buying tickets for the shorter form of the game. Surrey’s T20 ticket-buyers are 38 years old on average, 12 years younger than the age suggested by the ECB’s data.

I also wonder which format the 9.4 million cricket fans who don’t attend professional cricket games prefer. I know that over 8 million were watching an Ashes Test in 2005 at the same time, which leads me to think they’re Test fans. If that is a large portion of the ECB’s expected market for The Hundred, is it realistic to predict a significant proportion of them are likely to love a format even shorter than T20? Especially one happening at the same time as a Test series?

The term “ticket-buyer” might also seem misleading. People seem to take it to be representative of ‘the audience’, but that is not the case. I’ve yet to see an example of a 6 year old buying a ticket for their family, for example. If we imagine a scenario where a 40 year old mother took her two 10 year old twins to see the cricket: The average age of the group would be 20, but the only one counted in the ECB’s figures would be the oldest person.

The second thing I notice (and arguably the more important point) is that even if you take the numbers at face value, they don’t automatically make the argument for The Hundred’s existence.

The statistic which most directly makes the case for a shorter format is that 75% of ‘families’ would prefer a form of cricket which lasts less than three hours and finishes before 9pm. That is entirely expected. If anything, I’m curious about the 25% of families who don’t want those things. So this would mean families would be less likely to engage in and attend a T20 competition where games regularly lasted around 3 hours and finished after nine o’clock like the Blast.

But if most The Men’s Hundred games will last around 2.5 hours and finish at around 8.45pm, is that a significant improvement? Do a majority of families like that duration and finish time? I very much doubt it. In order to prove it, the ECB would have to release the full survey results for how many people wanted games 3, 2.5, 2 and 1.5 hours long, and how many objected to games which lasted until 10pm, 9pm, 8pm and 7pm. Personally, I suspect parents would actually prefer to attend a format where games lasted less than 2 hours and finished before 5pm, which certainly wouldn’t describe The Hundred.

As for most of the other issues the ECB’s stats identify, it’s unclear how The Hundred is the best solution. Do we expect the The Hundred attendances to be more racially representative when county cricket, where the vast majority of players for The Hundred will come from, isn’t? Last season, there were just 8 “black or mixed-race English cricketers active” in the County Championship. British Asians represent 35% of recreational cricketers in England but far, far less in professional teams.

Will more people attend live cricket when the number of grounds is reduced to eight? Is there anything intrinsically more likely to increase the percentage of women buying tickets when cricket is 16% shorter? Is the fact that innings have twenty fewer balls enough to simplify cricket for people who find it ‘complicated’ if you don’t do anything about LBW or the jargon (like fielding positions, shots and bowling styles)? What percentage of people who are primarily Test cricket fans are excited by or interested in T20 and shorter formats? Will more children love and play cricket than they did when Tests were on free-to-air TV in 2005?

If the ECB’s research genuinely points towards The Hundred as the best possible option then they have nothing to fear from releasing it in full, not just to the press but also to the public. But the little of it they’ve published so far raises far more questions than answers…

As always, please add your comments below.

Dissecting The ECB’s The Hundred Talking Points

“By the way I’m not a lackey for the ECB, I’m not a spokesman for them at all. We try and hold them to account.” – Simon Hughes

That’s a direct quote from the most recent edition of Hughes’ amusingly-titled “Inside Cricket” podcast. In his defence, I genuinely don’t believe he is a lackey or spokesman for the the ECB. Rather, I think he shares the same world view as many senior ECB people and so will naturally come to the same conclusions. I always find it amusing when people cite complex conspiracies such as a secret cabal running English cricket, when simpler explanations are available.

It was the first (and likely last) episode of this podcast I have ever listened to, enticed by Simon Hughes’ promise that he would “try and make time” to answer as many questions as possible about The Hundred. It may not surprise you to learn that I have a lot of questions about The Hundred. 103 in fact, which I emailed to him. Most were short questions about specifics regarding the competition, since so few details are currently in the public arena and I strongly suspect that most of them haven’t even been decided yet by the ECB.

What I hoped for was a few morsels of information about The Hundred that hadn’t already been leaked, and the only thing which would fit that description was the announcement that the team names and logos wouldn’t be announced until the end of this season, after the Ashes had concluded and just a month before the draft.

Instead, the 48-minute podcast spent most of its time relaying, often in great detail, what I can only assume are the ECB’s talking points regarding The Hundred: Why they would argue it is needed, and what they hope it will achieve. With Simon Hughes, Simon Mann and Dean Wilson offering few counter-arguments to this massively pro-The Hundred message, I thought I’d take the time to rebut them instead.

Why Have Hundred-Ball Innings?

Simon Hughes: “Well one interesting point is when the T20 was orginated in 2003, the iPad hadn’t been invented. Six years later before the iPad was invented in 2009 and, in a way, that was a key innovation because the iPad, and obviously the smartphone from on the back of iPad really, has enabled teenagers (even us, actually) to watch videos and films and anything else on your tablets or on your smartphones and that basically has effected a lower concentration span. So the concept of T20 which is sort of three hours’ entertainment has become too long for the teenage market, who are now obsessed by […] Fortnite which is the game that is just taking over the world, the teenage world anyway, and you can play a Fortnite game in half an hour/forty five minutes. So their concentration span, I’m sad to say, my teenagers’ concentration is about that of a gnat. We don’t want to just pander to teenagers.”

“So that was why they’ve gone for a shorter format. It’s just that people’s time, people’s concentration, is less than it was. And the perfect time for a bit of evening entertainment, you look at movies, you look at football, even going out for dinner I suppose, it’s two hours isn’t it? An hour and a half, two hours. And three hours is just getting a bit too long.”

To begin with, I should put this quote into context. Simon Hughes was answering a question from a 16 year-old fan of Test cricket about why the ECB didn’t go with T20 instead of the new format. Hughes then spends a couple of minutes explaining that ‘kids nowadays can’t concentrate for longer than an hour or two’, to paraphrase his answer. To a 16 year-old Test cricket fan. I don’t think much self-awareness was being shown there.

He overlooks the fact that many kids seem quite happy to play more than one round of games like Fortnite back-to-back, or binge-watch several episodes from Netflix. The issue then wouldn’t be a short concentration span, but whether they’re allowed to do so by their parents.

I also suspect that Simon Hughes is simply echoing similar complaints from past generations. For at least the past hundred years, and probably more, many parents have derided their children’s contemporaries for being less intelligent, less strong, less respectful than they were as children. Whilst now it’s tablets and smartphones, it used to be television, or rock music, or jazz music, or whatever was in fashion at the time.

But even if we granted the premise that attention spans are shorter now, and that cricket must adapt to survive, that still doesn’t explain why the ECB specifically chose The Hundred as a format. By eliminating one-sixth of the deliveries from a T20, it cuts the length of a game from roughly three hours to two-and-a-half hours. Surely, if we want kids who can only concentrate for forty-five minutes at a time to follow it, that’s still far too long? T10, with innings lasting approximately forty-five minutes each, would be a far better approach.

Simon Hughes: “They’ve done a lot of research on it, and I know people that are “Research. Well why can’t we have the public account of the research?” I think we’re going to get that, actually, very shortly. But the precis to the research, and they’ve done it with the ICC, with the ECB’s various agencies, they’ve even looked at UN data as well. They’ve tried to be quite exhaustive, and I believe them.”

“Why won’t they publish their research? Well they are, apparently. They’re going to be publishing it shortly so we can all examine it. We have to believe them, that they’ve done a good job.”

Well for a start, we don’t have to believe the ECB. To choose the most pertinent example, the ECB appeared to sell the new competition to the counties, broadcasters, the MCC and fans as a T20 league. They even set up a “T20 Board” to develop the new competition. I’m sure you can probably think of other cases where the ECB has apparently been guilty of purposeful deception.

It seems safe to assume that the much-vaunted research from the ECB played a part in creating The Hundred. The major issue I have with the ECB’s approach to publishing their analysis is that, after more than a year of being cited and hyped by proponents of the new competition, I can’t see it being anything other than a let-down. There are very few things which  have met people’s expectations after a year of anticipation. No matter how articulate, no matter how scientific, no matter how complete, I don’t see how anything the ECB releases now could match up to the image of the research they have built up: As an unassailable triumph of logic which demonstrably showed that The Hundred was the only reasonable course of action.

Simon Hughes: “They [the ECB] really are trying to listen to people, but also proceed with their own vision. I think it’s important to show leadership, and they are showing a bit more leadership now so that will hopefully ultimately give people more confidence.”

Or, to paraphrase, “Let people talk but do whatever you wanted to do anyway.” I fear, if the ECB does ever release the information about its research and consultations, this is more or less what has happened. Not that it matters particularly, since it seems very difficult to find any members of the public (and certainly current cricket fans) who the ECB has consulted about The Hundred.

The Hundred Brings Money Into The Game

Simon Hughes: “[The ECB received a £225m deal] principly because they came up with a new tournament. They would not have been able to raise that amount of money and also got the exposure from the BBC, the buy-in from the BBC, if they hadn’t created a new tournament.”

This is just wrong. The argument is clear enough: The TV deal reached in 2018 had one significant difference from the previous deal, the inclusion of The Hundred. The new agreement almost tripled the value of the last one, and therefore The Hundred must be responsible for this increase. But surely no one can genuinely believe this? The main difference between eight years ago and now is that Sky have a competitor who was prepared to bid significant amounts of money for the rights to show sport.

In the previous negotiations, Sky’s only concern regarding their financial offer was to determine the lowest price that the ECB would accept. It bears saying that the TV deal reached from 2006 onwards wasn’t a massive increase on the previous deal when Channel 4 was airing 6 Tests per year. People talk about it like the ECB doubled their TV revenue in exchange for taking cricket off the airwaves, but that was very much not the case. In truth, I strongly suspect the Sky has had the exclusive TV rights to English cricket for far less than they should have been worth.

On this occasion however, Sky weren’t just bidding against the ECB’s low self-valuation but also BT Sport. BT have deep pockets, having paid a reported £80m for the rights to Australian cricket over five years. With most of that happening after midnight UK time, I would assume they would be willing to pay quite a bit for the rights to English cricket.

To use an analogy, imagine you’re selling a house without a shed. One person places a bid which is significantly below your asking price but you need to sell and so, in the absence of any other offers, you accept it. A few years later you sell your new house, which does have a shed. Two people bid on it, with the competition between the two pushing their bids above your asking price. You didn’t sell your new house for more because of the shed, but because there happened to be two people interested in it.

Simon Hughes: “The football broadcast rights have slightly declined over the last three/four years, just slightly, whereas cricket has started to climb and you want that sort of ascendancy to continue.”

Again, I would take a different lesson from these facts: That the ECB missed the point at which they could have made the most money from a Sky/BT bidding war by allowing Sky to possess the rights for a span of seven years (with a five year initial deal plus a built-in two-year extension). Had the ECB been able to negotiate an agreement two or three years earlier they could well have been offered even more.

Simon Hughes: “What the ECB say is that even more money is now going to be spent on promoting the County Championship and the Royal London, and obviously the Vitality Blast, because more money is coming into the game. So hopefully those tournaments are going to benefit as much as The Hundred”

Simon Mann: “[Tom Harrison] said it’s [The Hundred] already been a success. A lot of people thought that’s a really strange thing to say, it hasn’t even started yet.  But of course what he meant was because they have brought in all that revenue.”

The problem with this argument is that, I believe, Sky did not bid separately for each bundle of TV rights they bought. If they had, then we could easily see that they paid (for example) £40m to show The Hundred and judge the profitability of the competition from that. Likewise, the BBC’s £13m annual payment also includes the rights to have highlights shows for English international cricket and three T20Is live. Separating the true revenue of The Hundred from these overall figures is therefore open to interpretation, with supporters of The Hundred saying it’s bringing in more money whilst opponents will argue that it’s bringing in less.

We do know how much the ECB thinks The Hundred will cost over the first five years: £180m. That is a lot of money, however you look at it. If those figures were accurate, I’d expect the ECB would make a slight profit, or at least break even over the five-year period, assuming the value of The Hundred’s TV rights are worth somewhere around £40m per year overall.

However, the annual cost has almost tripled from the £13m figure which was projected just a couple of years ago. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect that the eventual costs might be much higher than the ECB anticipated. It’s clear from the fact that there is over £12m budgeted for ‘event production’ and ‘on-field-marketing’ (ie cheerleaders, fireworks, mascots, posters, etc) in the first year alone that the ECB are willing to pay almost any price to ensure that The Hundred is a success. Including not making a profit.

Who Will Attend The Hundred?

Simon Hughes: “It’s aimed at everybody. Everybody who wants to watch cricket, whether it’s a new audience or an old audience. They just want to put on a fantastic show with the best players in the world.”

“They want everybody to watch cricket. They want as many people as possible to come to the game, to see what a great game cricket actually is.”

So this is clearly a better answer than Andrew Strauss’ “mums and kids” mantra from The Hundred’s initial press junket. It has the benefit of not excluding current cricket fans who are neither mums nor kids, for example. But it is also somewhat glib, if there are not actions from the ECB to accomplish this rather bold target.

You might ask yourself why mothers, children and other people prefer not to attend the T20 Blast and other cricket currently. Well the ECB appear to have narrowed it down to three reasons:

Simon Hughes: “Firstly, the complexity of the game. People do not grow up with cricket now, so they don’t understand it. Secondly, the time. Every game now is taking three hours and even more. And then thirdly, most importantly, 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.”

That would lead you to an obvious conclusion: A good way to bring in a new audience who have felt excluded from cricket grounds would be to eliminate beer sales. Well, apparently the ECB disagrees:

Dean Wilson: “I’ve actually asked the ECB ‘Will you have alcohol-free games? Is that part of the idea?’ and no it’s not.”

Another factor which will discourage people with children will be the late starts. It seems safe to assume that no one involved at the ECB, the BBC or Sky would want any games to occur whilst most adults are at work. Likewise, they won’t want any The Hundred games to clash with the three Test matches being played in August. Given that the Tests will cover three of the six weekends during The Hundred, that leaves just three weekends (six days) in which the ECB could schedule cricket before 6pm without angering one of their media partners.

Simon Hughes: “I mean just look at the spread of the women’s game, for instance. As a result of the Women’s World Cup final and victory in Lord’s a couple of years ago, suddenly there’s so many more girls playing the game. They probably won’t go to many cricket matches, but The Hundred tournament could attract them. So I think there is this massive latent interest in the game that they want to tap into.”

“Actually, the IPL audience is now 40% women. And actually, at games it’s nearly 50%. If you go back ten, twelve years […], how many women would you see at a one-day international in India? Probably twelve? It was 95% male. So, without wanting to sound as if The Hundred is just appealing to women, that is clearly a core market.”

First, let’s just ignore Simon’s poor maths skills. One thing I constantly think is that we should never look to India and the IPL when trying to determine how to run English Cricket. India has a population somewhere around twenty times larger than England and cricket is by a large margin the most popular sport in the country. It is highly unlikely that you can take an example from the IPL and apply it to English cricket. The situations are so dissimilar that it will always fall apart.

It turns out that many women, like virtually everyone else who isn’t a drunk man, don’t like spending time in the company of a few thousand drunk men. And if most games in The Hundred are going to be held in the evening, and the host grounds are going to be doing everything they can to encourage beer sales which increase their profits, then there are going to be a lot of drunk men in the crowd.

Dean Wilson: “There are a lot of people in these cities. There are a lot of people living there, a lot of people working there and a lot of people visiting them. And actually it’s all those people the ECB are trying to encourage to come along of an evening to go and watch The Hundred. And so if there’s one or two, if there’s a group of people who find it a little difficult to get into those cities to make it worthwhile, and they might not come along, then so be it. But actually it’s the people who are drawn to those urban areas that they want to encourage to come along to these games.”

Evening games would also discourage people from outside the host cities from attending. They would particularly struggle to use coaches or trains if games finished around 9pm. Not everyone has the editor of The Cricketer magazine offering to drive them to and from the grounds, after all.

So to sum up: The ECB wants everyone to attend The Hundred. Everyone who lives locally, likes a drink, and doesn’t mind staying up late.

Who Will Watch The Hundred On TV?

Dean Wilson: “We’ve talked a lot about research that they’ve [the ECB] done and I have spoken to various people involved with the planning of The Hundred over the last year or two, and the idea about an ‘unknown market’ is actually that there is a market there. There is a huge number of people that are in some way connected to the game, that have some kind of an interest. Even if it’s just going to a game once, or following certain accounts on Twitter and social media, or whatever it might be. But what the ECB are desperate to do is make those kind of slight bits of interest and turn them into proper engagement.”

Simon Hughes: “What they’ve [the ECB] based some of their research on, or some of their ambition on, are those figures from 2005 which was that eight to nine million people watched the climaxes of some of those 2005 Ashes Test matches on Channel 4, so clearly there is this perception of a national interest in cricket that is still there. That was fourteen years ago, but people don’t just suddenly lose interest completely. And actually the audiences on Channel Five highlights programmes and even Sky for the live programmes occasionally gets over a million. So there is this latent interest in cricket. When the story is a good story. When there’s a narrative. When there’s something you can follow. When there’s […] appointment-to-view. When you know it’s on.”

I think it’s an undeniable fact that there are a large number of disenfranchised cricket fans in England. Over eight million people were watching at the same moment when England won the Ashes in 2005. It was almost fourteen years ago, but most of them will still be around, still remember.

Which overlooks the slight flaw in the ECB’s logic: That this latent cricket audience were presumably fans of Test cricket rather than the shorter formats. I think that the Test highlights on five get more viewers than the ODIs and T20Is, and that more people listen to Test matches on the radio than England’s white ball games. Certainly some of them will watch The Hundred, at least when it is broadcast on the BBC, but by no means all.

Simon Hughes: “The key is getting the best players, and obviously marketing it well. But once you’ve got that, then you’ve got the chance to tap into a latent interest in the game.”

Simon Mann: “When the IPL is on, […] if the Kolkatta Knight Riders are playing, I’m always checking my phone to see when Andre Russell is going to be battting. If I find he’s coming out to the middle, I’ll go downstairs and switch the television on. It’s about creating that sort of interest, that sort of appointment-to-view cricket, that sort of buzz around a competition where you have these star players. You’re right about these star players. You’ve got to have them, the players you really want to see, that really get you going.”

Simon Hughes: “Box office players.”

“The best players”? “Box office players”? 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.

What About The Other Ten Counties?

Dean Wilson: “There will be cricket there [Somerset].  That’s the thing. That’s one thing I don’t think you can realistically complain about: A lack of cricket in the summer”

Simon Mann: “For Annie [a Somerset supporter], there will be fifty-over matches at Taunton but without the best players playing.”

Simon Hughes: “Some of the best players will play. Someone like Alastair Cook might be playing in fifty-over cricket. He wouldn’t get picked in The Hundred, but he might not play T20, but he would play fifty-over cricket. It’s not just going to be a tournament for university graduates and a few schoolkids and a few second XI players. There’s a lot of cricketers, this is one of the things Tom Harrison said all along, he worried about was, there were going to be eighty cricketers involved, eighty professional English cricketers involved in The Hundred, as in ten or eleven per team English-based, as well as all the overseas players. Which leaves around 250-300 professional cricketers not employed, so he was very keen to find something for them all to do, and there’s loads of decent cricketers out there who will be playing in this fifty-over competition. It’s not just going to be a tournament for the has-beens and never-wases. [wasses? Not sure how to spell that]”

This was the part of the podcast which gave me the incentive to sit down for several hours and transcribe several parts of it verbatim. The logic of these answers were so baffling to me, it gave me a headache. Within the space of a few minutes Simon Hughes suggested that “box office players” were a major reason why people would watch The Hundred, but also that county fans would be happy to watch without their team’s own best cricketers.

Try and work that one out…

What Will The Hundred Achieve?

One common thread from the ECB is that The Hundred will, defying all sense of rationality and reason, solve all of the problems in English cricket. Here is a selection of examples taken from the podcast:

Simon Hughes: “How many times have English cricketers been nominated for the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year. Very rarely. And it’s because cricket just doesn’t have the profile. So, for me, it’s getting cricket’s profile much better, getting column inches in the papers, getting cricketers on The One Show, getting them on the various peripheral programmes which taps into the general public, and the general public are more aware of the high level of skill of these players.”

To begin with, there’s nothing currently stopping the ECB from encouraging (or forcing) England players to go on The One Show, panel shows, chat shows, or any other popular TV shows. I would love it if English cricket went on a media offensive and plastered themselves across daytime and evening TV, and they can do it with or without The Hundred.

Andrew Flintoff was the last cricketer to win the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Award in 2005. It’s not like it was particularly common before though, and the last one to win before that was Ian Botham in 1981. As for nominations, Jimmy Anderson was on the shortlist in last year’s show. The year before that, Anya Shrubsole was nominated for the Sports Personality award whilst the England Women’s Cricket Team won Team Of The Year. I’d agree with Simon that cricket isn’t in the public eye as much as I’d like, but the BBC awards show seems like a very bad way of proving it. Two nominations in two years is not what I would call “very rarely”.

Dean Wilson: “We touched on participation as well, and they’ve got various plans and projects in place to try and encourage the number of people playing the game to increase. Even more formats of the game, Last Man Stands, tape-ball cricket, things like that as well.”

“If you look at the Big Bash where cricket is the national sport of Australia, it is the one sport that has been played consistently in all territories as opposed to AFL or soccer or anything like that. But these other games have grown, AFL in particular, and have encroached on cricket’s area and what Big Bash has done for Cricket Australia, perhaps more successfully than any other tournament, is increase the participation numbers of young kids signing up to join clubs. It’s almost like a steroid boost to all the clubs, local clubs, the grass roots of Australian cricket. They’ve been overwhelmed by the number of kids inspired by and encouraged by the Big Bash to go and take up cricket on a more regular and formal basis. And actually, to my mind, if that is the kind of success, if that is the kind of impact that The Hundred could have and does have, then it will all be worth it.”

This might surprise you to read, but I absolutely believe that The Hundred will significantly improve junior participation in cricket. Any English cricket on a major Freeview channel would have that effect, regardless of the format. What I have my doubts about is the ECB’s ability and basic competence in maximising the positive effect of this exposure.

The example Dean Wilson cites here is apt, because Cricket Australia’s approach in getting Aussie kids to their local clubs seems light years ahead of their English counterparts. A well-designed, well-run system of many parts which all work together in unison. The ECB were so impressed they hired CA’s ‘manager of market development’ to implement a similar system here, but unfortunately either the budget or the ECB’s patience ran out and All Stars Cricket was all they had to show for it.

The ECB’s strategy document for the next five years, Inspiring Generations, does mention that they will be creating new participation programmes to tie in with The Hundred, but I see no reason to think they will be any better managed. Instead, as has been the case for decades, it will be up to the clubs to take care of the kids without significant help from their governing body.

Simon Hughes: “I know that the overall plan, if it’s a success, is to get some private investment involved. So people might buy teams, big financial companies or individuals, as we’ve seen in football, as of course we’ve seen in the IPL. And those investors can create their own noise and marketing and general promotion around their team. That just brings in more revenue, it gradually grows the game as we’ve seen has happened in the IPL.”

This seems incredibly optimistic to me. There are, as far as I can determine, two main reasons why someone buys a sports team. The first is for profit. Many rich people will invest in anything which will make them money, whether it’s works or art, bottles of wine or a cricket franchise. The issue I have with this scenario is that I can’t see the value for it from the ECB’s perspective. An investor will only purchase a franchise if they are likely to benefit financially, in which case they take that money out of the game to use elsewhere. Surely it would be better for the ECB to keep control of the teams and keep any profits the teams generate?

The second group  are those who are happy to lose vast amounts of money simply in order to own a team. These are usually mega-rich individuals who are happy to invest large sums in purchasing players in exchange for the adoration of fans or simply their own enjoyment. For this second group, I can’t see why they’d be interested in purchasing a The Hundred franchise. It will be a team that has existed for only a few years, so it’s not like they’d have been fans from childhood, and quite frankly the low public awareness of English cricketers (outside of assorted court cases) makes it unlikely that there are 8 super-wealthy individuals willing to pay millions of pounds to rub shoulders with them.

The podcast panelists also list the following things to expect after the first five years of The Hundred:

  • The Hundred is still being played in 2025
  • Other broadcasters will try to get the rights, including the BBC attempting to buy the rights for every game
  • Increasing attendances
  • The English public placing importance on The Hundred
  • More companies will be interested in sponsorship, including several “cool” brands
  • Increased youth participation
  • More families watching The Hundred
  • The Hundred becoming the key property in English sport
  • Other countries copying the format (which the ECB will license)
  • The Hundred becoming an Olympic Sport

Call me cynical, but I have some difficulty believing any of these will happen.

So there it is. A 5000-word post about an abysmal 48-minute podcast. If there’s one thing I’m almost certain of, it’s that I’m not listening to ‘The Analyst Inside Cricket Podcast’ ever again…

As always, I look forward to your comments below.

 

A Hundred Reasons Why (The Hundred Won’t Work)

  1. The Hundred is more complicated than T20 cricket. The ECB claimed when it was first publicly launched that the format would be easier to understand for “mums and kids“. As more details have come out, it’s become abundantly clear that not a single part of the rules (at least the ones publicly released) make the game simpler than the 20-over competition.
  2. Even if The Hundred did attract an audience of mothers and children, I genuinely doubt that any cricket ground has sufficient women’s toilet or baby-changing facilities to accommodate them comprising a majority of the crowd. This would make the game day experience one to forget for many of them, and not encourage them to come back.
  3. Speaking of The Hundred’s target audience, there was a strong implication by the ECB that “mums and kids” aren’t cricket fans because they weren’t smart enough to understand cricket. Therefore, they argued, T20 cricket needed dumbing down to their level. To quote the former Director Of England Cricket, “We want to make the game as simple as possible for them to understand.” It is a bold marketing strategy to launch a product by insulting the people you intend to sell it to. And by “bold”, I obviously mean moronic.
  4. Even the concept of ‘The Hundred’ is somewhat shaky. No balls and wides, both of which are pretty common in white ball cricket, mean that most innings will have more than a hundred deliveries.
  5. 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 late-July and August timeframe for The Hundred is therefore arguably the worst time of year for kids to be able to watch sport live on TV.
  6. It also seems likely that the majority of men’s games will be in the primetime TV slot. Given that coverage of the game will last roughly two and a half hours (assuming no rain delays), that means either 6.30-9pm or 7.30-10pm. Neither of these are great for children watching at home and, if you include time taken to get out of the ground and travel home, may preclude many families from attending the games. Again, it seems like the ECB may not have had children in mind when designing this competition.
  7. The BBC doesn’t have the rights to show highlights of the games which will be shown live on Sky, only short online clips. This means that most of the competition will not be seen by people who aren’t Sky subscribers.
  8. I can’t say that I’m aware of any franchise-style cricket competition around the world which has the majority of its games exclusively on a pay TV platform. In fact, I believe the Big Bash League started on pay TV but switched to freely accessible channels because it was failing to gain traction. It would therefore be untested as a business model, and might hamper The Hundred’s popularity as a result.
  9. As if the new competition wasn’t divisive enough, the head of Sky Cricket has said in an interview that he hopes to get Michael McIntyre as a commentator for Sky’s coverage of The Hundred. McIntyre is like Marmite, in that most people hate him and the rest of the population is wrong.
  10. There is also every chance that The Hundred will have the same matey, bantz-filled commentary that has infected almost every other T20 franchise league. On the BBC that would probably mean Vaughan, Swann and Tufnell, amongst others. It’s almost as bad as Michael McIntyre. Almost.
  11. The BBC will hate to adjust their schedules when a game overruns due to injuries, bad weather or slow over rates. Primetime dramas or the 10 O’Clock News are significantly more important to the BBC than cricket. That leaves the ECB with the choice of either having coverage finish on the BBC’s red button channel or using DLS to determine the winner at the game’s scheduled finish time. Neither of which is a particularly satisfying option for viewers, and using DLS so often could be open to abuse by the players.
  12. The Hundred will be played in the 8 grounds with the largest capacities in England and Wales. There has to be a fairly good chance that all of the games won’t be sellouts, particularly when you consider how hard the ECB has been working to alienate people who already attend county cricket. Consider Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. They had the 3rd and 4th highest total attendances in the 2017 T20 Blast, but both sold less than half of their available tickets. This will not look good on TV, if it happens.
  13. Where Surrey have had success filling their ground for T20 Blast games, it’s been by targeting people who want to drink and socialize after work. This would seem the antithesis of the ECB’s proclaimed ‘mums and kids’ target demographic, and so they would have to essentially discard a highly effective marketing strategy and instead find a wholly new audience for one of the largest grounds in England.
  14. The Rose Bowl on the outskirts of Southampton really struggles attracting people to evening games. Despite their success on the pitch, they are consistently one of the least-attended teams in the T20 Blast. Glamorgan have had problems attracting fans to their ground too, and have a terrible team. It seems a genuinely bizarre choice to place teams here.
  15. Conversely, teams like Somerset, Worcestershire, Essex and Gloucestershire have a strong track record for drawing local fans to their grounds but have been excluded. In Somerset’s case, it’s been reported that they were given (clearly non-binding) assurances by the ECB that they would be strong contenders to be a host county before the counties voted. Smaller grounds with local audiences happy to watch domestic cricket seem ideal for the new competition, from a TV production perspective.
  16. One obvious effect of excluding ten county grounds from the competition will be to also practically exclude many cricket fans from attending. Someone in Taunton for example (where Somerset typically sell all 8,500 seats at their ground for T20 Blast games) would face a 98-minute drive (each way) to Cardiff to see The Hundred live, instead of having top flight cricket practically on their doorstep.
  17. England’s Test players will be unavailable for The Hundred. The men’s Test team contains by far the highest profile English cricketers, and an increasingly large number of players who are strongest in limited overs cricket. Even if they play a few games either side of a Test series, it’s a huge blow to the competition’s claim of having the best cricketers playing in it.
  18. If England’s Test players were to play a few games in The Hundred before a Test, that would be truly terrible preparation for the Test series. I mean, there’s a reason teams don’t use T20s as warmups for Tests. Two-day games against local clubs are often bad enough. Likewise, going straight from a Test match to the knockout stages of The Hundred would be an equally bizarre way to go.
  19. Despite England’s Test players being unavailable, they will still apparently be drafted and used for ‘marketing purposes’. So they’ll be in the promotional pictures, maybe do a few interviews. This is an absolute nonsense. It’s also largely pointless, because even England Test cricketers are almost entirely unrecognisable in the UK. The Hundred teams would be smarter to sign some actual celebrities for ‘marketing purposes’, like someone from TOWIE or a Sugababe. Not only are they more famous than (for example) Joe Root, but they’d be available for more games as well.
  20. It appears to be the case that the vast majority of the period from May to August will be devoted to white ball cricket with English men’s cricketers playing in the T20 Blast, The Hundred or the One Day Cup. This is also the time of year when England play their home Test matches, so any players brought into the Test squad later in the summer might not have played the longer form of cricket in months. Test players might be selected based on their T20/The Hundred form, which hardly seems like a recipe for long-term success.
  21. The Hundred will clash with the Caribbean Premier League, as things stand. This leaves the world’s T20 mercenaries with a stark choice between playing in a Caribbean island paradise or Wales. I know which I would pick…
  22. Many cricketers will also have played in the CPL before, and so choose that over a new competition because of familiarity and the relationships they might have with the coaches, players and fans.
  23. Brexit might have a major impact on this too. If the UK economy declines, that probably means that the exchange rate will become less favourable for overseas players. The top-tier players of the CPL last year received $160,000 (US Dollars). Three years ago, that would equate to roughly £110,000. Now, with the UK pound worth around $1.33 (US), it’s up to £120,000. Not only does this affect overseas players considering The Hundred, it will also work the other way with a league like the CPL becoming more lucrative for English players.
  24. On top of the obvious benefits of choosing the CPL over The Hundred, some T20 mercenaries might also factor in that playing in a new format won’t advance their career T20 statistics. For example, a player like AB de Villiers might have a target of reaching 10,000 career T20 runs before he retired.
  25. The Hundred is also in a particularly busy part of the international cricketing calendar. Looking at the ICC’s Future Tour Programme, Australia are the only team without a series scheduled in August 2020. In 2021, all 12 Test-playing nations have series during The Hundred. Put simply, most current internationals won’t be available to play.
  26. One reason that the BBL gained traction in Australia was the number of ex-internationals who played in it. Although they weren’t at their peak, old pros like Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, David Hussey and Shane Warne added a star quality to the competition. Virtually all Australians knew who they were. Thanks to 14 years of Sky’s exclusive broadcast deals, there are no active equivalents in English cricket. Almost all of the players who were household names, back when cricket was on free-to-air television, have long since retired. The notable exceptions are Trescothick, Bell and Anderson, none of whom excel in the shorter formats.
  27. Likewise, foreign stars are typically unknown in the UK. Even if the ECB did manage to attract AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, even Virat Kohli (and for any number of reasons that last one won’t happen), virtually no one would know who they were. Actors on Hollyoaks are more famous in the UK than the best cricketers in the world.
  28. With the cream of T20 talent around the world unlikely to be attracted to England for The Hundred, a large portion of what’s left are has-beens. Players who made a big impact years ago but now get employed on reputation alone, if they’re even drafted by teams at all. On the other hand, the ECB might think that such ‘big names’ would draw cricket fans into watching it. I would be genuinely unsurprised if the teams for The Hundred were the 2020 equivalents to Shane Warne’s All Stars team which toured America or the ill-fated Masters Champions League.
  29. In 2014, the ECB 40 was replaced by the 50-over One Day Cup because it was felt that playing slightly different formats than those played at international level might disadvantage England players. Whilst the two formats are very similar, the ECB thought that the tactics and pacing of the games were slightly different and that might cause problems. Flash forwards five years and the ECB are making the same mistake yet again.
  30. The Hundred will be run concurrently with England’s 50-over competition. This means that England’s best white ball cricketers will likely not play any of the 50-over format, which you would expect would weaken the England ODI team in the long run.
  31. The reduction in status of the One Day Cup might also cause some counties to lose some money when it comes to memberships and attendances. Playing games in grounds with smaller capacities, lower ticket prices and in smaller towns, it’s likely the attendances and revenues for the competition will plummet.
  32. It also removes some county cricket from the TV schedules, as it is highly unlikely that Sky will broadcast any games from the diminished One Day Cup. Last season, Sky showed at least 12 One Day Cup games, in 2020 that will drop to 0.
  33. County cricket’s main money spinner, the T20 Blast, might also take a hit. The tournament will be played much earlier in the season, in May and June. The cooler weather at this time of year might adversely affect attendances, as might the perception that it is a lesser standard of competition to The Hundred.
  34. The whole process of creating the format has seemed oddly backwards. The ECB has begun with announcing a fully formed proposal, which was kept secret from virtually everyone in English cricket, and then ‘consulted’ the ‘stakeholders’. I put ‘consulted’ in quotes because there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of the ECB actually listening to anyone. And I put ‘stakeholders’ in quotes because I really hate the word, and wanted to make clear that it was used by someone else.
  35. Without consulting anyone prior to the official announcement last year, the ECB based this new format almost solely on research they funded to discover the best way to attract new cricket fans. The results of this research were so clear and compelling in their support for the changes the ECB made that the ECB have refused to release it, for fear that it would make The Hundred too popular. Or, perhaps more likely, that the ECB’s justifications would collapse like a house of cards under even the vaguest scrutiny. It’s one or the other…
  36. Michael Vaughan supports it. Whilst perhaps not 100% accurate (since he often takes both sides of an argument), taking the opposite view to Vaughan is usually the wise choice.
  37. See also: Matthew Syed.
  38. See also: Shane Warne.
  39. See also: Simon Hughes. ‘The Analyst’ also initially claimed credit for inventing the format, before becoming a lot quieter once the backlash started.
  40. Another group of people who openly support The Hundred are players who expect to benefit financially from the new competition. Whilst I don’t blame them at all for looking out for their own interest, you might look at (for example) Eoin Morgan’s statements over the years declaring every competition and format he’s ever played in to be the best in the world or something similar and consider his credibility.
  41. The ECB has been particularly ruthless dealing with dissent in recent years, and so people who work for them or for counties which rely on handouts and hosting rights will probably publicly support The Hundred despite any private reservations they have. The ECB’s chairman has already apparently threatened Surrey with losing hosting rights to The Hundred and Test matches if they don’t fall into line. To quote an (anonymous) county chief executive, Colin Graves is “exactly that petty, and he’s exactly that nuts.”
  42. Sport in the UK has a history of taking a long time to accept new teams. Welsh rugby has taken years to recover supporters lost when nine clubs merged into five regional teams.
  43. The Hundred also has the problem of teams essentially only existing for five weeks, only guaranteed to play seven games each. That’s barely any time for people to form a connection with the teams, particularly since only two or three of those games will be on Freeview.
  44. Even if people do miraculously latch on to a team in the new competition, they’d still have to wait 11 months from the final to the start of next year’s The Hundred.That’s a long time for people to keep their excitement or even their memories of the competition alive.
  45. If a fan of The Hundred keeps their love for their team for the requisite 11 months, there’s then little guarantee there will be an even vaguely similar squad. Whilst obviously personnel changes are part of virtually any team sport, wholesale changes seem to happen fairly often in franchise-style T20 leagues. That means that a fan’s three favourite players on a team might be playing for three separate teams a year later, and their love for the team will be diminished as a result.
  46. The ECB are running it. Let’s be honest, they couldn’t organise a beer-based party in a brewery. A new competition in a new format? There’s no chance this ends well.
  47. The people in charge of The Hundred teams are, more or less, the people who have run English cricket into the ground in the first place. The same county chief executives that devastated their club’s finances so comprehensively that they had no choice but to accept the ECB’s offer of cash are now running their local The Hundred teams. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. It seems pretty insane to believe that the people currently in charge could manage any project competently.
  48. Even the name has issues. The Hundred. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s very similar to the name of an American sci-fi TV show called “The 100” on E4. They have the Twitter handle ‘@The100‘, the hashtag #The100 is used almost exclusively by fans of the show. Likewise, TheHundred.co.uk is the website for a gastropub in Ashendon. Surely one of the most basic rules of launching a new product nowadays is to choose a name where you can pick up all of the social media accounts?
  49. Even when I search on Google for ‘The Hundred’, it isn’t in the top 5 or 6 results. To put that in context, I’m a cricket fan, I live in England, and I’ve been searching for articles about The Hundred almost constantly over the last few weeks. Despite all of that, Google’s personalised algorithms still think that I must be looking for the American sci-fi TV show. That’s how poorly chosen the name is.
  50. It also misses the clear marketing open goal of launching a Twenty-Twenty competition in the year 2020. I mean, it’s right there…
  51. There’s also the irony that it will be incredibly rare for batsmen to score a hundred runs in a The Hundred game, even more so than in T20s.
  52. Neil Snowball (that’s his actual name), the Warwickshire CEO, said that the “The Hundred [competition board] did a dummy draft in December where they played out how it might work. When you looked at the eight teams I challenge anyone in cricket not to get excited about the teams playing each other.” If true, you would think the first thing the ECB would do is release that draft to excite English cricket fans. Unless, of course, English cricket fans would know enough to realise that many of the players named would be unavailable or that the teams weren’t noticeably stronger than the better county T20 sides.
  53. One apparent motive for the creation of The Hundred was to differentiate the new competition from the T20 Blast. Whilst it is undoubtedly different in several small (and mostly annoying) ways, it mostly appears to just be a slightly worse version of T20. Not different enough to attract people who don’t like T20s, not similar enough to keep all T20 fans on board.
  54. The names (or “identities”, which is the term the ECB is using) for the 8 teams are almost certainly going to be cringe-inducing crap. Quite frankly, the current ones the counties use are already bad enough: Vikings, Bears, Lions, Falcons, Eagles, etc. The whole thing reminds me of when I played computer games which didn’t have the licenses for real team names and used bland and generic alternatives. It’s funny in a game, but kind of pathetic in a sport. Given the ECB’s inherent conservatism I also expect them to be extraordinarily bland, which means we’ll be deprived of awesome team names like Multan Sultans or Rising Pune Supergiants.
  55. Bowlers only get a maximum of 20 deliveries. What annoys me most about T20 is that great bowlers are so restricted in the impact they can make in a game, and The Hundred just makes it worse.
  56. Teams, commentators, and fans will have difficulty gauging the performances in the new competition because there won’t be any precedent from past games. Is 160 a good team score? Is a 40 in The Hundred equivalent to a 50 in T20? What’s a good economy rate over 20 deliveries? It might take years to find out…
  57. It will have a ‘strategic time out’, or an extra ad break in other words. Good for Sky, annoying for anyone watching. Particularly on the advert-less BBC.
  58. The ECB’s new strategy document, “Inspiring Generations”, says they will offer a new junior participation programme linked to The Hundred. It’s only been three years since the last one was launched, All Stars Cricket, and it probably means more work for hard-pressed club administrators and coaches.
  59. Speaking of clubs, the ECB will also probably try to get senior club teams to switch from T20 to The Hundred. More work for administrators, more fights, etc…
  60. The Hundred is costing the ECB (and therefore English cricket in general) a colossal sum of money. Two years ago, it was projected to cost £13m per year to run. Right now, the ECB has already assigned £180m over the next five years to run the new competition. At that rate of increase, by 2021 the costs will rise to roughly £100m per year.
  61. At some point, the amount spent on The Hundred will be so vast that it would have been cheaper to simply have some more England internationals on Freeview with Sky paying less for the TV rights. Quite frankly, we may already be past that point.
  62. The increasing costs of The Hundred have already had an effect on England developing young players, with their pace programme and overseas placement programme both being cut to make room in the budget. The pace programme is no great loss, it seemed mostly to injure promising English fast bowlers, but overseas placements could be more important. An issue England have had in recent years is an inability to deal with conditions abroad, and giving young potential Test players experience of different environments could be a useful way of combatting this.
  63. The ECB have promised that 10% of The Hundred’s ‘net revenue’ (ie profits) will go towards grassroots cricket. Given the huge loss they project over the first five years of the competition, it seems massively unlikely that the grassroots will every receive this much-needed money.
  64. The ECB is spending £6m per year solely on “event production”, which means gimmicks like cheerleaders and fireworks. To be honest, I always see these things as an admission that the game itself isn’t enough to excite the fans in the crowd or on TV. They also look bad if they’re in front of mostly empty stands.
  65. The fireworks and cheerleaders also show that the ECB is basically copying the basic T20 competition template, despite their protestations of innovation. The Hundred will be visually indistinguishable from the 20 or so other competitions around the world.
  66. Some teams are saying that they will favour players on their county squads in The Hundred draft. This means that players would be incentivized to play for the 8 host counties to increase their chances of getting a big payday in the new competition
  67. If The Hundred teams share staff and administration with the county teams, this will probably mean that the better-run counties will host the better-run The Hundred teams. Or, to put it another way, the Cardiff-based team will suck because Glamorgan suck. This does not bode well for the success of many teams in The Hundred, to be honest.
  68. It appears that the host counties will gain make more money from The Hundred than was first expected. This is a crucial point because the ECB’s stated plans before the counties voted to approve the new competition appeared to minimise any chances for the 8 larger counties to profit. This would appear, at least from an outside perspective, to have been a purposeful deceit in order to get the 10 smaller counties to support the new competition. A project which is built on lies is unlikely to be sound.
  69. This financial imbalance could lead to a two-tier county system. Apart from anything else, this could harm the England team in the long-term. ‘Smaller’ counties like Somerset, Durham and Worcestershire have been developing their own quality young cricketers in recent years, whilst The Hundred hosts Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and particularly Glamorgan have contributed virtually none. If poorer teams will inevitably lose their best players to richer counties, they lose any incentive to continue pouring resources into youth coaching and scouting.
  70. The men’s player draft will be this October. At least nine months before the first game of The Hundred and at least six months before the 2020 T20 Blast begins. Imagine that a player has a breakthrough performance in the 2020 T20 Blast. If they weren’t already picked in the draft nine months before, their chances of being involved are very limited. Conversely, a player who is in terrible form throughout 2020 might already have secured their lucrative spot in the squad.
  71. Nine months also seems an incredibly long wait in terms of building hype for the new competition. The draft will in essence be the launch event for The Hundred, but by the time of the first game most people will have forgotten about it. As a publicity event, that makes the whole thing seem kind of pointless.
  72. When the format was first announced, the women’s competition was given equal billing with the men’s. This was seen as a step towards the ECB treating women’s cricket as of equal importance to men’s cricket. Since then, the fact that women will also be playing The Hundred has barely been mentioned, confirming the ECB’s priorities and biases.
  73. Even the name is problematic in this regard. The ICC have recently changed their naming conventions to their competitions, properly recognising the women’s game. So this year, for the first time, England will be hosting the ICC Men’s World Cup rather than the ICC World Cup. Following the same logic, the ECB’s new competitions should be called The Men’s Hundred and The Women’s Hundred.
  74. Something which might worry women’s cricket fans is the fact that the latest BBC article on The Hundred fails to mention the women’s competition. The BBC has the rights to broadcast eight of the games from The Women’s Hundred, but I am not certain that they have to schedule them on BBC 1 or 2. They could quite easily put them on the Red Button channel or even have them as streaming-only on their website, neither of which would give women’s cricket much publicity.
  75. The timing of The Women’s Hundred has yet to be confirmed, but it seems likely that it will take place over the same period as the men’s competition. This is probably bad for the women’s competition, since it is likely that the ECB will schedule the games in less advantageous time slots such as weekday afternoons rather than allowing the men’s and women’s tournaments to compete for ratings. It’s worth noting that the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia, probably the most successful women’s domestic cricket competition, starts and finishes well before the men’s competition (with just a bit of overlap).
  76. If the women’s teams will be hosted by the same grounds as the men’s, the problem of low attendance and the image problems that brings will be even more acute. There’s currently a relatively small audience for women’s domestic cricket compared to the men, and the women’s international team has been poorly marketed even though they won the World Cup recently. Put simply, there’s no way that a women’s team consisting of 2-3 England internationals and several other more obscure players could hope to fill a 25,000 cricket ground like The Oval or Edgbaston at this moment in time. The Kia Super League didn’t even have 25,000 attendees in the whole of the 2017 competition. And if they can’t, it makes women’s cricket look bad on live TV.
  77. Alternatively, it appears that at least some women’s The Hundred games will be hosted by county outgrounds, such as Beckenham. That might present a problem for Sky and the BBC because smaller grounds like this might not be suitable for broadcasting live from. Loughborough (which hosts one of the Kia Super League teams) had this problem, for example.
  78. If The Women’s Hundred games are televised from smaller, less developed grounds that would make the women’s competition appear to be distinctly second-rate when compared to the men’s. Smaller stands, no floodlights, and no media centre for the journalists and commentators. Playing at amateur cricket grounds makes professional women’s cricket appear amateurish.
  79. If games (perhaps even a majority of games) in The Women’s Hundred aren’t televised, it would make the typical franchise-style scheduling certifiably insane. Literally the only reason for playing one game at a time is to allow every single one to be shown on television without overlap. Without needing to accomodate a broadcaster, you’d play all of your games on the weekends or after work on weekdays in order to maximise attendance like every other professional sport (and of course the T20 Blast) already does. If three or four of them are on at the same time, who cares?
  80. I fear that the tone-deaf ECB will give The Women’s Hundred teams gendered identities. Which is to say, I think they will make the teams ‘girly’. If you look at the T20 Blast for example, none of the team names would be out-of-place for a women’s team. Falcons, Lions, Lightning, Foxes, Steelbacks, Outlaws, Bears, Rapids, Vikings, Eagles, Spitfires or Sharks, none of them imply gender. Also, all of the animals used are all predators. I suspect that would not be the case for women’s teams, with the ECB’s marketing ‘geniuses’ probably suggesting that naming the teams the Unicorns or Roses will attract more girls to the games.
  81. The ECB are currently considering a groundbreaking proposal which will, for the first time, fund professional domestic cricket for women in England. The main stumbling block will be the cost, probably around £3m per year in the beginning. Whilst a small portion of the ECB’s budget, I fear that it would be one of the first things sacrificed by the ECB if the costs of The Hundred continued to grow at their current exponential rate.
  82. Whilst we know the draft for The Men’s Hundred is expected to be in October, no one seems to have mentioned the draft for the women’s competition. In fact, barely anyone seems to have any clue about any details regarding The Women’s Hundred. This could well mean that it ends up being rushed, poorly marketed, and a disaster from beginning to end. If it fails to garner a large enough audience, that will be seen as further proof that women’s cricket is not economically viable and not worth investing in, despite the success Cricket Australia has had recently.
  83. For all that the ECB might claim The Hundred will be a shorter and more exciting format than T20, it will also be slower. The Hundred will have 20 overs of 5 balls, so there will be 19 breaks between the overs plus the ‘strategic time out’. A hundred balls in a T20 is 16.4 overs, so that would be 16 breaks between overs and no time out. I would wager that the T20 takes less time to bowl a hundred balls.
  84. One major premise for The Hundred seems to be that it is a format which will appear to casual, generic sports fans. People who watch almost any sport when it’s on. Most of the sports that these people watch last 90 minutes to 2 hours: Football, rugby and Formula 1, to name three. Therefore, it seems odd to me that the ECB have chosen a format which will still take about 2 and a half hours to play. You can fit cricket into a football-sized timeframe, it’s called T10. Eoin Morgan has said that T10 is “brilliant”. As cricket formats go it is, at the very least, not any more complicated than T20 cricket (which is more than could be said for The Hundred).
  85. Even before its launched, The Hundred has made English cricket an international laughing-stock. See, for example, this video on the new format’s rules by ‘The Exploding Heads’.
  86. No current scoring software can handle The Hundred, including (I believe) the ECB’s own PlayCricket. At best, this means lots of programmers have a lot of work to do in the next year. At worst, this could cause technical problems for a lot of organisations which might be covering the competition.
  87. We’re only seven months away from draft for The Hundred and there hasn’t been a whisper about sponsors yet. Who the ECB choose, and why, is a big concern of mine. The right commercial sponsor could do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to marketing the competition and promoting junior cricket. A company like McDonald’s, for example, would be able to give out The Hundred-branded cricket sets with their Happy Meals, along with prize draws to attend the games. The ECB have tended to simply take the highest financial offer, which has resulted in most things in English cricket being sponsored by banks and insurance companies who do nothing to promote the game.
  88. This assumes the ECB can even find a sponsor. Cricket is not a particularly popular game in England right now, and there is the risk that The Hundred will turn out to be an embarrassing mess. If I worked at a big business, I wouldn’t want to invest in the ECB right now…
  89. If Birmingham, for example, won the inaugural The Men’s Hundred, where would the trophy go? Would it sit in the Warwickshire trophy cabinet, even though most of the players came from other counties? Would there be banners outside the ground proclaiming it to be the “Home Of The Men’s Hundred Champions”? One issue with distancing The Hundred from the counties is that there’s no clear association between the teams and their homes.
  90. The first ever professional game of The Hundred will be televised, and there’s every chance that there will be on-field confusion, miscommunication and mistakes from players, umpires and the TV crew as they adjust to the new format’s rules. That’s the kind of thing most organisations want to happen behind closed doors. There’s a reason why theatres have rehearsals before allowing the public to see it.
  91. One thing which might help that problem would be for the counties to play practice The Hundred games in preseason, but they currently have no reason to do that. It would cost them money, take away time from practicing formats they actually compete in, and the majority of their players wouldn’t be involved in the new competition anyway. The only reasonable way to solve that problem would be for the ECB to pay the expenses for the additional games, which would make The Hundred even more costly.
  92. Every franchise-style competition around the world has brought with it an increased risk of match fixing and other betting-related problems. Having every game streaming live around the world makes it a dream for bookmakers, and there’s a lot of money to be made if you have inside information or a player prepared to fail on purpose. Whilst this is obviously not specific to The Hundred, most T20 leagues around the world seem to have had issues with it, there will be a massive increase in attempts to corrupt English players. Whether the ECB and PCA are prepared for that is, to say the least, up for debate.
  93. Another problem affecting every T20 competition around the world is the threat of poor weather. With all of the games played in a condensed period, a week or two of rain might cause severe damage to The Hundred. It certainly wouldn’t seem out of character for Manchester or Cardiff to have an abundance of precipitation, for example.
  94. They’re going to play ‘Sweet Caroline’ during every game, I can feel it. God, I hate that song…
  95. You might be under the impression that people in Yorkshire have a rivalry with Lancashire. Whilst technically true, the people they tend to hate most are people from a slightly different part of Yorkshire. People in Leeds despise people in Bradford, Sheffield, Hull and York, and the feeling is mutual. Yorkshire CCC manage to keep this loathing mostly under wraps by doing two things: Not calling themselves ‘Leeds’ and playing a few games away from Headingley at Scarborough. The new The Hundred team will probably do neither of these, and so will likely alienate a large number of Yorkshire cricket fans in the process.
  96. See also: Manchester and Lancashire. Especially if they play in red.
  97. It seems likely that the creation of The Hundred will cause the ECB to add even more jobs at their headquarters. Already the number of ECB employees has increased from 222 in 2014 to 321 last year, and that’s without having two competitions running concurrently and a marketing budget with 7 zeroes like they will have in 2020.
  98. I have a massive aversion to management jargon, and consider literally every single person who uses it an idiot whose ideas I can safely ignore. If you’re unable to use plain English when presenting your thoughts, particularly to the public, then you shouldn’t have a job which requires it. For an example, see Colin Graves’ use of “engagement”, “watershed moment”, and “stakeholders” in this ECB press release regarding The Hundred.
  99. It is an important aspect of sport, at least to me, that it can both lift your spirits or ruin your day depending on the result of a game. This can be seen in the way that the economy gains a boost when the England men’s football team do well, whilst everyone seems miserable and short-tempered the day after England crash out of the World Cup. Likewise, the players seem devastated when they are knocked out, sometimes even crying. I doubt that anyone, fan or player, will invest that much emotion in The Hundred. And if they don’t, fundamentally speaking, what’s the point?
  100. The one thing which annoys me most about the ECB’s creation of The Hundred is the premise that shortening cricket will draw more people to the sport than leaving it as it is. It is almost never challenged, the idea that cricket is ‘too long’ to attract many new fans. And so the ECB designed a tournament which they think will attract people who follow football.

    But I don’t think there’s a large number of latent sports fans in England waiting for new sport which takes 2 hours to play. Football and (to a lesser extent) rugby have the thing sewn up. There are over a hundred professional football clubs, most of which have around since the 19th century. To think you could possibly compete against that level and consistency of support which has built over decades with 8 made up teams playing for 5 weeks a year is ridiculous.

    There is a market which has largely been untapped in English sports, and that would be people who enjoy taking things slower. People who binge watch on Netflix, listen to slow-paced podcast series, or read long essays. People who probably won’t have been exposed to Test cricket in the past 14 years, and possibly never exposed to ODI/50-over cricket at all. It’s a demographic which several companies have been able to exploit financially, and the best thing is that ECB wouldn’t need to do anything in order to attract them except show them some longer formats. No ‘innovative’ rule changes, no £100m marketing budgets, no re-inventing the wheel. Just show it to them, and build the audience over time.

    Such a simple solution rarely appeals to expensive consultants, nor the ineffective managers who place more weight on advice depending on how much they pay for it. People like this want to ‘make their mark’ with a bold project, and then typically leave for new pastures before the dust settles. The Hundred is already projected to cost almost a fifth of the ECB’s Sky TV revenue from 2020-24, which has to make it a huge gamble.

    But, for people like Graves and Harrison, it is the best sort of gamble. If it works, they get all of the credit and will be lauded as the saviours of English cricket. If it doesn’t, it will be the fans who will pay the price. They will be the ones asked to stump even more money to support the sport, to work harder to save their local clubs, or see the teams they support collapse financially.

    And so, despite every bone in my body telling me it’s crap, I genuinely hope The Hundred succeeds. I hope that it’s a cricket spectacle which awes us current fans. I hope it inspires a new generation to take up the game. I really hope Michael McIntyre isn’t involved at all. But I can think of a hundred reasons why it won’t work.

As always, please post your comments below. Especially if you want to add something I’ve forgotten to the list!

EDIT:

Obviously there are many more than a hundred things wrong with The Hundred. As they occur to me, or as you guys suggest them, I’ll add them to the list here.

West Indies vs. England – 3rd Test, Day 4 – England Resurgent?

England have won. Honour is restored, places in this summer’s side have been cemented, and the potential red faces from the England team being whitewashed have been avoided. So why don’t I feel happy about it?

The truth is that I look at this game and see how England could, and probably should, have performed throughout this series. The West Indies are a poor Test side. It’s not meant to sound patronising and arrogant, they just are. This is only the second series they have won in the last 4 years at home. They are one of just three Test teams with a losing record at home in the last 4 years (the other two being Ireland and Zimbabwe). Not a single player in their side had a batting average above 40 before the series started. To be frank, they are ranked 8th in the ICC Test rankings for a reason.

One reason why England have played much better in this Test might be that the batsmen have finally acclimated to the conditions and bowling. It was arrogance or incompetence that made the ECB schedule just two two-day games as a warmup for this series, or possibly both. Not only would a couple of full games have given England’s batsmen more time to hone their technique and approach in the conditions, they might also have allowed England to make their selection decisions (leaving Curran, Rashid and Jennings out) much sooner.

Another reason for the improvement in their fortunes might be their approach at the crease. England’s batsmen showed a willingness to take their time and concentrate on keeping out the onslaught of the West Indian opening bowlers. It seems self-evident to me (but not, apparently, to professionals like Trevor Bayliss or Mark Ramprakash) that the best way to blunt a bowling attack dependent on pace is you make them bowl as much as possible. I doubt there’s a bowler in the world who consistently bowls over 90 mph in his third spell of the day. Fast bowlers are also more prone to injury as they bowl more overs, as happened to Keemo Paul in this game. Finally, it forces the bowling side to go to their 4th or 5th options. In this series that means spin bowler Roston Chase who (even after having taken 8/60 in Bridgetown) has a bowling average of 44.46. That is clearly something England should be aiming for.

Today’s play was not, for me at least, particularly interesting. With a lead of over 400 runs at the start of play, England’s position in this game was already virtually unassailable. What followed was a steady progression toward the inevitable England win. Anderson made the early breakthroughs, dismissing Campbell, Brathwaite and Bravo in quick succession. Campbell’s wicket in particular deserves a watch, with Moeen Ali catching a rocket at gully.

Things settled down a bit after Wood took the wicket of Shai Hope from a bouncer, and the game became essentially a contest between Moeen Ali and the West Indian batsmen. A contest which Ali won, thanks to the massive lead which the batsmen had accrued, and the spinner took another 3 wickets.

This secured Moeen’s place as England’s top wicket-taker in this series, as he was in Sri Lanka, which finishes what must be considered an exceptional winter with the ball for the allrounder. His bowling average was 24.18 in the last two series, which is a massive improvement on his next-best winter in 2016/17 when could only manage 42.90. Whilst his bowling has seemingly improved, his batting hasn’t been particularly strong. Since his recall last summer , Ali only averages 18.26 with the bat. It seems somewhat ironic, since I’d suspect he might not have been given that chance at all if it wasn’t for his batting prowess.

Stokes took the last two wickets to finish the game, and the series. Shannon Gabriel edged outside off (having been treated to a medley of gay anthems by the Barmy Army during his brief stay on the pitch), and then the injured Keemo Paul offered a caught-and-bowled chance which Stokes gratefully took after the West Indian hit three fours in the over.

Speaking of Shannon Gabriel, it was announced this evening that he was being charged by the ICC for ‘Personal abuse of a player’ for his apparent homophobic comment to Joe Root. Because of the fact that Gabriel has already accumulated 3 demerit points in 2017 when he barged into Sarfraz, it would be impossible for the West Indian to avoid at least a one game ban if he was found guilty. Given the ICC’s decision to ban Pakistan captain for 4 games after he used racist language during a game, it would be unsurprising if the fast bowler was banned for at least 2 games as a result of his attempted insult.

It’s over five months until the next England Test match, a four-day game against Ireland in late July. Until then it’s all ODIs and T20Is, including a home World Cup in which England are the presumptive favourites. It will be interesting to watch England’s ODI team in the West Indies, at the very least to see if they have as much difficulty batting as the Test team had. The two squads share so many personnel, and yet can seem so different in ability and confidence at times.

That said, I very much prefer Test matches, so this is going to be a long five months for me…

Thanks for being with us this winter. As always, please comment below.

West Indies vs. England, 1st Test, Day 3 – Wicketless

Cricket is a funny game sometimes. Yesterday, Sean had to write a report on a day where 18 wickets fell. Today, literally no wickets whatsoever. I’m not sure which I’d prefer, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to write about when play started…

The day started with the West Indies enjoying a lead of 339 runs with 4 wickets remaining in their second innings, and England’s bowlers already fatigued after spending almost two full days in the field with no prospect of saving the game. Jason Holder and Shane Dowrich were the last decent batsmen left for the West Indies before their tail. This, together with their team’s commanding position in the game, gave them a license to attack England’s bowlers at will. They took advantage of this license, smashing Moeen, Rashid and Curran around the ground.

Holder and Dowrich coasted through the morning session without any alarms, adding another 110 to their team’s total in the process. Holder survived an LBW appeal soon after lunch from a Joe Root legspinner which, if England had any reviews left, would have been out. There were signs that the fielders were feeling the heat too, as Burns, Foakes and Buttler all missed chances to break the partnership. Eventually it was a personal milestone which ended the West Indies innings, with captain Jason Holder declaring after reaching his double century. The partnership totalled 295 runs in 411 balls and will have immensely pleased the West Indies fans, not to mention the WICB as they sell tickets for Day 4.

In an even more unlikely turn of events, the wicketless streak continued in England’s innings. Rory Burns scored freely whilst Jennings played defensively through to the close of play. They finished on 56-0, a mere 571 runs behind.

Today’s play will be used as ammunition to attack England’s bowlers, whilst completely ignoring the game situation. England’s bowlers were knackered after spending almost two full days in the field and in a position where they would certainly lose, whilst the West Indian batsmen had nothing to lose and played like it.

Adil Rashid will perhaps be the most vulnerable, having failed to take a wicket in this game and being by far the least economical English bowler (Not counting Jennings, who isn’t really a bowler). It was telling that Root bowled himself more than Rashid in the second inning, suggesting that the captain has lost faith in the leg spinner (if he had any to begin with). Rashid’s selection was presumably a reaction to the pitch, which appeared dry and mostly bare and many people expected to break up and spin sharply. Either England’s brains trust misread the pitch or failed to consider that their team might allow the West Indies to bat twice before Day 4, but there wasn’t much in the pitch for Rashid to work with. None of the three grounds England will be playing at in this series have been particularly spin-friendly in recent years, a fact which might cause some people to question Ed Smith’s wisdom since he selected three spinners in his squad. I don’t expect Rashid to play in the next two Tests, the question will be whether he will return to the Test team for the Ashes this summer. I hope he does, because Australians hate batting against spin.

The other bowler drawing a lot of fire is Sam Curran. Dropping him is more complicated, since he has been in very good form with the bat. In the 8 Tests he’s played for England, Sam Curran ranks third in terms of runs scored behind only Root and Buttler. His Test batting average is higher than Burns, Pope, Stoneman, Malan, Westley, Dawson, Jennings, Duckett, Vince, Hales and Lyth. In fact, Ben Foakes, Dom Bess and Haseeb Hameed (remember him?) are the only three English batsmen to have debuted since 2014 and have a higher batting average than Sam Curran. Even in England’s calamitous first innings, he was the second-highest runscorer with 14 runs. All that said, unless he’s batting in the top 6 it will be difficult to include him if England don’t rate him even as their fifth bowler.

Root’s tactics might also come under closer scrutiny after he chose to bowl Anderson and Stokes several times throughout the day. With no rest weeks between the three Tests, asking both bowlers to work so hard in a lost cause seems at best pointless, and at worst risks fatigue and injury later in the series.

Whilst England’s cause might seem lost, there are several players who might want to secure their place with a big score tomorrow. I wouldn’t put any money on them lasting all day though…

Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test Day 3 – Sweeps

There were three central themes to today’s batting performance by England: No one batting in the right position, sweep shots and terrible reviews.

The first of these was in large part caused by England’s 16th opener since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, Jack Leach. Selected for his lack of ability at batting, he had survived the single over he had to face the night before. Showing the kind of longevity most England openers in recent years have demonstrated, he got himself out for just one run having only faced four more deliveries. Missing a wild sweep, Leach was struck plumb in front of the stumps and was given out LBW.

This brought out England’s new number three, Keaton Jennings. Perhaps helped by the fact that Sri Lanka’s only seamer wasn’t facing him, he and Burns actually formed a useful partnership and added 73 runs before Jennings was dismissed gloving an attempted reverse sweep to slip.

At this point, most people expected Ben Stokes to bat next. He batted at three in the first innings, so it was surely his turn? As it turns out, Root is so comfortable batting at four that he still does it even if a nightwatchman messes up the order. Rory Burns continued his rapid accumulation of runs, making his maiden Test fifty at almost a-run-a-ball, before being given out LBW attempting a sweep shot. Unfortunately, Burns (with his captain’s full support) reviewed what appears to have been a contender for plumbest LBW decision in the history of Test cricket, utterly wasting a precious review.

Ben Stokes clearly didn’t take being demoted from three to five particularly well, because he was dismissed second ball in a very similar manner to Burns. Sweep shot, given out LBW, and wasting England’s second review. The tourists were in the familiar position of 109-4, although this time it did include a nightwatchman.

Root and Buttler continued playing aggressively and added another 74 runs until Jos Buttler jumped outside off stump to play a reverse sweep and the delivery from Akila Dananjaya spun behind him and he could only edge the ball onto the stumps. This brought Moeen to the crease as England’s number seven, and he hit his second ball for six. Unfortunately for him, and as heavily foreshadowed earlier in this post, he was soon given out LBW whilst sweeping despite the impact being clearly outside the line of the stumps. Unfortunately Burns and Stokes had already used up both of England’s appeals, so he had to go.

Moeen’s bad luck brought Ben Foakes to the crease, and together with Root they pushed England towards a total which might trouble Sri Lanka, particularly on this pitch. The ball had spun with variable bounce throughout the day, and it was starting to get very tricky to bat on. Root managed to get his century just after Tea, his first century away from home since the 2016 Test series in India, with a glance through the vacant third man region. Eventually, like the six players before him, Root’s innings ended with a sweep. This one was a reverse sweep which he missed, and was struck plumb in front of middle stump.

Sam Curran, England’s saviour in the first innings, came out to bat but left just as quickly as he was bowled first ball by Karunaratne. The Surrey allrounder could at least take solace in the fact that he was the first England batsman in this innings to not get out sweeping, and he played a back foot defensive shot inside the line to a ball which spun away from him and flicked his off stump.

Rashid was next in, and next out fairly quickly. He, like Moeen before him, was somewhat unlucky to be given out. Although struck in front of the wickets on the pads, he had managed to swing his bat down in time and edge it, but the umpire clearly thought otherwise and he was incorrectly given out.

Rashid was Akila Danajaya’s sixth wicket of the innings. Two of these were mistakes by the umpires, but even so it’s clear that the Sri Lankan offspinner has been a vital part of the host’s attack. It does stick in the craw somewhat that he has been cited for a ‘suspect bowling action’ but is still allowed to play in Test matches. One of the more frustrating facets of cricket for me is that punishments for offences almost always occur after the game. It is entirely possible for a player to cheat against one team, affecting the result in his team’s favour, and then be suspended against another team. In Tests it’s annoying, in competitions it’s downright unfair. I wish cricket was able to develop a quicker (or perhaps more severe) form of disciplinary action which actively prevented this delayed form of punishment.

Foakes and Anderson added another 19 runs before bad light ended play about an hour early. This gave England a lead of 278 which is, at the very least, a difficult target for a team to reach in the fourth innings on a spinning pitch. England’s tactics of batting aggressively and using the sweep very frequently seemed to have paid off, perhaps because it played to their strengths. No one thinks that England’s batsmen are capable of surviving for a day and a half on a spinning pitch, but they do have several useful limited overs players who are capable of getting quick-fire fifties on one. It’s not a perfect tactic, and can be vulnerable to collapses with low totals, but it is perhaps the best one this team has at its disposal.

So the day ends with the game yet again in the balance. If England’s bowlers play like they did in the first Test, they will almost certainly win. If they bowl like they did in the first innings, then things might be a bit closer. Either way, it should be interesting.

As always, if you have any comments about the game or anything else, please post them below.

Sri Lanka v England,2nd Test Day 1

England were on a high coming into this game, and named an unchanged side from the first Test. The only minor alteration was Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali swapping places in the batting order. In terms of helping England’s top order batting order, this move very much echoes the saying “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”, as I don’t see how it will make any difference at all. Sri Lanka were forced into changes by Herath’s retirement and their captain Chandimal’s injury in the first game. Off-spinner Malinda Pushpakumara and batsman Roshen Silva were brought into the host’s team, with bowler Suranga Lakmal.

Crucially, England won the toss. Reports from the Sri Lankan camp had suggested that the team had ordered a spin-friendly pitch from the groundsmen, and England would have been desperate not to bat fourth on it. Luckily for them, Joe Root is a fantastic tosser. He won his seventh consecutive coin toss, and obviously elected to bat first.

Whilst it didn’t seem like a minefield, the spinning conditions on day one always suggested that most English batsmen would struggle. Jennings was first to go this time, hanging his bat outside off stump to Sri Lanka’s only seam bowler (and stand-in captain), Lakmal, and edging it to the wicketkeeper in just the fifth over. Jennings’ weakness against seam bowling (at the very least at the Test level) seems totally bizarre for an English opener. If England are looking to innovate their batting lineup, perhaps they can start with moving him to the middle order?

All eyes were on Stokes, who had been promoted to number three in the batting lineup. He never looked particularly comfortable on a spinning pitch, and he was soon undone by Perera, who spun the ball away from the left-hander and into the pads plumb in front of off stump. Scoring only 19, this was hardly an unqualified success for the England’s team latest ‘innovation’.

This brought captain Joe Root to the middle, although again not for long. Just a few months ago, people were complaining that he scored too many fifties and not enough hundreds. Root has passed fifty just twice in twelve innings since the start of the India series this summer, and today’s wicket was perhaps an indication of why. England’s captain played a forward defensive to off-spinner Pushpakumara, but was bowled through a gap between bat and pad. The whole point of the forward defensive shot is to eliminate the risk on the inside edge, so something has clearly gone wrong with his technique there…

Whilst all of this was happening at the other end, Rory Burns was slowly accumulating runs. This came to an end just before Lunch when Akila Dananjaya, the Sri Lankan off-spinner who was reported for a suspect action in the previous Test match, spun one away from England’s opener who edged the ball to slip. Buttler and Moeen hung on until Lunch, but England were left in the familiar position of being four wickets down at the break.

Moeen’s form, which had already seen him drop three places in the batting lineup, showed little sign of improving as he was dismissed shortly after Lunch. He was squared up by Pushpakumara as he tried to glance the ball into the leg side and was hit right in front of his leg stump.

Foakes and Buttler were scoring quickly until both fell in quick succession. First to go was Foakes, who was dismissed caught behind despite replays showing he never touched the ball. He went for a sweep and the ball hit both of his pads before being caught by slip, but crucially never hit the bat. England had two replays available, so clearly he must have thought he had hit it. Buttler’s dismissal was equally embarrassing, with England’s number five (it’s so hard to keep track of players’ batting positions now) skewing a mis-hit reverse sweep to backward point. I’m not a traditionalist, I’m perfectly fine with Test players playing reverse sweeps, scoops, etc… but the thing I didn’t like about it was he wasn’t playing that particular shot well today. He generally seemed to get nothing or perhaps a single every time he tried a reverse sweep, so I wish he had left it in his locker to use another day.

So England were in the familiar position of having too few runs for too many wickets, 171-7 to be exact, and needing the tailenders to bail them out again. With Buttler and Foakes already gone, there wasn’t much batting talent left. There was Sam Curran though, who played an absolute blinder. His three partnerships with Rashid, Leach and Anderson added another 114 runs to England’s total, with the Surrey allrounder scoring 67 of them himself. The stand-out partnership was the last one with Anderson which added another 60 runs, with Curran facing 82% of the deliveries and clearly doing a great job of farming the strike and extending the innings. Eventually he lost his wicket with a slog to long off, but it was a job well done.

285 is not, in most environments, a particularly good first innings score in Test cricket. The adage that you should wait until both teams bat before judging a total seems particularly apt on this ground. England’s early dismissal meant that the Sri Lankans had 12 overs left to face in the day, and after the initial spell of swing from Anderson and Curran passed came the spinners. Moeen and in particular Leach caused the Sri Lankan batsmen all sorts of problems with exaggerated spin and bounce off the pitch. It was the Somerset left-handed bowler who made the only breakthrough of the session, bowling Kaushal Silva past the batsman’s outside edge with a beautiful legspinner.

England will feel fairly happy after today’s play. Their tail once again pushed the total up to a point which puts some semblance of pressure on the Sri Lankans, and their unusually competent spin attack is obviously capable of getting them a lead at the halfway point in these conditions. Having won the toss and chosen to bat first on a pitch which seems likely to deteriorate fairly rapidly, they’re probably favourites to win this game now.

As always, feel free to comment on the day, or anything else, below.

Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test Day 4 – Drops

There was another downpour overnight, to the point where many people thought that overs would be lost, and yet again play started on time and was uninterrupted throughout. It seems genuinely remarkable that we’ve had four full days of play, given the weather in the area.

The day began with Sri Lanka’s openers still at the crease from the night before. They both made it through the initial spell of seam bowling from Anderson and Curran with no incidents before Moeen and Leach began. Moeen created the first clear chance of the innings, drawing an edge from Karunaratne to first slip, which the usually safe hands of Ben Stokes spilled.

Immediately after the first drinks break, Leach pinned Kaushal Silva in front of the stumps to take the first wicket. Moeen took a wicket soon after when Karunaratne attempted to loft the ball over the mid-off but instead hit it straight back to the bowler

The two spinners challenged both Sri Lankan batsmen, but it wasn’t until Stokes was brought in to bowl just before Lunch that England finally took another wicket. De Silva prodded at a ball just outside the off stump and edged it to Joe Root at slip.

Stokes continued bowling after Lunch with a great session of short-pitch bowling considering the slow pitch. With several edges, gloves and mis-hits falling safe, the best chance from the spell came when Mathews pulled the ball straight at Jimmy Anderson who was fielding at midwicket. In the first instance of catching karma, Stokes’ earlier drop was punished by the normally safe hands of Anderson instead not hanging on to the ball.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan batsmen continued to bat in a bizarrely aggressive fashion considering the benign conditions and their position in the game. In just the next over, Kusal Mendis sliced a lofted drive from Leach’s bowling to Moeen Ali at mid-off. In the over after that, Jimmy Anderson suffered his own catching karma as the typically flawless Foakes dropped an inside edge from an inswinger which fooled Chandimal. Inside edges are often the trickiest ones to catch for wicketkeepers, but Foakes did get his hand to it so it has to be regarded as a missed chance. The Sri Lankans didn’t show any inclination to punish England for these mistakes in the field though, and Leach bowled Chandimal a few overs later with a beautiful delivery which pitched on middle and hit the right-hander’s off stump.

This left Angelo Mathews and wicketkeeper Dickwella as the two remaining batsmen for Sri Lanka before the tail, and Moeen Ali dispatched both in his first two overs after the Tea break. First to go was Dickwella, who edged one to slip  where Stokes made no mistake this time. Mathews followed soon after being surprised when the ball spun and bounced, scooping the ball gently to Jos Buttler at mid-on.

With just tailenders remaining, the rest of the Sri Lanka innings felt like a slow crawl towards an inevitable defeat. Rashid was brought on to clean up the tail, which is usually a speciality of his, but was much looser and more frequently off-target than he was in the first innings. Moeen Ali continued at the other end and eventually drew another edge to Stokes at slip, this time from Dananjaya. Rashid took almost a mirror-image wicket soon after with Perera edging a loose drive to slip. Herath’s was the last wicket to fall, with an undignified run-out for the retiring Sri Lankan hero.

Whilst it is England’s first Test win at Galle, this might not be quite the achievement it first appears. For a start, they have only played there five times and lost just twice . Second, and perhaps this indicates Sri Lanka’s recent weakness, the last eight Tests at the ground have been won by the team which also won the toss.

More importantly for English fans, it’s the Test team’s first away win since October 2016 and only their fifth since the beginning of 2013. England are a long way from being even a competent side away from home, their top order being their most obvious flaw, but the bowling unit appears strong in these conditions and the lower order batting continues to rescue the team on a semi-regular basis. With just two games left to play, there’s reason to be hopeful that the tourists can win their first away Test series since South Africa in 2015/16.

England’s biggest problem going into the next week’s Test is perhaps that too many of today’s team performed well. Bairstow should be eligible for selection again after his football injury, but it’s difficult to see Bayliss and Root dropping Foakes after the debutant wicketkeeper was named Player Of The Match. There are also suggestions that the pitch at Kandy will be more conducive to pace bowling, but should they drop one of the spinners when they did so well as a unit in this game? It’s a dilemma for the management team, with no clear answers.

If you have anything to say about the game, the squad, or anything else that comes to mind, please comment below.