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.

 

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (Sock it to me, Sock it to me)

Greetings pop pickers, and welcome to the hit parade of the best insults directed at cricket supporters by the cricket authorities and their media cheerleaders.  Call them supporters, cricketers, county members, amateurs – are they worth having a go at?  Not half!  Let’s get on with the countdown…

10) Ticket to Ride – The Beatles

Straight in to the top ten with Graeme Swann’s stirring anthem about Test match prices.  Not for him an awareness of the expense incurred by those paying his wages.  Not for him a sensible silence when not knowing how much a ticket costs.  Instead he piped up expressing surprise at the cost of attending, saying he was shocked to discover it was (then) almost £100 to go, and that he’d thought it was only “about £20”.  Derision swiftly followed.

9) Bills – Lunch Money Lewis

Hungry?  Feel like a nice meal?  Well, you’re out of luck.  You can spend an hour queueing up for soggy chips and a crappy burger and pay £15 for the privilege.  Don’t bother trying to around lunchtime though, that’ll take an hour or so.  If you want a beer as well, that’s a different queue.  Could be an hour there too, so that £100 you’ve spent on a ticket in London looks really good value when you miss the play you’ve paid for – you can even spend the time queueing working out the draining finances.  But fear not, for the Twitter account of Lords’ will be there to remind you of the fine dining options the players receive, and the equally delightful catering the press corps get.  It’s just what you want to see as you contemplate a diminishing wallet and a drooping excuse for a sandwich, comparing the image on your phone with the painful and largely inedible reality.

8) My Generation – The Who

Those who have given their lives over to cricket might feel that they deserve a bit of credit.  Those who play a game for no other reason than they love it might believe they should be left alone.  Those who give up their time to prepare pitches, decorate and maintain pavilions, organise teams, create youth sections and do all the enormous quantities of work involved in club cricket could feel there’s nothing wrong with them also picking up a bat and wandering out to the middle.  But they’d be wrong and Nasser Hussain was quick to tell them so, in the usual manner of Sky and the ECB aligning their stars perfectly.  Such “old fogeys” need to get out of the game according to him, they’re blocking the young players.  That there wouldn’t actually be any club cricket without the old fogeys doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.  Nor that people outside the professional game play because they want to.  The Scots have a phrase that answers this kind of argument, and it starts “get tae…”.

7) Stupid Girl – Garbage

If coming up with an idea that those who love the game consider pretty stupid to begin with, it helps to have the message alongside it a good one.  It probably isn’t best practice to first tell all those who buy tickets that it isn’t for them, second patronise half the population with the phrase “mums and kids” and third go for the ultimate in telling that minority majority that they’re making it vastly more complex simplifying things just for them.  Andrew Strauss’s extraordinarily clumsy justification for ripping up the game of cricket in this country and replacing it with another format went down like a cup of warm sick with those being addressed.  Mums and kids might be too dense to understand cricket as it stands, but they weren’t so dim they couldn’t spot they were being talked down to.  Women – know your place!

6) We Are Family – Sister Sledge

You can’t be US President unless you’re born in the USA.  This is a restriction that bothers most people not at all, given few have such an aspiration, but even less knew that there is also a barrier to being England captain that doesn’t involve, you know, being good at cricket.  The Odious Giles Clarke was quick to raise the bar by stating that in Alastair Cook, “he and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be.”  Horrendous plebs like the vast majority of the English population need not apply.

5) The Flood – Take That

The ECB don’t leak.  You’ve been told, time and again.  By them, admittedly, and not by anyone else.  But they don’t leak, they don’t give primers to journalists, and they keep schtum at all times.  That the outcome of Kevin Pietersen’s meeting with Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss was being broadcast by Jonathan Agnew within minutes of it taking place must have happened by osmosis.  That the “South-African-born-middle-order-batsman” (unlike Strauss himself, naturally) also had his private letter to Hugh Morris released to the press can’t possibly have happened.  That then England coach Peter Moores had to sit and watch England play Ireland while everyone knew he was being sacked definitely wasn’t an example of a leak.  Because the ECB don’t leak.  Ever.

4) Don’t You Want Me – Human League

Tom Harrison is a kind of anti-thesaurus, whereby he considers all the possible words that could be used and resolutely chooses the wrong one.  A sillynym, if you like.  Most sports revel in their most dedicated acolytes, or at the very least pretend to pay them respect while counting the money that they pump in to the game to allow the administrators a decent supply of bourbon biscuits for their Very Important Meetings.  But not for him such lip service, not for the great man a recognition of the time and effort they put in to backing a game they adore.  No, no, they’re a barrier, a problem.  And thus can be safely termed “obsessives” instead.  Cricket is entirely unique in considering the game itself to be a problem, and those who love it most to be a big part of that problem rather than an important element to build upon.  It’s just one word, but once again it’s the wrong one, and once again cricket refuses to celebrate its own adherents but instead kicks them in the balls (women don’t count as we know) and screams at them not to get up again.

3) I Only Wanna Be With You – Dusty Springfield

Most sports have suffered from the rise of Marketing Speak – the unmitigated bollocks spouting from the executives in place of anything meaningful, and the endless use of the term “stakeholders” in cricket is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of anyone getting progressively more fed up with every hopeless pronouncement.  But the ECB, as is their wont, go a bit further, by forgetting the supporters and amateur players each time they offer it up.  Ashley Giles came up with a good example with “We should show we have pride in playing cricket for England, that we respect everyone: all our stakeholders, sponsors, the media”.  Ah yes, sponsors and the media.  They’re the ones to talk about.  Especially post a shambolic World T20 where England stank the place out and supporters went nuts at the displays on offer.  As ever with ECB people, it’s not just what they say, it’s when they choose to say it, and who they are talking to.  Those awful little people can be safely ignored.

2) Don’t Blame it on the Sunshine – The Jackson Five

You can always rely on Colin Graves to put his foot in it.  Whether it be calling England’s opposition “mediocre” right before they hand out a thrashing, threatening counties for not acknowledging his greatness, or leading players up the garden path and encouraging them to give up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of contracts before delivering a slap; he manages to say the wrong thing at the wrong time without exception.  So it was that he justified the impending Hundred with the immortal phrase “The younger generation, whether you like it or not, are just not attracted to cricket”.  It’s not that he’s entirely wrong, for everyone involved in the game has the same concerns, it’s the sheer chutzpah in refusing to recognise that the organisation he heads up is largely responsible for the damn thing in the first place – making the game entirely invisible to the wider public by hiding it behind a pay wall may not have been the best method of encouraging people to get involved.  To pipe up at exactly the same time as the ECB launched their latest All Stars Cricket aimed at the young was a superb example of telling everyone working hard at the lower levels that they were wasting their time doing so.

1) Let’s Go Outside – George Michael

It’s not all bad – after all it stopped us racking our brains for a name for this place.  But the ECB/PCA joint statement in the aftermath of the Kevin Pietersen sacking remains the high point in the long list of putting down the oiks who dare to object to the way the game is run.  It was two little words that did the damage, referring in parentheses to those “outside cricket” who had dared to be critical.  The defence made following the furious reaction to the statement was that it was clearly referring to Piers Morgan in particular, which remains a perfect example of how the professional game fails to get it.  Morgan is far from being everybody’s cup of tea, but the point was that since he goes to cricket and plays cricket at club level, if he is “outside cricket” then so is everyone else.  As a case study in how the professional game sneers at all those not in it, it has never been bettered.

Baby, I Got It.

 

 

 

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.

Uncomfortable Realisations and Undeniable Truths

 

Whilst Sky are intent on portraying the English cricket team as pariahs entering a brave new era with their white ball team, they do have advertising slots to sell for the World Cup this year after all, many of us are not feeling quite the same bonhomie with this English cricket team. Chris’ review of the 2nd Test was as great as it was cuttingly brutal, quite simply this England team is the weakest team we have had in living memory and one that is arguably not fit for the Test arena. This is not a surprise to any of us as those who have followed the Test arena for a long time and we know that the spin that is trying to be spun by the powers that be are simply empty words from a clueless board and those that are in cahoots with them; words to try and dupe the public this is a but a mere blip and those in-power do know best. After all, who can forget the insightful words from our so-called Managing Director, that winning or losing doesn’t matter; it’s absolutely about attracting a new ‘audience to the game’

The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this. “Joe Root and [one-day and Twenty20 captain] Eoin Morgan understand their responsibility to be playing exciting cricket for future generations to connect with and for fans of the game to get behind us. It’s a very deliberate strategy. It doesn’t work every time you go out on the park. But we understand that it’s more likely you’re going to be forgiven for having a bad day if you’re doing everything to try to win a game, as opposed to not trying to lose it, which is a very key difference in positioning.”

So that’s that then. The whole art of playing Test Cricket, which has been successful for over 100 years has been deemed not good enough and then redesigned by a clown in an expensive suit who is desperate to embrace the whole hit and giggle side of cricket to make some more cash for himself. Get beaten by an innings, no worries it was an entertaining collapse. Play for the draw, I’m afraid Tom has said no way. This is the new and best ever approach to this format now as prescribed by the ECB. No wonder the England coaches seem even more confused and clueless than ever before.

PHOTO-2019-02-06-22-05-05
Tom Harrison’s new outfit – copyright Danny Frankland

I must admit that I watched very little of the 2nd Test as the result seemed to be beyond doubt after Day 1 when England once again hopelessly collapsed on a pitch doing something. I did turn on to see the late rites being issued by the West Indian bowlers but I admit I was more interested in the post match response than seeing another cravenly poor display from our batsmen and bowlers. Will they try to say it was a one-off incident though they did that last week? Will they admit that they are a poor team playing poor cricket (unlikely)? Will they call out Tom Harrison for being an incompetent idiot who shouldn’t be meddling in the Test Team (hopefully but not going to happen)? Or will they do what they always do and mutter something about working harder and a determination to turn it around in the next Test (of course that’s what they did). Joe Root’s speech was naturally non-committal but the reflections from Nasser & Mike Atherton were the ones that really did get me to giggle, especially when Nasser insightfully exclaimed:

There is a real problem in county cricket, where there is no real depth of top-quality, top-order batsmen. The red-ball game is being played predominantly in April and May, and then right at the end of the summer, on spicy pitches with a Duke’s ball.

“If anything, people are hiding away from batting in the top three. If you look at someone like Jason Roy, who some say is the next cab off the rank, he bats at five for Surrey. England have to go and see Surrey and Alec Stewart and say ‘we’re looking at him for the top of the order, can you get him up to three?’ Why would you want to move up to three in county cricket when it’s moving around? James Vince at Hampshire is slowly sliding down the order where it’s easier to bat.

I can’t have been the only one who laughed in slight disbelief that Nasser had only just grasped this now. Surely the succession of failed openers might have given it away? Or maybe the fact that most of the batsmen are averaging low 30’s with the bat? Or even the fact that England has been trying to cover their batting vulnerabilities by selecting as many all-rounders as they can possibly fit in the team? The fact that Nasser finally pointed out that there is an inherent weakness in our structure is something that most people with any knowledge of the red ball game have been banging on about for years and hardly puts his ‘insight’ in a good shade. We all know that the county cricket is something the ECB would very much like to get rid of, in fact if Test cricket didn’t make them so much money in London, they’d probably like to get rid of that too for some ridiculous bastardization of the game featuring beach balls and unicorns. What was particularly amusing about the interview is that he managed to say all of this without once suggesting that this is the fault of the ECB and Tom Harrison’s ‘let’s all have a slog, it doesn’t matter if we lose’ mentality. The reason why we struggle to find quality players in the county system these days is that access to the game is at an all time low, cricket remains hidden away from the public like some kind of deformed cousin and those that do make it to the county game are being forced to play red ball cricket out of season and are no longer given the time or coaching to hone their skills if they can’t hit the ball out of the park. So why is it again that we struggle to find quality Test batsmen Nasser? The answer is staring you in the face in the form of Tom Harrison and his rest of his not-so merry men, but then again they pay the bills of the Sky commentators, so naturally one can’t go and bite the hand that feeds you. Nasser though wasn’t quite done in making himself look like a prize turnip:

“We have a fundamental problem in England in that we are not producing top-quality number three batsmen. We are not producing a batsman who can play that innings that Darren Bravo played for Windies.”

Really Nasser, I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks for insight like that and in other news the world is still round and the sun continues to heat the earth. One bonus from Nasser’s groundbreaking news though was that this did facilitate one of the best come backs on Twitter ever by a certain Nick Compton, which is worth dealing with the hassle of Twitter on its’ own:

 

Yes that man who was routinely vilified by our friends in the media (and sometimes Alastair Cook when he wanted to get rid of any heat after a poor series) as some kind of weirdo who didn’t fit in with the team nor fit the ethos of the English mentality. How dare he try and bat himself in when some mothers and kids might be watching? A word to the wise Nick, lose the defence and try and slog a quick bowler over cow corner, after all this is Tom’s new vision of English Test cricket. Now I’m not saying that Compton was the answer, but it would have been nice for the media to give him a chance, especially after a match winning knock in Durban second time around, before they decided that his card was marked and that he was ‘not one of us’. Not that this is the first or will be the last time that this has happened.

Mr Harrison mind you hadn’t finished making himself a laughing stock. In his interview with Ian Ward which was aired on Sky during the First Test and I do use interview in the loosest possible sense, Harrison managed to confuse and contradict his own statements in classic fashion. Mind you, Ward’s interview technique more resembled that of a craven apology and could only have been more accommodating if he had been fellating Harrison during the whole interview. I genuinely don’t know how anyone with even a remote sense of cricketing knowledge would have been able to stand there with a straight face when Harrison said:

We have got fantastic county competitions in this country, we’ve got a thriving international game, but what the ECB and I have to do is ensure we’re keeping an eye on the future and making sure we are doing as much as we can to make the game as open, available, and accessible as it can be to wider audiences. “There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that while we have been doing very well with our county competitions, there is much more we can do to get those wider audiences in the game, which are going to be important in the future for this game to thrive throughout this country.

Sure that ‘fantastic’ county competition that you are trying your best to destroy, the one that has been pushed to the very margins of the game so that it is almost impossible for the counties to prepare players with the technique and skill set to thrive at Test Level. Ah yes, the county game that you and your associates are continue to take a knife to in the hope it finally keels over. It’s like praising an Olympic sprinter then sticking a bullet in both his knees, well he still has hands to stumble to the finish line on after all.

We also had the wonderfully timed piece by Ali Martin warning of the creation of Super Counties whilst England were thrashing away to another humiliating defeat – https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/feb/02/pca-hundred-super-counties. I genuinely am not too sure about which thing to be most worried about, firstly that Ali felt he needed to post a piece that was so stunningly obvious to most cricket and county fans or the fact that the PCA has only just woken up to this fact despite the huge red flags. Daryl Mitchell, who is the Chair of the PCA or as it’s known, the ECB’s subservient lapdog, explained:

“You run the risk of the game going towards eight super-counties and end up with a situation where it leads to player bias in terms of recruitment.”

Now what Daryl has said is completely correct, the franchises will no doubt hog their key franchise players to the detriment of other cricket going on concurrently; however my real concern is that the body who are supposed to represent the interests of all English players has only just realised that this competition will no doubt alienate those players who are not picked for the hundred and consequently make all other cricket going on at this time into a 2nd rate competition. Now I may be an old cynic, but surely this is not rocket science to anyone in or outside the current system. The rich will get rich, the poor will get poorer and those counties who are not identified as a ‘franchise’ will be left with a 2nd rate product that no-one wants to watch, all for the hope of  a promised cash windfall of £1.3 million, which will likely get reduced when the Hundred flops horrendously. Certainly, it’s not enough to sell your soul and local team down the river for. The only way that the counties had a chance to stop this unwanted juggernaut then and to a lesser extent now was to stand together and reject the ECB’s model out of hand, yet the only 2 counties who decided to vote against the ECB’s blood money were the unlikely duo of Rod Bransgrove of Hampshire and my own beloved Middlesex. I may support Middlesex but even I wouldn’t trust the Middlesex board to boil an egg let alone lead the fight against the ECB especially as they are so thin skinned that they make Mike Selvey look like he is impervious to criticism. Even now, with the wolves at the door, many of the county chairmen are still convinced that sticking their head in the sand is the best way to approach this threat. Take the Chairman of Somerset, who by all means are extremely competently run county, but equally are the exact model that the ECB would like to rid itself of and his so-called thoughts on the upcoming challenges:

“Like it or not, some counties need the £1.3m a year,” Cornish was quoted as saying by the Somerset County Gazette of the money each club will receive once The Hundred is up and running.”

“We feel working with the ECB is the best way to drive growth in cricket. It is important to remember that it will be the Chairmen of the 18 First Class Counties who take the vote on the subject of the Hundred. “What matters more than anything is the future of the game as a whole. Getting young people to participate, and then nurturing that love of the game is what is key here.”

This is stupidity of another order, like having cattle walk voluntarily into the abattoir to be killed in the hope of receiving some greener grass just beforehand. Somerset are likely to be one of the major losers in this battle and their Chairman is rolling around hoping for his belly to be tickled by his paymasters? It’s quite frankly unbelievable. Once the Hundred is implemented, these counties won’t just be phased into feeder clubs for the so called Big 8, they will simply wound down until they no longer exist anymore. The ECB cares not for the county model especially in the red ball game, which is not making them enough money and doesn’t attract the right sort of cricket fan. All in all, this format is quite frankly an annoyance to the paymasters of English cricket even if the format still remains popular with many of the olders fans. What better ruse than to gradually make them as inaccessible as possible so they eventually are made redundant, so they can change the name of those counties who have a Test Match ground to the ‘Nottingham Ninja’s” or “North London Lions”. This is the new marketing game according to Harrison and his lackeys, after all who doesn’t want to a watch a game where there might be ninjas or lions in it? Talking of Somerset and people associated with the club, I have been an interested spectator following the posts of Andy Nash, who has turned from ex ECB Director and corporate man to social media pariah. Now there is no doubt that Andy is a very intelligent man and that many of his Twitter posts are absolutely spot on, but there is the cynic in me that asks:

  • Why did you not do anything to fight this as a Director of the ECB?
  • Why did Somerset vote for the additional short ball competition if you knew it would irrevocably damage the red ball competition?

Now there might be a very straight forward answer to this, but without knowing the background it seems more than a little hypocritical to take it upon yourself to act as the ‘mouthpiece for change’ even if what you are saying is correct, a bit like an armed robber lecturing a kid who has been caught stealing penny sweets. I have asked this question of Andy more than once on social media without response, so perhaps we can all gather together to ask him this the next time he tweets about the subject. Naturally Andy is very welcome to come onto this platform to share his views and experiences, but I won’t be holding my breath on this.

Of course, I could be missing the point entirely with this post. The English cricket team may resemble the worst team we have had in Test Cricket in living memory, the future for the majority of our domestic game and for the production of Test Players looks darker than it ever has been before and that the fans of the game have been relegated to nothing more than an occasional annoyance and not the right sort of consumer for their product, but all is good and healthy in the English camp. After all, a few pithy marketing campaigns and demanding that the players go out and have a slog (sorry play an aggressive brand of cricket) to keep little Gregory entertained is what our game really needs in the minds of the ECB.

Cricket is staring down the precipice, the only question is will those who have the power to drag it back from the edge, finally wake up before it’s all too late. I’m unfortunately not very hopeful.

 

Circular Firing Squad

Sometimes it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that the ECB  appears to actively dislike its own sport.  It’s also easy to think they are deliberately and specifically trying to kill county cricket, particularly in its four day format.  It’s one of those thoughts that passes through a mind, dismissed as ludicrous, but re-appearing with every new announcement that appears intended to do exactly that.  The Hundred, the marginalisation of the county championship to the edges of the season (and a rather odd celebration in some quarters when a couple of fixtures are not at those margins), the apparently deliberate disdain for its existing audience.  The notion seems preposterous, but if it were to happen, it’s hard to believe the attempt would be done much differently to the way it is now.

There needs to be some full disclosure here:  I am not and never have been a passionate adherent of county cricket – it’s been a matter of relative indifference to me except as a pathway to the international sides, while club cricket was always my focus, with a healthy (or unhealthy depending on who you speak to) disdain for the conduct of the counties over the years.  To that extent, I don’t have an emotional bond to that strata of the game, more a recognition of how vital it is as a cog in the larger wheel, albeit one that could have been managed rather differently over the last fifty years.

And yet, at the same time, I also recognise how much it matters to many others, not least the other writers on this site, who have been spectators at many more games than I have, and who care about the tables and outcomes far more than I do.  That’s just me, I don’t defend it, and I don’t propound it, it’s just how it is.  And yet the finalisation of the format of the Hundred, to start the year after next, remains a subject to stoke my ire, due to the sheer arrogance of its creation and the dismissal of any opposition to it as somehow irrelevant.  Few businesses can survive with such a lofty view of those who might attend, and since the ECB have gone down the route of being a pseudo-business in the first place, it’s a fair stick with which to beat them.  New audiences are all very well, but existing ones are much easier to keep than winning brand new ones – indeed creating an entirely new market would be considered as nigh on impossible in equivalent circles.

Here, a reminder of why the Hundred is deemed necessary is worthwhile.  There is already a T20 tournament in place, but the deal with Sky for exclusive rights to it meant that there was no chance of any of it being free to air.  And the ECB have belatedly realised that their decision to remove any visibility for the sport has had catastrophic effects – the plummeting participation levels being one obvious result.  Therefore a second competition was necessary, one that could be sold to free to air television, at least in part, while also flogging it off to pay TV for more money.  I say sold, but the rumours are that the BBC are picking it up for peanuts, so desperate are the ECB to at least have some degree of public awareness it’s going on.

Having decided that a second short form competition is essential, the ECB were faced with a couple of problems – firstly to shorten it somewhat (although it should be noted that in all the early announcements it was stated to be a T20 competition, and presumably the BBC knew it), and second to give it at least some differentation from the Blast.  Hence the mad scramble for something shorter and with different playing conditions.  Likewise, the franchise idea came about by noting how other countries had fewer teams to make it work, and as a rather useful way of bypassing the counties themselves, given the feeling that 18 sides is too many.  An irony here is that in football, the very strength of the game in England is that there are so many teams – something other countries view with envy.  For cricket here it is deemed a problem, and not an opportunity.

Naturally, a smaller competition means that brand new teams need to be created, and thus the desire for city based franchises came along, preferably with a ready made audience who might affiliate with the urban centres in which they were based.  The trouble was, it was still going to be just another T20 tournament, and one that might even make sense as a financial centrepiece, were it not for there already being a competition in place that provided that.  So why not fiddle around with all the rules and make it “simpler” through various initiatives to render it vastly more complex?  And here we are with the Hundred, a format no one really wants, and no one asked for, all to fit around a succession of requirements forced on the ECB by their own actions and their own long term goal.

The confirmation of five or ten ball “overs” to fit the decimal headline number smacks entirely of trying to force a game into a title, and while it is hardly sacrilegeous to change the number of balls (8 ball overs were a thing for many years – indeed in order to shorten what became T20 many clubs have for years played 15 x 8 ball overs in evening leagues), it is the attempt to present a solution to a mathematical problem of their own making as somehow revolutionary that generates sarcastic responses.

Still, it’s going to happen, and despite the self-imposed strait-jacket, it will doubtless cause some initial interest, simply as something new, and as an event.  It may even catch on, given that the pressure from gambling broadcasters and governing bodies for ever shorter and more numerous forms of cricket is certainly there – as evidenced with T10 tournaments.  If it does, then the question of what happens to the T20 Blast will come up, for that competition can be seen as something of an barrier to what the ECB wish to achieve here – sidelining the annoying self-interested counties and producing a competition that can attract international attention for the benefit of the self-interested ECB.  It’s easy to be sceptical about the ECB’s motives (usually because being sceptical about their motives proves the correct attitude), but the current season structure is not going to be sustainable in the long term, and the creation of franchises moves the professional game in the direction that the avaricious will far prefer.

The other fly in the ointment is the county championship itself.  Although it ought to be a proving ground for Test cricket, the changing nature of Test cricket itself (and the selection of short form specialists to the team) has rendered it less vital in the eyes of those who must be obeyed.  It’s a nuisance – it takes too long, the crowds are small, and the counties need to be subsidised to play in it.  Why would anyone want such a competition when there’s so much money to be made elsewhere?  Thus, the heart of the season has been given over almost entirely to limited overs matches of one form or another, whether domestic or international, with the annoying red ball cricket kept out of the way, like an embarrassing uncle.  Some might argue that it could be nurtured and helped, a format of cricket that needs assistance rather than contempt, but this is not the way the ECB do things.

Having in 2018 created a fixture list that managed to avoid any cricket on a bank holiday (people might go along and watch – can’t have that), for 2019 they have gone the extra mile, avoiding any matches at the weekend where possible, and ensuring that those who work for a living won’t have a chance of getting along to see any play.  The sarcasm is justified, because there are only two possibilities here – firstly that the ECB are so completely incompetent that arranging fixtures at a time people might be able to go is something they’ve never considered, or that it is deliberate.  Despite the feeling that ineptitude is written into the ECB’s mission statement, they can’t possibly be that lacking in basic ability, so it can only be on purpose.  A deliberate decision to make the county championship even less accessible to spectators.  A deliberate decision to make membership of a county even less attractive.  A deliberate decision to turn away people who love the game.

Those who go and watch county cricket might be relatively few in number compared to other sports, but they are also very often the people involved in grass roots cricket, administrators and volunteers – those whose passion for the game exceeds the casual spectator by orders of magnitude.  They get laughed at and belittled, including by some members of the press, let alone the ECB who are supposed to be on the same damn side, but these people have a disproportionate value to the game that goes far beyond them sitting isolated under a blanket at New Road.  All ignored.  All treated with contempt.

This scornful attitude is why those who insist the Hundred is given a chance are missing the point.  It’s not that it can’t succeed, it’s not even that it won’t succeed, for even some free to air live coverage has a chance of generating interest far beyond the niche sport cricket currently is.  It is that the ECB really do not care about taking those who love the game with them.  They have no interest in trying to manage the 21st century commercial realities with the responsibilities that their supposed husbandry of the game of cricket in England and Wales ought to instil.  The dash for cash is the primary aim, the actual game of cricket a cipher, not the end in itself.

Those who play up and down the country are irrelevant.  Those who love cricket for the sake of the game they grew up with are irrelevant, unless they can be switch-sold and monetised.  The game of cricket itself is irrelevant, it is merely a means.  And that is the reason for the anger, not messing around with the rules, not trying to square a circle that wouldn’t be easy in any circumstances.  It’s that they don’t care about you, they don’t care about me.  That you played the game all your life is no more than a footnote, that you watch the game only of value in so far as you can be added up in revenue stream.

The ECB.  The only sports governing body that regards the game for which they are responsible as a hindrance to their aims.

Circling the Drain

Has there ever been a more low key build up to a major Test series? As English cricket continues to search for new ways to obliterate any goodwill it once had, and Australian cricket views the comedy W1A as a handbook for how to impress people, it’s easy to forget there is a Test series around the corner in Sri Lanka. The ODIs were sufficiently pointless to lower the bar of contractual obligation fixtures still further, particularly given the blithe excuses for scheduling them in the wet season, but now we come to a Test series that appears to have largely passed even cricket supporters by.

The strange thing about that is that Sri Lanka has always been one of the favourites for followers of the England team, and doubtless there will be impressive numbers of England supporters at the grounds, but the continuing tribulations around governance in both countries are of greater import than the games themselves. When a sport spends more time navel-gazing than playing, it’s a crisis.

Where to even begin with this? The unwelcome headlines around match fixing are one thing, the ECB managing to look indifferent and oblivious are another, testament to their uncanny ability to make any situation worse. The claims might seem a bit thin, but that doesn’t mean that lofty disdain is the right response.

The rumblings around the dog’s breakfast that is the Hundred continue, with the latest potential wheeze being the idea of selling off franchises. Quite why anyone would want to stump up serious money for a competition that has had such a hostile response, and which the ECB have marketed with the sure touch of Gerald Ratner hasn’t been explained, but if nothing else it points to a concern that the money-spinner the ECB claimed it would become isn’t likely to come true.

There are reports that the cost of its operation has now spiralled to £40m a year, a figure that beggars belief, and when added to the subsidy to the counties, it’s more like £70m a year. No wonder the idea of selling it off is now an attractive one – a shortfall needs to be made up.

Of course, a franchise system further erodes any semblance of fan loyalty to the teams, and having made it abundantly clear that the competition isn’t for existing supporters (deliberately telling your customer base to foxtrot oscar remains one of the most extraordinary things a governing body has ever done) we still don’t know who, if anyone, is likely to come and watch. Empty grounds are perhaps the biggest risk to the whole event, not initially (everyone rubber necks a car crash) but in terms of the viability over a few years.

Still, if it doesn’t work the ECB will happily change it – their inability to leave the cricket calendar alone for more than a year at a time is exceptional – but the amount of money already sunk into the thing and committed further is frightening. No business would dream of operating this way and expecting success.

Being committed to a particular approach and sticking to it no matter what is sometimes admirable, but this is seriously going out on a limb, and while expressing disbelief at the ECB has now surpassed cricket itself as a national sport, the worst part of the whole affair is that those who love cricket are placed in the unenviable position of being worried that the Hundred doesn’t work, not that it does. The potential for calamitous failure is now so high, and the consequences so dangerous, that it is a complete unknown what the fallout might be.

The upside is that the game will survive, by ironic virtue of the rather limited support to the grassroots the ECB has provided anyway, but here too the danger signs have been long flashing. Sunday cricket is in crisis, player participation levels reached desperation levels some years ago and the decline shows little sign of abating.

There are efforts to try to support it, club networks to allow players to get a game for example. They are laudable, but that they are deemed necessary is in itself a symbol of the mess the game is in. The biggest problem of all is the inability to see a way out of it. For all the fury at the invisibility of the sport to the public, the grotesque mismanagement of the game by the ECB itself, we are now in a position where the options are narrowing by the day. Perhaps the tipping point will only come when those involved at the highest level start seeing their own incomes under threat, and we are some way off that.

If the ECB’s incompetence is a benchmark few can match, Cricket Australia appear to be doing their damnedest to try. If nothing else, they do appear to have a better grasp of business realities than their English counterparts, but they too are afflicted by the drift away from criticism and towards mockery. The board level machinations are one thing, the ludicrous way the national team is disappearing up its own backside while maintaining an air of staggering pomposity is another.

If elite mateship hadn’t been received with sufficient hilarity, to double down and highlight elite honesty ensured many an aching side. Perhaps it was directed at David Warner, who threw his toys out of the pram when someone dared to sledge him, or perhaps it was directed at the ACA who are pushing for the return of those banned for ball tampering. The punishments for something that has gone on for years (though rarely with such ineptitude) seemed harsh at the time; to try to undo them afterwards is magnificently brazen, particularly with South Africa in town.

And I haven’t even mentioned how WADA are likely to deem cricket non-compliant. Marvellous.

And so we have some cricket on the way. For all the craven disdain for our game that those determined to exploit it for their own ends, the sport itself remains special. Cricket does not deserve the loyalty it receives from those who love it, seeing them as a revenue stream not the marketing team they really are – dedicated missionaries who wish to see it succeed. Those people will watch, buy tickets, travel to watch the team, as I am doing in the West Indies this winter. But patience is being tested to the limit, repeatedly.

It’s not yet too late. But my God we’re getting close.

The ECB: What is it Good For (Say it again)?

The Board and management team have considered the short and long-term goals of the business in order to support and grow the grassroots game while continuing to strive for success at the elite level with our 24 England teams.

Mission statements can be little more than a sop to marketing necessity, and often bear little relation to what is actually happening in a given sport. Put simply, the role of any organisation that is accredited as the supreme authority for a sport is to act as the guardian of the game, both in the present and the future, in order to ensure it is in good shape for future generations. To that end, the short paragraph above encapsulates rather well what a governing body should strive to achieve, particularly in a commercial world where obtaining financial support for the elite level is an exceptionally important part of what they must do.

The trouble is, this one belongs to the FA.

The ECB does have an equivalent, called Cricket Unleashed, that has five “central pillars” to their intentions. Somewhat ironically, the link defines itself as being in the Men’s section of the ECB’s website, which is both unfortunate and wryly amusing given that when someone tells them they’ll be aghast. The strategy makes interesting reading both in terms of the in depth objectives and the broader aims behind it, particularly when measured against what is actually going on:

More Play

The ECB will make the game more accessible and inspire the next generation of players, coaches, officials and volunteers, with a particular focus on families and the young.

Great Teams

The ECB will deliver winning men’s and women’s teams across the international and domestic spectrum that inspire and excite fans through on-field performance and their connection with the public on and off the field.

Inspired Fans

The fan will be at the heart of our game, our thinking and our events, to improve and personalise the cricket experience for all.

Good Governance & Social Responsibility

The ECB will make decisions in the best interests of the game and use the power of cricket to make a positive difference to communities around England and Wales. Protecting the integrity of our sport is critical and we will ensure we have the right governance and processes to achieve that.

Strong Finance & Operations

The ECB will increase the game’s revenues, invest our resources wisely and administer them responsibly to secure the growth of the game.

So far so good. For if a little PR orientated, it provides a benchmark against which the ECB can and should be measured in terms of their own performance and their aspirations. It can’t be denied that as a set of principles, it’s not too bad. There are clearly some clauses inserted to ensure that no one can possibly point out a gap, but that is the modern world, and no bad thing provided that is adhered to, even in part. The question is whether they do, or in some instances whether they even try.

More Play

The ECB will make the game more accessible and inspire the next generation of players, coaches, officials and volunteers, with a particular focus on families and the young.

It’s always been said that the trick of public relations is to get the big lie out of the way in the headline or title – the German Democratic Republic, the Department of Trade and Industry are two examples. Certainly “More Play” would be a positive, yet all the evidence points in the other direction. The ECB have stopped publishing detailed information on participation levels in England and Wales, presumably because they kept showing disastrous falls. One clever wheeze was to start combining the figures of both men and women, which given the rise of female cricket (and here, it must be acknowledged that the ECB have done well, and much as it might grate, perhaps the biggest advocate for it was the otherwise Odious Giles Clarke) has successfully masked to some extent the catastrophic collapse in male participation. Most figures go as far as 2016 so it is always possible that the last two years have seen the trend reversed, however unlikely. Snapshots may have different methodologies, so can’t be compared with the most comprehensive survey available over the last decade, which demonstrated a fall in the numbers of active participants of a quite horrifying 35%. The decline amongst youth players isn’t remotely as marked, but few sports are faced with such a collapse in interest and participation as cricket over that period.

Sport England’s Active People Survey shows a similar level of decline over the same period, albeit with different numbers, also demonstrating that some sports have performed well, and others badly. Cricket is unquestionably one of those that have performed badly, even more so given the rise in women playing to complicate the overall picture. Yet if the figure of just under 2 million women playing football once a week is accurate, then it amounts to approximately seven times as many women playing football as men playing cricket. That can be claimed to be a huge success for women’s sport (and is) but it also highlights rather acutely the problem cricket has, particularly when a fall from just under half a million cricketers to just over a quarter of a million is taken into account. Of course, that doesn’t mean for a second that growing the game shouldn’t be an aspiration, just the opposite, but the record of the ECB in the 21st century hasn’t been a good one, and the removal of cricket from free to air television does coincide with the fall in playing numbers. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, yet it is hard not to draw conclusions from the way the game has struggled for interest at the same time as it was removed from public sight. There is far too much corroboratory evidence to contradict the view that cricket, once one of the three major team sports in the country, is now a minority pursuit in every sense.

Within the body of the clause is a desire to make the game more accessible, and a particular focus on families and the young. This is part of the justification for the Hundred, and indeed reflects a lot of the statements made by various ECB officials in its support. The ECB’s own market research has indicated the cricket simply isn’t on the radar of children, with no recognition either of the game or the key players in the national team. The trouble here is that simply saying this is what it is all for, no matter how clumsily (“mums and kids”) doesn’t mean for a second that the aspiration becomes reality. The social media response to the endless variations on rules and playing conditions has been negative, which doesn’t mean that there is no merit behind any of them per se (nor that social media is representative of anything), but the whole intention behind Cricket Unleashed takes on a rather different hue when allied to the constant refrain that it isn’t aimed at existing cricket fans.

Accessibility can also be inferred to be a reference to cricket on free to air television, and if the omnishambles behind the Hundred to date has any saving grace whatever, it is the tacit admission by the ECB that hiding the game behind a paywall has been hugely damaging. It is vanishingly unlikely that anyone in authority will ever admit that, but the selling the Hundred rights for a relative song to the BBC (and that specific desire that it be the BBC) show that actions speak louder than words.

The trouble is that this particular aspiration collides headlong with many of the others, and that’s where the trouble begins. It is indicative of the mess the ECB have got into that the five pillars are tending towards the mutually exclusive. They needn’t have been.

Great Teams

The ECB will deliver winning men’s and women’s teams across the international and domestic spectrum that inspire and excite fans through on-field performance and their connection with the public on and off the field.

Of course. Wouldn’t anyone want that? Yet despite the statements from the ECB that Test cricket is their priority, this statement is suitably vague in terms of what it might actually mean. They could certainly argue that they are delivering on success in white ball cricket, both male and female, but it provides a nice free pass for the areas that aren’t going so well. It also places a lot of importance on the World Cup next year, and England’s hopes of winning it. A bad World Cup would seriously call into question the entire strategy on its own merits, let alone from the perspective of the Test game. Equally, the reference to domestic cricket being “inspiring and exciting” could be held to be indicating a white ball focus rather than red. The continued marginalisation of the County Championship certainly implies as much, and in the short term at least, the call up of players to the Test team who aren’t even playing red ball cricket for the counties is not a matter of protest so much as an obvious concomitant of the ECB’s own strategy.

The addition of a fourth limited overs domestic competition at the same time as reducing the importance of the County Championship (how else can its being shunted to April, May and September be viewed?) indicates plainly where the priorities lie. At the same time, they have financial imperatives that strongly point to what they are doing now, but ones that are on shaky ground in future given the fall in interest in cricket in the first place – if cricket loses interest, those TV rights become much less valuable. Hence the need for the Hundred, which may increase awareness of the game without directly impacting on the existing domestic and international finances.

Inspired Fans

The fan will be at the heart of our game, our thinking and our events, to improve and personalise the cricket experience for all.

This perhaps of all the five pillars of ECB wisdom will have the cricket supporter chuckling away most. The ever increasing ticket prices alone are hardly an indication of the fan being at the heart of anything other than the ECB’s wallet. To be fair to them, at least on this occasion they managed to include cricket fans in their list of stakeholders rather than ignoring them entirely, but nothing highlights the lack of trust in the organisation more than that even those not overtly critical of the ECB strategy will find this particular clause something of a joke.

It’s not even just the obvious issues that vex many a sporting fan (said ticket prices, food and drink costs, stadium access and so forth), it is also that the cricketing schedule is a mess to the point that fixtures are arranged with no thought whatever for the spectator. Bank Holidays empty of cricket, four day matches with no consistency on start date nor even falling over weekends, even entire swathes of the summer with no cricket in some formats at home grounds.

Naturally, paying lip service to supporters is a common complaint in all sports, but cricket has a particular problem in that the people who have supported the game over a long time are very often the same people who volunteer at clubs or schools to try to promote the sport itself. Treating traditional cricket spectators with contempt has a far greater impact on the game than is the case in previously comparable sports simply because there’s neither depth nor competition for attendance.

Of course, for T20 in particular, crowds have been strong, and some counties such as Surrey have invested heavily in a procedure known as “marketing”, to the point that they have demonstrated consistently high crowds, despite not having the assistance of the Hundred to do so. This might be thought to be worthy of credit, yet the silence from the ECB on this subject has been deafening. Of course, the whole tournament is restricted to Sky subscribers in the first place, and the unwillingness of either the ECB, the counties or both to countenance a drop in income is precisely why an additional tournament has been deemed necessary.

However, the nature of the crowds attending is rather open to debate. T20 cricket is neatly packaged into three hours (this has stretched somewhat – at the beginning it was two and a half, while the IPL has suffered from some games going as long as four hours), and attracts the casual spectator. This ought to be a good thing, for the shortest version of the game – so far – can and should be a gateway to developing an interest in cricket. However there are anecdotal complaints that people attend for a night out rather than game itself, which still isn’t a problem, for it provides much needed revenues from the bars. What is a contradiction is that the ECB have promoted the upcoming Hundred as being a family affair, while repeatedly stating it isn’t aimed at existing cricket fans.

They have a problem here: firstly in that no one has any idea where these prospective fans will be coming from, and secondly the often raucous atmosphere of a T20 is hardly conducive to being a family affair. It is impossible to believe that they will restrict the sale of alcohol for a start, meaning that without a currently entirely invisible to cricket demographic flocking to grounds, the chances are that it will simply replicate existing audiences, at best.

Good Governance & Social Responsibility

The ECB will make decisions in the best interests of the game and use the power of cricket to make a positive difference to communities around England and Wales. Protecting the integrity of our sport is critical and we will ensure we have the right governance and processes to achieve that.

The opening line of this clause is in some ways the most controversial statement of the lot, even more so than the one about fans. For it is beyond question that this should be the primary role of a governing body, the question is whether it actually is.

Is it truly in the best interests of the game to marginalise red ball cricket? Is it truly in the interests of the game to weaken the Test side (for there can be little argument that this is the effect)? Was it truly in the best interests of the game to oversee a sport that has become invisible and that participation has plummeted?

No one has ever said balancing the needs of a sport is easy, and certainly the ECB’s equivalents are subject to plenty of criticism. Yet even an organisation as institutionally controversial as FIFA could argue that they have significantly grown the sport around the world. The ECB can’t even arrest the decline of theirs in England and might well be directly responsible for it. Over the last 20 years or so there have been repeated opportunities to take decisions that were in the interests of the wider game, yet time and again the perception (at the very least) is that this has not been the motivation.

The creation of the Hundred is entirely at odds with the statement that “protecting the integrity of the sport is critical”, as more and more outlandish ideas are bandied around in order to provide a differentiation for what is already there. Whatever the length of a game, the fundamentals of the game of cricket remain. Considering abolishing the lbw law (as they were reported to have done) drives a coach and horses through the very idea that the integrity of the game is sacrosanct. It isn’t going to happen of course, but the very fact that it was even up for consideration is highly indicative that anything, including the game of cricket itself is very much up for grabs when commercial desires apply. Too many people have made the observation that the ECB is the only sporting body to hate its own sport for it to be given the benefit of any doubt. All of which leads to:

Strong Finance & Operations

The ECB will increase the game’s revenues, invest our resources wisely and administer them responsibly to secure the growth of the game.

This is one area the ECB can (and do. Oh my word, they really do) point to success. The move behind a paywall has seen the revenues rise consistently over the last 15 years, albeit some years are better than others. But there appears to be little scope for significant growth as things currently stand, without something such as the Hundred, and that relies on it being a success.

There is a central question here which the ECB have never been able to plausibly dismiss, which is whether the purpose of the money is to support the game, or whether the game is there to generate money. The former should be the sole focus of any governing body – the suspicion is that the latter is specifically what drives the ECB.

What is the money actually for? It is highly questionable whether the revenues have reached the recreational game for one thing – indeed many clubs might not notice much difference were the ECB to disappear entirely, such is the distance of the relationship between them. The clubs themselves have no say whatever over anything the ECB do. In contrast to the FA, where elections occur at every level of the pyramid, the ECB appoint someone to be a voice of the club and village game, with no reference whatever to it.

Likewise, although there are initiatives such as Chance to Shine and All Stars Cricket, much of the funding comes from elsewhere, and most of the work is done by club volunteers. Indeed, in the latter case the degree of subsidy is rather open to question, in terms of whether there is much if any at all. It should always be noted that the various England youth sides are included in the grassroots funding of the game. They are worthy recipients of money, naturally, but grassroots? No.

How well they operate as initiatives is a more open question. Chance to Shine appears to have performed well, in at least trying to stem the losses in interest and participation (sometimes success is measured in managing decline), but All Stars Cricket has had a mixed reception, and it is impossible to know whether the claimed figures represent a genuine uplift in junior interest, or whether it is largely those likely to be involved anyway measured twice.

The county game of course relies in large part on the TV deals done and the subsidy derived from the ECB themselves. Counties haven’t been self-sufficient for much of their histories, but the justification has always been that they are the proving ground and development centres for the international teams. As the ECB imperils the Test team by their strategy, that justification becomes just a little weaker.

Equally, those desiring terrestrial TV coverage, whether of county or international cricket are constantly met with the response that the drop in funding would damage the county game. At this point, the difficult question needs to be put: So what?

All businesses cut their cloth according to their income, the idea that counties would not be able to cope with a drop in subsidy implies that they are unable to run their basic affairs. Football teams cope with relegation, because they address the cost base to reflect the income differential. To suggest that county cricket is the sole industry totally unable to handle this is to say that it is akin to a heroin addict unable to function without their latest fix. It certainly would be difficult, it certainly would involve job losses, and it certainly wouldn’t please players who saw their income level drop. But it could and would survive, unless those who are running cricket are entirely incompetent.

This is why the central question of what that desire for ever increasing revenue remains to ask what it is for. It doesn’t remotely appear to be for the betterment of the game of cricket, it appears to be for the betterment of a subsection of the game of cricket. The amateur game barely notices whether there are rises or falls, only the professional game would, and it is a valid question as to whether that is a price worth paying for a sport now in deep trouble.

Whether a reduction in income in return for vastly greater television exposure would be worthwhile depends entirely on where an observer is standing. Within the upper echelons of the game, it would be viewed as a disaster. Elsewhere, perhaps not so much. Yet this strikes at the very essence of the reason for the ECB’s existence. If it is not for the benefit of the game of cricket itself, but for the benefit of those employed within it, then the ECB haven’t just failed to abide by the terms of their own mission statements, they have demonstrated thoroughly that they don’t deserve to run the game.

And here lies the ultimate irony: Having presided over the transition of the game from one that managed to become a national icon in 2005 to one that barely registers in public consciousness, cricket has become so lacking in importance that the conduct of its governing authority passes without much notice, and without much interest. Giles Clarke once said (smugly) that no one cares about administration. He was correct, but not entirely for the reasons he was suggesting. No one cares about administration when the sport being administered has become irrelevent. And that’s why it’s not the failing of the ECB’s Five Pillars that is the problem, it’s that they’ve made such a monumental mess of it this century that few people any longer care enough to challenge them on it.