Is It Down To The Lake I Fear?

The third T20 international is tonight, I think….. This post doesn’t really want to talk about it, but I suppose I must. It’s being held in Nelson. Ironic. Our cricket board is most definitely one-eyed, the sport plays with one arm tied behind its back (I know, I know, he lost his arm), and for all they care about the punters, the ECB would stick us up on top of a 50m column and tell us to obsess about watching our 2nd XI in the middle of summer play for half points. For the record, I think it is a daft idea.

Admit it, you are hooked, aren’t you? You’ve stayed up these long Autumnal nights to watch the enthralling T20 series between England and New Zealand. The two games, played with two teams at ultimate full strength, battling it out is everything cricket should be. Played to packed houses, and enraptured crowds, it’s the ultimate in cricket entertainment. Indeed, Matthew Hayden himself tried to copyright Cricktainment (or something like that) and I’ll bet he had the games at Hagley and the Cake Tin in mind.

There’s a World Cup next year, and I’ll bet it’s inked in on Harry Gurney’s calendar. The only hope, of course, is that it doesn’t clash with a Sunday fixture or two (unlikely as it starts in October, but it might clash with the County Championship) as we’ll be too busy letting down the bouncy castle, putting away the sound system, and clearing up the litter from the barbecue. That this World Cup is still pretty much a year away renders a five game T20 series rather meaningless, but there’s money to be made, and that always takes priority. Maybe the doyen of the Hundred, Don Topley, can explain why this format, being played five times, is a great use of our international time. He seems to love all this sort of stuff. While we are battling it out with the Black Caps, India and Bangladesh are trying to get rid of the stench of match-fixing that accompanied Shakib-al-Hasan’s ban, and the smog of Delhi in their own T20 drama, and David Warner is teeing off on Sri Lanka, because they don’t have Stuart Broad in a T20 series that passed all of us by, save for Glen Maxwell falling off the treadmill with another canary in the goldmine moment for the international game. In the top echelon of international cricket, there’s not a lot to love at the moment.

As Chris said in his piece last week, we are all in that time of the year when work can cause us to let the blog slip, there’s a paucity of England test cricket which we know is what gets the punters interested here, and the motivation to do those sort of long think pieces that get the tweets and retweets which feel very rewarding, is languishing. There is no shortage of ECB nonsense to bash, as always, but I feel as though it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel at the moment. When I was on the KP treadmill a few years back, some absolute dickhead from the Guardian BTL commented that I had it in for the ECB, and that it would be hard to read my stuff through the bile on screen. That useful idiot may have indelibly entered himself, and it was a him, into my Book Of Bastards, but there is a point, perhaps, now. I was slagging off the ECB when it wasn’t fashionable, when the media thought I was an unhinged idiot, when some of the people out there thought I was a Piers Morgan stooge. Now everyone seems to be doing it over the Hundred, my contrary nature makes me want to defend them. Yes, seriously. It’s really nice of the punditocracy to finally see it my way – that the ECB are impervious to criticism, they leak like the Titanic after iceberg encounter, that they are so self-assured they make the ERG look diffident (only political point on this post) and in Tom Harrison and Colin Graves, they have the most worrying duo at the steering wheel since Oliver Reed and George Best.

So let’s start defending the ECB. Let’s start with their sterling defence of the Hundred, and the encouragement to you all to get on board with the show. After an auction that underwhelmed and produced teams that look marginally stronger than some of the best Blast outfits, it was time to get the fans behind their local team. Let’s have a little pep piece to get the blood coursing through the veins, the credit card number itching to be conveyed online for those tickets, the calendar purchased just to put next year’s home Oval fixtures in to make sure the beloved doesn’t book a holiday that would prevent her going. One for each of the eight inspirational franchises here to shake up domestic cricket, with a new format, new TV coverage and new everything. How can you resist. Let’s start with the team selected to be the one I am supposed to support. Previously the Oval Greats, we went from Great to Invincible. Come On! Inspire me.

“Belong to something bigger, with Oval Invincibles. Vibrant, expressive, and free to play their own way, this team leaves a lasting impression long after the last ball.”

“Belong to something bigger”. Fuck me. They know inspiration. What is this, Extinction Rebellion? One Direction Fan Club? GBBO?

Something bigger? Bigger than what? The home venue has a county cricket club that outside of the North, has won more titles than anyone else. That has supplied numerous England players. That plays in a venue that gets filled for nearly all Blast games even though the team has been rubbish. What is this nonsense bigger than?

The best way to judge these pithy statements is to use Antonyms. “Apathetic, lifeless and bound to play by rigid rule and rote, this collection of individuals are instantly forgettable.” Yeah. That sounds better.

Hey. We can watch Sunil Narine ping it. We can watch the Curran brothers in a different shirts. We can long for Blake and Billings to bring that Kent magic. And we can wonder that in a tournament that is going to capture the imagination, their own site couldn’t capture a picture of a man who made an amazing century in the World Cup held in this country. I suppose they were too busy watching Rihanna.

https://www.thehundred.com/teams/oval-invincibles/squad

Let’s look at our natural rivals, the London Spirit. I mean the name just jumps out at you, with the only spirit normally seen at the fake Home of Cricket being too expensive for you mere plebs to purchase.

London Spirit is an iconic team for an iconic city, rooted in tradition and lighting the way to the future, with a unique ability to conjure something special.

Woah! Iconic team. When you wrote this garbage down you didn’t even know who was playing for you, outside your iconic test player, Rory Burns, who probably won’t be playing and is only there because Middlesex can’t produce anyone with charisma who is in our test team these days.

What’s with the rooted in tradition? I thought tradition was a bad word? I thought it was something that we are to put our noses up to, and throw caution to the wind. Oh, you mean rooted in a private members club, so up its own backside that the head is tickling the Adam’s Apple.

Lighting the way to the future? Do they have the local St John’s Wood neighbourhood on board for this? They are notoriously not chuffed at lights or anything at Lord’s. What does this mean anyway. What are they lighting? Themselves? The Hundred? What does this mean.

Uh-Oh. UNIQUE! I hate that word. Utterly despise it. You are one of eight built for an event franchises. You are about as un-unique as you can be. A sausage machine cricket team, for a butchery of a competition. They have the “ability to conjure something special”. Have they reincarnated Paul Daniels. Put David Blaine in at pinch-hitter? Challenged Derren Brown to count down from a hundred. This is not going well.

We must head south. To Bransgrove World, where relegations are avoided, Ashes tests not awarded, and a franchise is gifted. To the Brave People of the South…

Follow Southern Brave, and go boldly where others shy away. Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure, what’s over the horizon?

Go boldly to a field somewhere outside Southampton, where others, most notably public bloody transport shy away. Who are these bold people they are seeking? People who want to go to cricket out in the wilds, and not get home until midnight? Go boldly to a hotel attached to a cricket ground, to watch David Warner and Andre Russell (how have they not got a picture of David Warner to append to the generic body…) ply their trade, and in the case of the former, not cause ructions and the latter not fail a drug test.

The next part of this blurb is wonderful “Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure” reads like something in a singles column, apparently. Endlessly curious means you want to sleep with your friend’s best mate, while insatiable appetite for adventure means kicked out of every home they’ve been in. I have absolutely no idea what is over the horizon other than the M26, which is beyond that queue out of the car park.

The logo is absolutely appalling. It makes my eyes go funny.

https://www.thehundred.com/teams/southern-brave/squad

As the Village People once sang, and was covered by both the Pet Shop Boys, and Arsenal fans when winning the Cup Winners Cup Final, it is time to Go West. This time, bypassing two successful limited over counties of the recent and middle past, to a test venue, which was usually notable for being mostly empty unless we played Australia there. It is, the Welsh Fire.

Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.

Keith Flint, god rest his soul, has missed an opening. This collection of words, assembled with no thought or comprehension, sums up this exercise beautifully. We are given to believe our beloved Welsh colleagues are full of passion and excitement, but we are already going on about people hating them. As a colleague of mine noted when seeing the team, are the haters the public in Wales?

Cardiff is not exactly known for sultry weather, so heat might be a problem. The relentless energy will be needed to persuade the counties overlooked in favour of them as a host venue to trek across the Severn, all mums and kids together, and watch a team who already think that No-One Like Them, and they evidently care because they want to prove them wrong. What are they trying to prove wrong? They shouldn’t get a franchise? Danny shouldn’t be mean to them? That they should not be given test cricket? That they haven’t a man of Wales in their team? What’s with the defeatist surly attitude. You looking at teenage kids to come along and fit the concept?

Steve Smith, Mitchell Star and Ryan ten Doeschate star, with YJB bringing the fire when he’s not playing for England, which he might not. They’ll be hula hooping in the valleys at this.

Having seen and looked a team about as Welsh as Pat van den Hauwe (one for you old football fans out there), it’s time to cross Offa’s Dyke, ramble north east, to England’s second city (and Manchester still thinks it’s the first) to Birmingham, where Edgbaston will host the Birmingham, checks website, Phoenix. Is Brian Potter the MD?

Rise with Birmingham Phoenix, and thrive together as one. Bigger, brighter and better united, this team is a celebration of the strength in diversity. Because different is good.

phoenix (/ˈfiːnɪks/; Ancient Greek: φοῖνιξ, phoînix) is a long-lived bird that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

Interesting concept and the Birmingham Bears must be really thrilled to hear this concept, let alone what it says about Warwickshire County Cricket Club. Rise with the dead bird, and thrive together as one. As inspirational statements go, this isn’t exactly we’ll fight them in the bull ring, massacre them on the M42, Vanquish them at the Villa.

Bigger, brighter and better united – you what? What is this random collection of words strung together. Bigger than what. It’s a dead bird coming back larger than before (no sexist jokes about bad nights out please). Brighter than what? I have no idea, and I hope you don’t either. Oh, it’s being united that makes you these things? Oh, I get you. Because when I think of the Hundred, a united force is just the first thing that trips into mind.

Celebration in diversity, different is good. This is cricket, not a office training course paying lip service to equal opportunities. It’s the usual mix of Aussies, Pakistanis, local talent and Ravi Bopara. You’d be forgiven for being uninspired, but nothing says raging fires, ashes arisen from, being united and better, than having Butterkist on your shirt. I must away…up the M6 to England’s fifth city, Manchester, and the marketing genius that is the Manchester Originals.

Manchester Originals. Pioneers. Revolutionaries. Celebrating a global city of firsts. Laughing in the face of limits. Raising the bar forever higher.

First up, Manchester has a logo that quite frankly, the designer of should be sacked for. It’s a squiggle in a circle. Like a bad art project. It exists to make the blurb look somewhat reasonable. Although it isn’t.

Pioneers. Of what, when? Two hundred years ago? Failing to be big enough to win the Olympics until a proper city won it for the UK. Host of two mega-dull football empires. When did Manchester last have a revolution? Peterloo? 1815? Good grief. This is a cricket team in a mickey mouse format, not Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela. A global city of firsts, but hardly in London’s league, eh? And Liverpool must be thrilled.

But the next bit is beautiful “laughing in the face of limits”. You are called the Originals. It’s about as revolutionary and limiting as the packet of sweets we suspect you were named after. What have you got to laugh at, anyway? It’s cold. The weather is miserable. Your football clubs are either American asset stripper’s cash cow, or a sportwashing Middle Eastern plaything (don’t call it a sovereign wealth fund) with all the soul stripped out of it. Your music scene has been dead on arrival for decades. Last time I went there, it took you a mile to cross the road because there was a whacking great tunnel being dug in the middle of it.

Raising the bar forever higher. Tell that to United fans. They must love this bar, what with Thursday night European adventures and mid-table anonymity. Forever is a bloody long time.

I think it’s time we got out of Manchester and headed east over the Pennines to the real Northern Powerhouse. Yorkshire. Except a brand like Yorkshire ain’t going to mean a thing to the mums and kids. It’s going to be Northern

Step aside for Northern Superchargers, a team whose drive and determination is matched only by their desire to win. Powered by positivity and people who get stuff done when every ball counts.

Except the badge makes it look like they are Super northern Chargers. Another logo made in a focus group and with all the natural appeal of a scaffolding outside your house.

In this world of meaningless claptrap, this might just be the most insipid. It’s about as edgy as a Steve Smith masterclass on an Aussie road. It’s about as uplifting as a funeral march. It’s about as energetic as me at 7am. Step aside for someone with drive and determination. Jesus wept. Is this a cricket competition or an episode of the Apprentice?

You’ll be pleased to know, Northerners (for me that description starts at Tower Bridge) will be no doubt reassured that they have a desire to win that matches their determination, and that, quite unlike a team in Yorkshire, they’ll be powered by positivity and people who get stuff done. I presume Colin Graves is describing himself here. No mediocrity up North. I mean, it’s not as if Yorkshire, I mean Northern, have ever had a reputation for arguing the toss, sticking to the point and open minded.

Every ball counts. Sounds like a game show. A supercharged Northern Game Show. A bit like 3-2-1 for all you old timers out there. Instead of Ted Rogers, you’ll be getting the usual T20 Aussies, a little bit of local flavour, a relocated Ben Foakes, and other Kolpaks and Adil Rashid. It says less Supercharger, and more an overcharger. They couldn’t call it Leeds, they couldn’t call it Yorkshire, but they are called Northern. And not only that, they are brought to you by Popchips. Popchips. POPCHIPS.

What the hell is a Supercharger anyway? I’m hooking my wagon down the M1 and pronto, in a flash. Or like a rocket. To the Trent Rockets. What’s more inspiring than naming yourself after a river?

Join Trent Rockets for the biggest party in the country. Everyone’s invited – so long as you don’t mind having the most fun. Volume up, ready for launch.

The biggest party in the country. Please god. Life is waning in me reading this. What the hell does this even mean. Everyone’s invited brings me neatly to the attitude the ECB have shown to everyone who may actually be supporting the game now. This isn’t for you. You aren’t the people we are aiming at. You are obsessives. You are obstructive. You are resistant to change (nice one that from Vaughan). Gurney thinks we are irrelevant, because we have fewer Twitter followers than him. This isn’t for county fans, they can remain the oddballs. This is for Mum and Kids (c). This is for players to earn more money, commentators to have more gainful employment, the BBC to get a fig leaf of cricket on the TV. Volume up. Ready for Launch. Kill the counties. Extract six weeks peak cricket season for a party no-one seems to really want.

You can come as long as you don’t mind having their version of fun. That’s the ECB and the Hundred in a nutshell. A bloody nutshell. YOU WILL ENJOY IT.

The ultimate in sport brings you a team with Harry Gurney, the poster child of fan alienation and arrogant dismissiveness to the people who, yes, pay his wages. It brings you world superstar Darcy Short, who definitely isn’t Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma. It brings you non-playing Joe Root, who seems desperate for the additional cash, because being England captain doesn’t pay enough. It brings you Luke Fletcher, a worthy pro, Alex Hales, an exile and rebel, and Rashid Khan who you could have seen playing for Sussex, but it isn’t sexy enough. It’s the biggest party in town, you will have fun, and it’s brought to you by Skips crisps. I mean, really. This is the brave new world?

So no, ECB. This isn’t a bright future. This isn’t an exciting launch. It’s distilling the talent down a little, to bring you a competition that there seems little demand for, just to satisfy your egos. So while it would be nice to be contrary, and maybe even stick up for these cretins, one read of the eight teams’ overviews, these mantras of the morons, these invocations of the insipid, this ocean going mediocrity of management buzz phrases parading as inspirational missives to the massive, has you gouging out your eyes and wondering. What the hell do they think they are up to?

My apologies for ignoring the Women’s Hundred, although their players are included in the squads on the website – which confusingly makes it look like it is a mixed gender team competition – because the act of vandalism on their game is even worse.

Someone stop these people. They are mad. They have overdosed on Blue Smarties. They are drunk on their own power, high on their own supply of conceived brilliance. Only they know how to save us. Only they know what is best. The ECB will bring us all to the promised land and…

YOU WILL ENJOY IT.

Count me out.

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It’s been a bit of a strange time over the last month or so – the conclusion of the domestic cricket season caused a fair bit of retrospective comment about how successful the summer had been – the World Cup victory being the clear stand out, with the scraped draw in the Ashes being recast as something of a success by too many people who ought to know better.

Much of the recent cricketing action in this country has been off the field – the ongoing Hundred debacle most central to that, including the hearing at the DCMS committee. It’s particularly notable the way the ECB have pushed their entire tournament to the media has shifted slightly, almost a tacit admission of the horrendous balls up they’ve made of it to date, while at the same time continuing to block any direct questioning, even by MPs. Yesterday Ashley Giles talked about the Hundred being played alongside the County Championship, raising a fair few issues in the process.  Giles has tended to be rather more thoughtful and honest than most in the ECB, and while that’s not saying a lot, if ever anyone was going to acknowledge, even obliquely, the problems raised, it was always likely to be him.  The ECB have decided that the domestic professional game will go in a certain direction, and the consequences of that are more or less impossible to avoid – as such this is perhaps the first time anyone has even publicly considered how to mitigate them.

The main problem with the Hundred has never been the format itself – it might have attracted scorn and derision, and deservedly so, but it remains a short game of cricket, even if the added funkiness does little to further it.  The impact on the rest of the season however is far more pertinent and permanent – even were the Hundred itself to fail and be turned back into T20, as some hope, it wouldn’t alter the general balance of the season the ECB have determined.

The initial response to Ashley Giles’ comments about running the Championship concurrently is interesting, partly because it’s been almost universally negative. So perhaps it’s time to challenge that somewhat, albeit a rather lukewarm challenge and a thought experiment as much as anything. But it could be argued that given where we are now it’s as good an idea as is practicable. The impact on Test techniques of short form cricket has been a concern for a while but there has also been some divergence, especially in batting and spin bowling, between those players who prioritise white ball cricket and those who aim to be long form players.

There is always the balance to be struck between insisting on purity in the response (“Hundred bad, sack them all”), and thinking about what might be feasible as mitigation, given stopping it at all appears out of the question.  The call to get behind the new competition may be nonsensical, but equally opposing the Hundred to the point that any and all suggestions made around it are automatically dismissed isn’t hugely helpful either.  If there were a genuine prospect of changing the direction of travel, that might be a different thing, but this seems desperately unlikely.  This is how it is going to be for a number of years at minimum, whether people like it or not.  Since that is the case, it bears examination whether Giles’ idea might then represent a better outcome than a normal county championship pushed ever more to the margins of the season? It’s an open question, but one worthy of consideration. There are serious downsides to Giles’ idea, but whether the upsides improve the overall position compared to doing nothing should be considered properly, without a knee jerk “no” as a response to everything.

The suggestion that only half points should be awarded for the championship games played during the Hundred window is particularly controversial, but it does also offer up the intriguing prospect that even with half points, counties might need to balance their squads rather better than they do under next year’s regime where it makes no difference. Essex and Somerset for example might be especially weak if 2020 was repeated, but under Giles’ thinking then rather than necessarily being a bad thing, it might encourage them to ensure they have sufficient red ball specialists in the leftovers to prevent them being repeatedly crushed.

Such a proposal would also have the knock on effect of requiring some of the matches to be played at the outgrounds rather than the eight stadia where the Hundred matches will take place. This too is a mixed blessing – certainly such venues tend to be popular with spectators, but there is a considerable cost involved in making them ready for Championship cricket, and the quality of pitches can be variable. There is also the matter of the value for money involved in county membership, given some matches would be rather distant from the main ground, yet a proposal that offers an unclear picture as to whether something is good or ill rather represents progress – such is the reality of ECB planning.

Along with one or two political matters that Will Not Be Talked About Under Any Circumstances, the polarisation caused by the advent of the Hundred makes a nuanced response difficult to maintain. Without question, the ECB are culpable for this – it’s not just the principle behind the Hundred that can be criticised, but also that the ability of the ECB to make the worst of things is genuinely impressive. Purely from a business perspective, they are an extraordinarily incompetent organisation. The continual omnishambolic leaking, the genuinely dreadful marketing (as an aside, it’s endlessly amusing reading former cricketers who know nothing at all about such things defending the ECB to the great unwashed, many of whom might actually know a bit about the subject) all points to an organisation that is amazingly amateurish. This is then always the problem with those who say that the fact that it is coming is sufficient reason to get behind it – they don’t deserve anyone getting behind them and haven’t done for many years. An acceptance of the reality that it’s going to happen is not approval, and certainly not support, and pointing out the inherent flaws and idiocies remains perfectly appropriate.  Andrew Strauss once talked about the Kevin Pietersen issue being a matter of trust, but the ECB have long since burned any residual trust they had with those who love the game of cricket, which is why their pleas forever fall on deaf ears. Sporting governing bodies might not be popular, but only the ECB is at war with its own supporters.  It is therefore particularly irritating to be told to pipe down by those who stand to benefit directly, and speaks to the consistent failing in all circles of professional cricket in conflating what is in their own interests with the general interests of the sport itself.

It’s long been my contention that “the game” doesn’t mean the wider game, only their small part of it, but it is equally beholden on those of us on the outside not to oppose just for the sake of opposition. The Hundred might well drive a coach and horses through traditional cricket, and provide little to no benefit further down. But there is little merit in screaming into the void at every single suggestion ever made and assuming it can only make things worse, even if scepticism about the rationale behind their latest wheeze is perfectly reasonable. Giles’ suggestion would also return the 50 over competition to being a first team one rather than a development tournament, albeit early in the season, and to that end would undo some of the crass stupidity of the ECB abandoning the format domestically in which England have become World Champions – often at the expense of the Test side.

The County Championship would certainly be diminished by playing it at the same time as the Hundred. But the problem is that it’s diminished anyway, and if next year’s schedule was repeated, that diminution is only going to continue and get worse. Rugby provides some interesting comparisons with cricket in many ways – far more so than football. And rugby does cope with players disappearing from their club sides to play internationals at the same time as the domestic championship takes place. Perhaps it can be said that is no different to how cricket has always been, but this Rugby World Cup is a good case in point of radically weakened sides still competing in the main domestic tournament, and making use of that by bringing in younger players and developing them. Perhaps the lesson there is that it is possible for such things to be a net positive. In this case that is a highly contentious proposition, but it does at the very least deserve a fair hearing.

Of course, rugby has also been notably different to cricket in terms of the exposure it seeks. This morning’s World Cup final will doubtless have been watched by many millions of people (albeit a lot might have turned off with 10 minutes to go), but the contrast in that is not just with the ECB. World Rugby specifically have a policy that the World Cup should be free to air wherever possible – it’s written into their mission statement for the entire tournament. Japanese TV coverage was an interesting example, where they had to negotiate to ensure some matches were free to air. This is antithetical to the ICC, who sell off the rights to the highest bidder and have no interest in who they are sold on to, and whether people then have to pay to watch. It’s a stunning, startlingly huge difference in approach by the two sports, and it’s hard to dispute that rugby has done a better job of promoting itself. Even the presence of rugby sevens in the Olympics while cricket continues to show ambivalence about T20’s involvement demonstrates that, while if ever a difference could be identified in profile, it could be seen in the way on the eve of the Rugby World Cup final, it was the number one item on the BBC Six O’Clock News. The number one item.

For us as a group, the post summer period tends to be our quiet time of the year, partly because we take a bit of a break, and partly because those people who pay us to work do expect us to turn up and do it. We’re fortunate that our really chaotic periods tend not to often coincide with each other, if ever there’s a gap when cricket is on, that’s what’s happened. So it’s a pleasure to note when we make our return that we still have plenty to talk about. The winter tours (three of them) have begun, with a T20 against New Zealand that rather passed everyone by,  but we are back, and we are as annoyed as ever.

The Ministry of Public Enlightenment

I came across a peculiar article this week, one that wasn’t in the mainstream media and one which as far as I could see hadn’t been published on Twitter or any of the other main social media sites. It was an article on LinkedIn by Sanjay Patel, MD of The Hundred, that someone had liked (hence why it came to my attention). It’s mainly word soup as you would come to expect from a senior executive of the ECB, but some of the claims are rather interesting to say the least:

It’s been a busy few weeks for The Hundred. We’ve been introduced to the teams, the brands and the kits. And following Sunday’s fascinating The Hundred Draft, we have the final piece in the jigsaw – the players. Fans of the eight new men’s teams have been poring over the selections, while media experts have worked out who are the favourites and the outsiders. It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

Because there is one big question that needs to be asked at the end of the astonishing summer of 2019: What’s next? How do you follow England’s impossibly thrilling World Cup win? Ben Stokes’s innings of a lifetime at Headingley? The excitement of T20 finals day and the conclusion of the County Championship? No sport can afford to stand still, and there is a tremendous opportunity to raise even further cricket’s profile, which has been boosted so encouragingly this year.

More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts. So the appetite and opportunity are there. In 2020 the ECB launches its five-year Inspiring Generations strategy. As the name suggests, the vision is to attract and excite the next generation of cricket fans as part of a push to grow the game for men, women, boys and girls in our schools and clubs.

The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales. The new tournament is a central part of that drive to get more and more people watching and playing the game in the next five years. The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport. It will be fast, furious and fantastic – and feature most of the best home-grown and overseas players in the world, including members of England’s men’s and women’s World Cup-winning sides. The Hundred also sees live cricket return to free-to-air TV for the first time in 15 years as the BBC screens matches from both the men’s and women’s competitions, alongside prolific support from Sky.

Cricket has always been a sport of innovation. In recent decades we have seen the emergence and acceptance of one-day internationals, coloured uniforms, day-night matches, the white ball game and new formats such as T20. Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before.  

Cricket’s doors are well and truly open and we’re looking forward to welcoming in a new generation of people who love the game. 

I haven’t got the time or energy to go into the full article in depth, plus I’m nowhere near as good as Dmitri in fisking a particular piece of fiction, which this is; however it did naturally leave me with a few questions as to what this article was trying to achieve apart from a back slap from a fellow corporate crowd:

  • It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

I will give this to Sanjay as there has been increased focus on the sport, mainly through people wondering why a sport is trying to perform it’s own version of hari-kari after regaining a morsel of interest from the wider UK public. We are the current World Cup holders yet a 50 over competition won’t be played by those who are most likely to be the next cab up for the national side. They will of course be playing for the teams of the Hundred. So there is a massive chance that players who are called up to represent England in the 50 over competition in the future may well have never played a game of 50 over cricket in their professional lives. Hardly a firm basis for creating a successful inter white ball team, if that’s what the aim is. Whatever the result of the Rugby World Cup Final this weekend, I very much doubt they will abandon the 15-a-side game to play 10-a-side game over 55 minutes with a beach ball. They at least have a sane administration.

  • More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts.

This is a very bold statement, though if broken down it is fairly easy to see where the figures have been massaged. The Cricket World Cup which was heavily attended by Indian, Australian and Pakistani supporters alongside English cricket fans, so they will be included in these figures. The 900,000 is probably the overall number of tickets sold than people actually attending; however it is the statements that 1.2million children engaged in cricket and 500,000 played the game in schools that I’m most sceptical about. I’m not an expert on this (and perhaps Danny might be able to chime in) but how do you measure an engagement with cricket? Did someone accidentally flick over to the cricket channel by mistake? Did they look out of the window and see some cricket being played (a sackable offence of course)? Did they eat some KP snacks and thus must be completely engaged with the sport forever now? The mind does boggle somewhat as to how the ECB have come up with this engagement figure.

The 500,000 children supposedly playing in schools however is the statistic that seems particularly odd. Cricket has been phased out of state schools for years with many having no cricket facilities whatsover, so how many of these children are simply private schools who continue to have the means and wealth to play the sport? How many of these children got given a plastic bat or ball once as part of ‘chance to shine’ or the ‘World Cup’ and have never had the urge or opportunity to play again? This seems to be a case of lies, damned lies and statistics, which is something the ECB likes to try and hide behind (unless you ask them about the fall in participation after cricket was put solely as a pay to view sport

  • The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales.

SHOW ME THIS RESEARCH, I KNOW NOBODY WHO HAS BEEN CONSULTED ABOUT THESE CHANGES

  • The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport:

I reckon over 95% of existing fans of the sport have already shown their disgust at the format, which alienates most fans of the came (International and County) and seems to be a stealth approach to reducing the number of counties in the systems. Also how do they know that by bastardising the fairly simple rules of cricket that it is going to appeal to the next generation of fans? Most mothers and children of a certain age can quite easily count to both 6 and also to twenty, so why will they want to pay £25 for 20 less deliveries and a pointless farrago of a pretend ‘cricket game’ where the only new marketing messaging has been ‘look at the shiny kits’? I’m not sure anyone likes to be taken for an idiot.

  • Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before:

Yes they will be played together and the whole budget for the women’s hundred teams is under the annual salary of the Managing Director. Equality, I think not. Still box ticked and all that.

  • Cricket’s doors are well and truly open

Well they’re not though are they. If you’re not in the chosen demographic they’re not. If you’re a fan of the County Championship they’re not. If you’re a fan of Test Cricket, especially with having a competitive Test Side they’re not. If you are a fan of the T20 blast they’re not. If you have allegiances to a county especially those who are deemed surplus to requirements then they’re not. If you want to see a competitive 50 over side try and retain the World Cup they’re not.

This doesn’t leave us with many people who are able to enter these particular doors! Perhaps Sanjay wasn’t referring to the fans but instead those Execs, TV Presenters and other administrators who are due to cash in profitably from this tournament. The doors are naturally open to mothers and children, but most are too sensible to enter this bear trap despite the ECB’s deliberate dumbing down of this demographic.


This is just corporate drivel par excellence. They just needed to add some extra buzz phrases such as ‘low hanging fruit’, ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘connecting all sides of the circle’ to have made this a true PR masterpiece. Though it looks like they have already done this to the team descriptions already!

My main question though Sanjay is if you are so proud of these ‘so-called achievements’ then why hide away this article on a business networking site? why not open it up to the fans so they can join in with your adulation about cricket’s future? why not go on TV and be interviewed by ‘Wardy’, so you can comment on what a great question that was?

The answer is simple. Even those that stand to make the most out of this know it’s a giant white elephant designed to make them richer and they know the fans of the game can see right through their lies. This will irrevocably damage English cricket in the future and quite simply they don’t want to have justify their naked greed and ambition to the people that will lose the most – the fans. Expect the next press release from the ECB to come out in hieroglyphics or Minoan or something like that. Nothing surprises me with these charlatans anymore.

Into The Blue Again, After The Money’s Gone – Another Go

Happy near Halloween everyone. Dmitri here. It has been a long time. Time for a little ramble.

The end of the domestic international season has, recently, been greeted by your writing team with a shrug of the shoulders, and a time for rest. As time goes by, we become more time poor, and speaking from my experience, there is far too much else filling my day at the moment, and at this time of year, to give full attention to what is, now, very much a labour of love. I have admiration for those piling out the content, day in, day out. I just don’t have the time to do it any more.

Then the irony. As I pressed publish, so Sean published his at the same time. So I took this down and it has gone up two days later.

I have spent some of my spare time (a) buying loads of secondhand books and (b) actually reading some of them. I think the recent ones each bring a little bit to the party in terms of viewing cricket these days. “The Club” is about how a sport was “revived and saved” by brilliant marketeers who took a chance, woke up, and thought they could monetise the sport better – and now we have the Sportwashing, Money Laundering, Rich Man’s Plaything Premier League as a result. There’s a little bit of a blueprint for what Harrison and Co are trying to do with The Hundred in there. He may even see himself as the Rick Parry of cricket, you never know. Then there was Phoenix from the Ashes by Mike Brearley, about the 1981 series forever known as Botham’s Ashes. It’s a flowery old book, written in JMB’s standard purple prose, and yet it gives an insight into what is now very much a bygone era. I particularly liked the agonising as to whether to pick Geoff Cook as a test opener despite the fact he had a first class average under 30. That raised a smile.

I read Kieran Fallon’s book, which mirrors much of the KP story, if truth be told. All the things that went wrong in his life were never his fault – not on the horse racing side at least. Top Cees wasn’t stopped, Ballinger Ridge wasn’t sinister, he didn’t have an affair with Henry Cecil’s wife, and the authorities never liked him. Yet at the top of his game, few rivalled him. He could pull out brilliant rides, and annoy the owners of the horses he rode at the same time. A sporting maverick out of tune with many in the sport. Yep, that resonated. As did the fact the ghost author of the book was Oliver Holt.

I’m reading Chaos Monkeys, a supposed insider tell all on Facebook and the like. Loads of people convinced of their own brilliance, but subservient to the main man (in this case Zuckerburg). I am not far into it and I already loathe the author. Not sure how that will have an analogy to crickt. Then there’s the wealth of books on Trump, telling me how bad he is in so many different ways. Trump is The Hundred. There are some misguided people in hock to the cult, but most see it for what it is. A huge ego trip, We all hope it will go away, but we all know it won’t. It’s trouble, whether we like it or not.

I missed the auction – I had a business trip to South Korea which coincided with the world launch of Terminator Whatever in the shopping centre below my hotel, and a chance encounter with John Bolton no less – and the parliamentary sub-committee that grandstands as giving a toss about the game, but in fact is a toothless tiger that would do nothing to enforce anything on the game, because it can’t. So while it might have caused Graves, Harrison, Patel et al some minor discomfort, they aren’t about to turn around and see the light. This is their great idea, and no-one is going to change their course.

And then there is the cricket itself. South Africa being buried in India is somewhat sad, but indicative of how strong the Indian team is at home, and how weakened South Africa have become after England strips bare a lot of its talent for the county game that is so unbeloved we have had to introduce a new competition to counter that scorn. It might have been wonderful for Rohit Sharma to fill his boots, but one suspects this is even more the way of test cricket. India can’t be blamed for burying teams in their own backyard, why should they, but strength in depth isn’t test cricket’s watchword at the moment.

The World T20 pre-qualifying has been going on, but sadly I’ve not got to see a lot of it. It is great that Sky Sports Cricket Channel has actually decided to show some live cricket, and those that feel passionately about the world game can at least watch some decent T20 cricket. Whether a cricket channel should have been showing test cricket when it is on, is for you all to decide. The world loves T20 at the moment, so why not show it?

Talking of T20, England are out in New Zealand for five of the damn things, with the test series still a month away. The first is on Friday, apparently. I’m not interested. If it’s on, it is on, and I’ll watch it. I don’t care about the outcome, a loss for the national team will be greeted by massive indifference, just as a win would, and the world will keep on turning. The sport is about revenue generation, not occasion. Got to keep the coffers flowing.

Finally in this short (for me) piece, let me turn to The Hundred. I am absolutely sick of it. Sick of what it is doing to the sport. Sick of seeing fans turn against fans. Sick of how the ECB have ballsed the whole thing up, but carry on regardless. But most of all, I am sick that the ECB, and the past pros, and those making money out of the thing by either playing in it, reporting on it, being an ex-officio member of a county supplying players to it or commentating on it are now switching their focus. Remembering that we were the reason cricket is in trouble, us white, 50 year olds, with some disposable income, mostly male are a massive barrier to entry (and not the other socio-economic factors, natch) and almost inhospitable to women and children (where’s the evidence), the worm has turned and now we HAVE to get behind the damn thing or the risky punt that the ECB has taken will fail, and that will do no-one any good. It’s like an arsonist setting fire to a house he is in, and it being the fire brigade’s fault if he gets burned.

The county cricket fan is still going to go to see his or her county if they (a) are still going and (b) have decent games to play. Asking us to fall into line to watch a competition that talks big, but doesn’t get the really big T20 stars to play in it is not it. The new teams, the new colours, the players mainly with little affinity to the region they are playing in, in a competition where 80 or so county cricketers will profit while their colleagues founder, with the damage this will do to county contracts, the incentives to play at county grounds where the Hundred is sited. There’s a ton of consequences that Harrison and co don’t give a shit about. I don’t want to read Joe Root exhort me to get behind it. I want Joe Root to score test centuries again. I don’t want Isa Guha to tell me that if the fans don’t back it, then the game is in trouble – we didn’t put it there. And most of all, I don’t want to see articles by people who love the game, finding bogeymen and women that aren’t there, and doing the ECB’s dirty work.

2019 was an excellent cricketing summer. It ended with someone thinking that this:

Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.

Is something appropriate. How many of the Welsh Fire team are actually from Wales. Maybe the people who hate are Welsh cricketers?

From the heroics of Stokes and Archer, to meaningless blurbs for meaningless teams in a meaningless competition, without meaning except to raise money and put the counties in their place, is a tragedy. Hell, if England win the rugby union World Cup on Saturday, cricket might see the real power of free to air TV, as I would imagine that would pass the ODI team for the Team of the Year awards because rugby did not totally sell its soul to the highest bidder. That might be the biggest lesson yet, and ten or so meaningless hit and giggle cricket isn’t going to change it.

Until next time. Hopefully not as long.

The message is clear. The ECB is not your friend. The players are governed by self interest. You, the fan, must STFU, pay your entry fee, and pay homage to the great and the good. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. I was saying this in 2014. I don’t have the time to fight now.

Your Dream Could Be My Nightmare

Whilst there would have been some in the minority who woke up on Monday morning genuinely happy with the outcome of the Hundred draft the previous evening, there would have been far more who woke up in a far more somber mood as the enormity of what this huge white elephant will do to the landscape of county cricket finally hit home. If you were one of the few lucky English players who was picked in the draft ahead of the multiple Kolpaks and overseas ‘white ball specialists’ then you were probably feeling quite pleased for yourself, a minimum of £30k for 5 weeks worth of cricket and for some, much much more. The same goes for those commentators and presenters who are likely to emerge financially better off from this new competition with the pain and anger of the average fan a mere annoyance to be dismissed forthwith.

Those ‘lucky few’ are indeed few and far between though. The majority of players, fans and cricket aficionados are now on the outside looking in, which is ironic as this is the place we have found ourselves for years having been castigated by the ECB for daring to question their modus operandi. For those players who haven’t been picked for the Hundred, with the significant earnings on offer now but a mere dream for many an underpaid county cricketer, it must be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Instead they get to look around their dressing room knowing who of their colleagues has been paid £70k or £100k or whatever they indeed got paid to participate in a format that will hurt the county format forever and sharpen the pay divide in English cricket. They also have to face the fact that they will now be in the bottom tier of the priority of English cricket whose purpose is merely designed to make up the numbers in a developmental 50 over competition and a T20 competition that the ECB is desperate to kill off, despite both the popularity of the format and the financial success it has delivered.

Then we get to the real casualties – the counties and those members and supporters who have both grown up with and followed county cricket for years and now face a reduced programme with fewer of the players that they have grown accustomed in seeing being available to play for their county. Every single county has been hit, though those who have had the dubious pleasure of being awarded a franchise can at least console themselves that they will have money flowing in through the gates, probably more from a bung from the ECB to stop a catastrophic financial loss than actual fans attending mind; however it is again, those at the bottom of the food pile that have been hit the hardest. I may be a huge Middlesex fan, but one can only imagine the pain of supporters of the likes of Sussex, Somerset and Worcestershire, just to name three, who scanned which players they were going to lose for a period during the upcoming season and then realized that the successful team that they had put together despite their financial limitations, had been ransacked by the franchises. The 50 over competition isn’t going to be a developmental competition for them, it’s basically going to be second XI cricket and whilst I don’t doubt the strong support of the fanbases of each of these counties, it is still going to be incredibly tough to motivate yourself to watch a 2nd XI team play for over a month, especially against those who have been relatively untouched by the draft and are likely to have a far stronger squad than you. There is also the small matter of players like Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Dan Lawrence, George Garton and many others who might find that the counties who are hosting these new franchises would quite like a friendly word with them and maybe the promise of a large contract in time. Indeed they would be crazy not to. This is of course is the first stage of the slippery slope from where proud counties just become developmental squads for the bigger counties, not that anyone will admit to that though. Yet.

The message from those who are likely to benefit most from this competition has been unsurprisingly terse to those who might murmur an objection to this terrible format. Stop moaning, get with the programme, stop holding back cricket, think of the new fans and look at the shiny £1.3million hush money we’ve given you (though I would actually be amazed if the actual figure the counties receive is anywhere near that). A case in point comes from an individual who is definitely a winner from the formation of this competition:

Isa has had a meteoric rise through the commentary circles over the past years and now seems to be the face of both women’s cricket and the go to female commentator for men’s cricket. I have to say I have no problem with this as in the main, I think she is good, although nowhere near as good as Alison Mitchell but quite frankly I couldn’t care less whether the commentator is male or female as long as they speak sense. However this post is at best ill informed and at worst completely hypocritical from someone who should know much better. It is well known that Isa has been named as the lead for the BBC’s coverage of the Hundred and no doubt has received a hefty pay rise as part of this, so to therefore lecture those fans, who never wanted the format in the first place ‘to stop being so negative’ strikes of a massive self-serving agenda. It’s the sort of thing Michael Vaughan would do and you never want to go ‘full shiny toy’. It’s also an argument that you’re never to go win either. The stench that the Hundred has created by the complete and utter mismanagement by the ECB at every stage and what it means to the average county fan, who is fearful for the existence of his or her county, means that people are naturally going to be angry and upset.  Comments such as ‘it’s here now, therefore you need to get behind it’ are certainly not going to pacify a group of individuals who are seeing the game that they know and love massively transform for the worse overnight. Hell, even Tom Harrison’s favourite subservient – Gordon Hollins, has fled the ECB after a hugely successful 10 months as ‘Managing Director of county cricket’ doing important stuff such as…er, let me come back to you on this. More to the point, when the rats start fleeing the sinking ship then you know have a case to be seriously worried.

Without doubt this is the first step into carving county cricket firstly into a two tier establishment of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ with the end game being a slimmed down county circuit of the ‘haves’; never mind the history and the county fans who there are many. This is the ‘digital transformation’ of cricket and if you happen to support a county team without a Test Match stadium, then sorry, you need to get with the programme, this is the new game whether you like it or not, Cricket 2020 is now upon us. Oh and if the new competition doesn’t work, then we’re all buggered anyway, well apart from those who managed to get paid big because of it.

Oh and don’t just take my word for it, feel free to read George Dobell’s submission to the DCMS committee about his take on what the Hundred will do for cricket. It is somewhat damning:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/the-future-of-english-cricket/written/106274.pdf

 

 

World Cup Match 34 – India v West Indies

Exactly a week ago, the day before England’s game against Sri Lanka, I derided the World Cup’s format and scheduling for being predictable and boring. Far from being a string of dead rubbers, now England’s only chance to absolutely guarantee reaching the semi finals is to win their next two games.

Pakistan’s performance yesterday will worry many people in the England camp, with the men in green managing to see off what had been, prior to the game, an unbeaten side in the competition. Having won that match against the odds, Pakistan could quite conceivably win their remaining two games and leave England needing at least a win and a draw/tie to qualify.

In other England news, it seems like Archer and Rashid may be nursing injuries. Whether the injuries are serious enough to affect their places in a must-win game, particularly Rashid since his replacement would be significantly inferior, remains to be seen. Personally, I dislike teams picking injured star players as it’s a gamble which rarely pays off. If Roy, Rashid and Archer are forced to play at sub-par levels, I think that says everything you need to know about England’s strength in depth (or lack thereof) and the coach’s lack of faith in their squad members.

Today’s game between India and the West Indies is not quite a dead rubber. India could mathematically fail to reach the semi finals and the West Indies could mathematically reach them, but either possibility is currently vanishingly small. Hopefully this means that the Indian team might relax or the West Indian team go out with guns blazing, giving us a decent contest to watch. After England’s two losses, India are currently the number one ranked ODI team in the world. I suspect they won’t want to surrender that crown as meekly as England have in recent weeks.

In case you missed it, the name for Surrey-based The Hundred team leaked yesterday morning. The team playing at The Oval will be… the Oval Greats. This joins the Manchester Originals, London Spirit, Leeds Superchargers, Birmingham Phoenix, Trent Rockets, Southern Brave and Welsh Fire as the names for the new teams. It’s hard to make fun of them, if only because they seem to be self-parodies. They’re neither fun nor boring, which are probably the two best options if you were creating new team names. An amusing name like the Rocket City Trash Pandas (an American minor league baseball team) ensures strong merchandise sales and can help garner interest from non-sports journalists and tv shows. An intentionally dull name (such as just calling the teams Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, etc.) makes it clear that that the focus is on the sport and the players. Picking safe, tested, mediocre names like ‘Phoenix’, ‘Rockets’ and ‘Originals’ is just the latest move by the ECB seeminly designed to drain almost any enthusiasm about the new competition out of English cricket fans.

As always, please comment on todays game, your ideas for The Hundred team names, or anything else, below.

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.

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.