The Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs

“As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find nothing.” – Aesop’s Fables

It is difficult to over exaggerate how much English cricket relies on Test cricket financially. Perhaps as much as two-thirds of the ECB’s total domestic income comes from the six or seven red ball internationals played every summer. The ticket sales alone for a home Ashes series draws in almost as much income as the entire Hundred (Including TV rights, sponsors, and 34/35 ‘full’ grounds) in a year.

Which is what makes it so surprising that the ECB seems intent on prioritising a competition which is losing money, and seems certain to continue losing money for the next six years without significant changes, to the detriment of their proverbial golden goose.

For a simple indication of the two formats’ relative worth: In 2019, the idea was mooted by MCC members that one Test every season, played at Lord’s, should be shown on Freeview. Sky responded by saying that such a move would cost the ECB £50m per year. For a single Test match. The total revenue for The Hundred in 2021 was £52m.

It has been said repeatedly by supporters of The Hundred that it is vital for the competition is played in August, since more children will be able to attend games or watch them on TV than at any other time of the year. This may be fair enough as an argument if your sole priority is the long term health of this one competition, but it is baffling in the context of English cricket as a whole.

Given that the ECB (and therefore the counties also) are so financially reliant on Test cricket, it would seem like a sensible measure to ensure that as many children as possible were able to watch it on TV, to become the next generation of fans (and, more cynically, customers). Instead, the ECB has chosen to do the opposite.

There is also the matter of attendance. The T20 Blast was shifted from primarily being in August in 2019 to June in 2022, and this appeared to cause a 23% decline in ticket sales. Given the high demand and high price for Test tickets in England, a similar fall in sales might cost the ECB several million pounds every year.

It should be said, in fairness to Tom Harrison and others at the ECB, that they acknowledge the reliance that English cricket has on a handful of Test matches every season. It was a key goal of The Hundred to become a second source of income for the game, to act as a safety net in the event that the commercial viability of the red ball game declined. That is not an unlikely scenario, not least because clowns like Harrison have been in charge of English Test cricket for a long time.

The initial indications from The Hundred this year don’t seem to indicate that the competition deserves this extraordinary level of support from the ECB. Viewing figures on the BBC for the men’s and women’s opening matches appear to be almost half what they were in 2021, suggesting very little interest from the wider public. And, to be clear, this is before the men’s Test series against South Africa has begun. Moving next year’s Ashes to a less favourable slot in the calendar wouldn’t obviously have any positive effect on The Hundred, but could have a severe negative impact on the number of people watching the Tests.

Cricket Australia hosts both a T20 competition and their Test series at the same time, with no obvious harm to either. The idea that it is necessary to sacrifice England internationals in order to ensure the growth and popularity of The Hundred is blatantly false. The whole exercise stinks of some worried executives throwing every possible resource behind a project they are publicly considered responsible for, or perhaps have bonuses linked to the success of, not caring about the wider damage it will cause the organisation and people they are supposed to represent.

The ECB is insulated somewhat from the consequences of their actions, at least for a while. A new Sky TV deal has already been agreed which offers them a similar guaranteed income over the next six years, albeit one that will likely be worth a lot less over time due to high inflation in the UK. The problem will come when they look to negotiate the next contract, from 2029 onwards. If interest in the longest format is diminished, and by extension its commercial worth, then it would lead to a significant devaluation in what Sky and their competitors thought the rights are worth paying for. That would be catastrophic for the ECB, and particularly the counties.

Or maybe I am wrong. But I don’t think I am.

If you have any comments on the post, The Hundred, or anything else, please leave them below.

Why Not Move The Hundred To April?

The Hundred has been a contentious issue for English cricket since it was first launched in 2018. Its supporters, most notably within the ECB and the media, seem to treat it like a sacred object where it would be considered blasphemous to alter any part of it. The appointment of Surrey CCC’s Richard Thompson as ECB chair represents perhaps the first time since its inception that someone in a position of actual power has publicly questioned aspects of the competition, and that represents an opportunity to make The Hundred work for everyone.

One of the most egregious lies told regarding The Hundred is that it would help attract new fans to both watch other teams and play at their local clubs. If The Hundred does excite a kid into joining an All Stars Cricket session, then they would have to wait until May the next year. Someone wanting to see more T20 games has the same issue. There is a reason why you never see advertisements saying “You can buy this product… In eight month’s time!” That reason is because it would be a monumentally stupid waste of resources. After eight months, the excitement and interest will have largely faded.

This would all change if The Hundred was held in April. This would allow the ECB to say “Did you like attending this match? Well, this very ground is hosting seven more matches almost exactly like it starting next month. You can buy tickets now.”, or “Are you interested in playing cricket? Well you’re in luck, because this website will show you a list of local cricket clubs starting junior sessions in the next few weeks.”, and “Like these women cricketers? Here’s the fixture list for the Charlotte Edwards Cup.”. It even allows Sky to say “Did you like watching this match on BBC/YouTube/TikTok/Pick? Here’s how to subscribe to Sky Sports via Now TV, where you can watch cricket almost every day for the next five months.”

It just makes sense.

There are other benefits hosting the competition in April. The international calendar for the England teams is now ridiculously condensed thanks to the ECB trying to avoid scheduling games through either the IPL or The Hundred. With the IPL extending into June now and The Hundred taking up all of August, only September, July and half of June are available for 7 Tests, 12 ODIs and 12 T20Is between the men’s and women’s teams. 58 days of scheduled cricket in a space of roughly 75 days. It’s ridiculous, physically unsustainable, and simply can’t last. Something has to give and, absent a significant change of heart from the BCCI, it has to be the ECB which relents.

Obviously there are downsides to such a move. Nights are a lot colder in April than August, which would hit evening attendance somewhat. It wouldn’t all be school holidays, although the 2-week Easter break usually falls in April. Sky would probably not be too pleased if they wanted to show the IPL but were obliged to prioritise The Hundred instead, although I’d hope that the increased promotion for the rest of their Summer cricket might help mollify them.

Some players wouldn’t be available due to the IPL, including a few England internationals. Going by the squads in 2022, as many as 28 men’s cricketers in The Hundred (9 English plus 19 overseas) would be in India through April. The ECB could force players on central contracts to stay, but it would be massively unpopular with the PCA and might lead to people refusing to sign international contracts altogether. The loss of talent could be mitigated somewhat by the complete absence of international cricket in the IPL window, which would mean that virtually every other cricketer around the world was available. One obvious opportunity would be to recruit Pakistani players, who aren’t chosen by IPL teams for reasons left unspoken. That said, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to hold a T20 league at the same time as the IPL and not look like a second-tier competition. To be clear: The Hundred is a second-tier competition, but the ECB doesn’t want it to be that obvious.

There are undoubtedly other things that Richard Thompson could change in order to improve The Hundred for next season. The amount the women players are paid should be significantly increased, more women’s matches should have the prime nighttime slot, overall costs should be reduced, the on-screen graphics should be fixed, and Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen should be barred from entering the grounds. But none of that would have anywhere near the impact of having The Hundred, the showcase event for English cricket with up to 18 matches on Freeview, starting the season rather than being almost at its end.

If you have anything you’d like to say about the post, Thompson’s appointment, or anything else, please leave them below.

Should Women Have Equal Pay In The Hundred?

Tomorrow, the ECB and several county chairs are going before the Digital, Culture, Media And Sport Parliamentary committee to answer questions regarding racism within English cricket and their responses to it (or the lack thereof). This is certainly an important issue which should be questioned and addressed, but it is far from the only problem that the sport has regarding diversity and equality. The treatment of women cricketers by the ECB and the counties has been (and continues to be) shameful.

This genuinely angers me, and never more so than when the ECB posts press releases, promotional videos and friendly articles by useful idiots in the press declaring how committed they are to gender equality. It is absolute bullshit. I’ve posted about this before, after the ECB posted a series of videos on Twitter proclaiming their support for the International Women’s Day 2020 campaign ‘Each For Equal’. It’s fair to say that I was not impressed.

In the first season of The Hundred, the total player wage bill for the women’s competition was £1.3m compared to £6.7m for the men. This meant that the average man was paid £45,000 more than the average woman. The ECB announced pay rises for everyone in this year’s competition, which was presented by some useful idiots in the press as being a “108%” (or “more than doubled”) increase for the women compared to ‘just’ 25% for the men. A real blow for equality in sport. This was technically accurate, but hardly tells the full story. With the total wage bills being £8.3m and £2.3m in 2022, the average pay gap for women cricketers has actually increased by £5,000 to £50,000.

The first question this scenario begs to be asked is whether it is legal. If you had a company with a 50-50 gender split and every single woman was paid £50,000 less than a man in the same job, you could expect to spend most of your time in lawyers’ offices and employment tribunals.

We understand in sport that men’s and women’s sports are typically separate, with their own discrete economic and competition structures and therefore it is not unfair for Cristiano Ronaldo to be paid more than Ella Toone, for example. However, it is not immediately apparent that this would apply to The Hundred. Almost every source of income is pooled together from both competitions, with no distinction for what proportion can (or should) be attributed to the men or women. The TV deals all include both men’s and women’s games. Every ticket sold (barring the season openers) is for both a men’s and women’s game. The same sponsorship deals cover both competitions. At the same time, it would seem like women do the same amount of work as the men in The Hundred, playing the same number of games and having apparently equal media and sponsorship commitments. It would be very interesting to hear what someone with more knowledge than me regarding employment law had to say on the issue.

Even if total pay equity is not legally required, the current balance is significantly out of proportion to the value they bring to the competition and the compensation they therefore deserve. With wage budgets of £8m and £2m, the women will on average be paid 25% as much as the men this season. According to the ECB’s own figures, the women’s Hundred had 52.4% of the attendance and (for the final) 58.3% of the TV viewers compared to the men’s games. It would seem to logically follow that the women therefore deserve to be paid at least 50% of what the men receive, or double what they are currently due in 2022.

To be clear: The TV audiences are the key statistic regarding how much income can be attributed to the women’s competition. The Sky and BBC TV deals alone account for £36.5m, roughly 70% of The Hundred’s revenue. If women’s cricket is attracting 52.4% of the men’s audience (and it is) then it follows that they are earning 34.4% (0.524/1.524) of those TV deals, or £12.5m. This would mean that the women’s competition is already making a profit, and would continue to do so even if their total wage budget was increased to £8m per year.

At the same time, the men’s competition has significantly greater costs. As well as having higher salaries for the players, it also requires an annual payment to the counties of £24.7m to compensate them for losing contracted men’s players during the season as well as lost income from hosting fewer, lower status men’s games in the middle of summer. This means that the men’s competition earns £24m in UK TV revenue (65.6% of £36.5m) but costs at least £32.7m. Even if you attribute 100% of ticket revenue (around £6.5m) to the men’s Hundred, it would still be making a significant loss. In short: The women’s Hundred appears to be subsidising the men’s.

However, these attendance and viewing figures don’t tell the whole story. The scheduling of The Hundred in the first year was entirely focussed on the men’s competition. Every single men’s game in 2021 was in a primetime television/attendance slot, by which I mean outside of work hours and avoiding clashes with the men’s Test series against India. By contrast, every weekday women’s game (bar the season opener) started at 3pm or 3.30pm and there were also ten women’s games scheduled to take place at the same time as the Tests.

That the women attracted such a large audience in spite of these handicaps placed on them by the ECB is incredible and, I would argue, suggests that they are significantly undervalued. After all, if the roles were reversed and every women’s game was given this kind of priority, would the men’s attendances and TV audiences still be higher? There is a reason why almost no sports play their games during work hours, if they can avoid it.

It bears saying that achieving equal pay in The Hundred would be much easier with the support of the PCA. The women players are all members, and you might expect that their union would be supporting them gaining more (and, I would argue, fairer) pay. However, the most obvious way for the ECB to implement this would having a £5m wage budget for each competition, which would represent a 37.5% pay cut for men. As I have previously posted, the PCA always seems to prioritise the interests of their male members over everyone else.

Even so, to pay women cricketers so little would seem to be too hypocritical even for the ECB to stomach. After all, they post lovely videos on all of their social media accounts proclaiming their support for International Women’s Day every single year. Given that one of the key themes running through every single International Women’s Day campaign is the fight against pay disparity, and the ECB actively promotes these campaigns, supporting equal pay in their new competition would seem like a no-brainer.

Which should tell you exactly how much I rate the ‘brains’ at the ECB.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, please leave them below.

Look At My Hopes, Look At My Dreams, The Currency We’ve Spent – 1st Test, Day 1

As one of the privileged number to have the ability to work from home almost effectively as working in an office, and taking that privilege seriously, I didn’t have the test match on until well into the day (and the Olympics as well). So as usual with one of my match reports, you may well have seen more of the day’s play than me. We’ve been doing this for years here, and it always seems to work. I’ll guess you will tell us when it doesn’t.

Prior to this test match I had a bit of a rant on a call with a friend I’ve reconnected with over the past year or so about test cricket. Me? A rant? Surely not. He was comparing the current team with that of the 90s, and I bristled. The standard of opposition in that decade, even from so-called minnows like Zimbabwe, was so much stronger than today. This appears to be an England team formed of people who might shine one test in five, or possibly more. It’s the fault of the system, the neglect to the red-ball game in England in particular, to the prevalence of the money-spinning T20 and similar tournaments. Joe Root might walk into the 90s batting line up, but would any of the others? Probably not (without Stokes). It’s a familiar lament, it’s a familiar story and frankly, only luck is going to get us out of it. Or a change of approach, which is just not in the pipeline at all.

The last few weeks, especially since the launch of the Hundred, has seen the rational, even-headed, tolerant landscape of cricket twitter in rare form. I had to chuckle, because I was getting a lot of 2014 and 2015 nostalgia looking at it. In those days though, we were mainly complaining about test cricket, test cricket performances and paying little heed to white ball stuff. You could tell from the hits and comments back then. Test matches aroused anger and debate, a bad day would be a good day for the blog, and a good day would be an exercise in watching people go overboard. The main thing around this test series has been “no-one is paying attention” and “I’ve never seen such a low-key build up to a major series”. I would contend that the 2012 series v South Africa was paid similar scant attention for a while, even though it was the World Championship up for grabs, but then some loudmouth played a miracle innings, had a mass fall-out with his team mates, volunteered to play all forms, and was sent to the naughty step. That same individual is now on my naughty step for bringing Hundred commentary down to the depths of WWE, and using this to spout off utter twaddle on his social media platforms. Must be something about the Olympics that set’s his house on fire.

Selection was interesting. No time for the lead spinner in either team, but the second spinner for each may have an impact on the match – Root vs Jadeja? I know who I would want if there is a hint of turn, or if you want to bung up an end when the time is right.

England went into the test with the top three that looks, erm, dodgy. AAAA Rory Burns (it’ll never stick) got pinned LBW in the first over, and a million hundred sceptics shook their fists and said “I told you so”. That Burns had the second most first class balls faced since July was a decided concern. He was one who was most “in practice”. Zak Crawley, justifying that Tory MP’s article in the Cricketer last year with every failure, steadied the ship from disaster, but nicked off and Pant heard it (or guessed) to get Kohli to review. Sibley batted the entire session, before getting out soon after lunch and England found themselves at 66 for 3. With these failures Haseeb Hameed’s name was being circulated once more in Twitter-verse. Usually one of the batsman is on the proverbial “hotseat”. We might have three here, even though Burns made a ton two test ago.

Joe Root came in, once again feeling like he was carrying more passengers than the Tokyo Metro system, and set about the rebuild. Controversial selection Jonny Bairstow, picked because genuinely there doesn’t feel like there is anyone else, also built well. Just when it felt like England had taken control and had started to build a really decent foundation, Mohammed Shami pinned Jonny Bairstow in front, and although the appeal was turned down, it was reversed via VAR,/DRS/TMO whatever. Tea was taken at 138 for 4.

After Mel Jones gave it the big one about a 55 average, and that’s the base you want going into test cricket, the next ball Dan Lawrence flicked a ball straight into Pant’s gloves, and the commentator’s curse hit again straight after tea. Watching Jos Buttler bat for 17 deliveries, flailing at off drives and missing them, before finally getting close enough to nick one on ball number 18, was painfully predictable, woefully inadequate and about as good an example of the “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” mantra as you could wish to see. I can’t even get angry about this any more. What’s the point? Bumrah is too good a bowler, as is Shami, to come into a test totally cold. To come into a test when all you’ve done all summer is try to hit a white ball when you haven’t been injured. This is a class attack and we are seeing what happens when you take things for granted.

Joe Root, above it all, looked in reasonable touch, but he can’t perform miracles every time, and at the moment it looks like if he fails, the team fails. When he played around a delivery from Shardul Thakar, and was pinned in front of leg stump, his departure for 64 was mournful. He didn’t even seem that bothered that Sam Curran told him to go, and that it was plumb. When DRS suggested it was an umpire’s call, and thus wouldn’t have lost a review, or changed a thing, it spoke volumes to me. Root can’t carry this team. Again, someone observed to me that Root doesn’t look or sound well. His reaction to the very sombre news about Stokes struck a chord. I hope my friend is wrong. But no-one should be surprised if he isn’t. Ollie Robinson’s shot to get out in the same over would not have cheered anyone up. Broad smacked his first ball for four, but got nailed to rights by Bumrah soon after. A few lusty blows, a little bit of entertainment, and the party ended when Bumrah yorked Anderson, and England were bowled out for 183.

Strauss observed that those that got in, and then got out, ramped up the pressure. Yep. The four ducks, which he rather passed over, were rather inconvenient. The ball was swinging a little, doing a bit, with good seamer skills, but come on Andrew. This team doesn’t make enough centuries. It’s as clear as a bell.

You should always judge a pitch and the score after both teams have batted first/bowled first. So they say. But 183 looks rubbish, doesn’t it?

So, India batted like a proper test team. 10 overs passed with barely an alarm. Jimmy was given three overs and then removed from the attack. In general Rahul and Rohit left quite well, not faultlessly, but well enough. A play and a miss here and there, a review squandered, and a sedate pace. 21 for 0 off 13. Most hilarity came at 6:15 when David Lloyd mentioned there were 12 overs still to be bowled. “We’ll lose 8 overs here” he said. Well, Bumble, to do that they’d need to have bowled their overs at 16 per hour to get 4 in by the close. Laughable. 9 overs lost for eternity. Imagine the Hundred being called the Ninety. Actually, don’t.

This, despite what we think emotionally, is the most important test series in any cycle. If you study the revenue streams in the accounts, you will know how crucial Indian TV revenue is. We bring in more in an Indian test summer than an Aussie one. In trying to strive for some sort of financial release with the Hundred, the baby is going to be thrown out with the bathwater. If this series ends up as a cakewalk for the visitors, a distinct possibility but with a long way to go, that can’t be good. The Hundred has opened up massive cracks in the English cricketing firmament. One might even call it a schism. It’s not attempting to paper over cracks, it’s there to bludgeon its critics into submission, and one thing I’ve learned is that cricket fans are a stubborn bunch. When we see test cricket like this, when we are not in the least bit surprised, when we see a team with such inadequate preparation, when priorities are set for a competition where a bad half hour can lead to the work going to waste, when we see loudmouths boom on about franchise red-ball when they don’t have a clue how this might work, we aren’t sitting quietly. When we have to put up with all this utter confusion, utter stupidity, the price of everything and the value of nothing, and I see people have a pop at people like me for “holding things back” and “You need to get behind the Hundred”. Good grief. Clearly you have no idea where I am coming from.

Because in the words of the song that the title comes from, I love cricket, but all the authorities seem to care about is the rent. I hope today permeates the skulls of Harrison and Patel in particular. During the interval Athers was made to flog the Hundred, Livingstone v Roy, and it felt like I was being insulted.

Well played India. Professional, organised, skilled bowling, played out the day well. Fully on top. I have a horrible feeling we’ll need to get used to it.

Comments on today below, and also on tomorrow’s play.

PS – Watching the Hundred. The fielding standard is absolutely disgraceful.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

If all publicity is good publicity, then the ECB should be thrilled, for the Hundred has undoubtedly been a talking point over the last week, whether in the media, social media or (the newly rediscovered) real life social settings. As far as social media is concerned, it’s largely hostile, as it always has been since the announcement of the entire concept. Twitter never has been a barometer of public opinion, and that it is negative towards it shouldn’t be viewed as meaning anything at all, and most definitely Twitter polls, or Facebook polls have no relevance to anything.

But the thing that has been utterly lost – not for the first time – on social media is any sense of nuance, with too many pointing to the entirely reasonable public interest in the Hundred as some kind of stick with which to beat those who oppose it, are uneasy about it or who simply aren’t interested in it. Tweets or single sentence posts tend to do that, with a complete inability to explore the issues resulting in confrontational shouting. A long form like a blog ought to allow for a more considered discussion, but it’s still easy enough for anyone to pull out a single sentence and berate people based on that too, as many a journalist will reflect upon to their cost. Lord knows we are probably guilty of that ourselves, making assumptions about a meaning that leaves the writer aghast at the assumed intent. It’s normal enough and human enough, and if I’ve done that to someone (I’m certain I will have done) I can only apologise.

That loss of nuance has also meant a lack of respect for contrary views. The county supporters are looking on in despair at the potential destruction of their sporting love; to treat them as irrelevant, old fashioned and out of touch is not just unreasonable and wrong, it’s extremely cruel. The starting point, even for advocates of the Hundred, ought to be one of empathy, not dismissal. Equally, those who do believe the way forward includes the Hundred deserve a hearing as to why they think so even from those hellbent on hating it, and why they believe the undoubted costs of it are worthwhile. People will come to their own conclusions about the wisdom or otherwise, but it would help things immeasurably if such a conversation could occur without shouting. This, undoubtedly, is a pipedream.

There is no contradiction whatever in some people being opposed to the Hundred but enjoying the cricket. They are, after all, cricket fans and are not betraying any greater cause by liking watching people bowling, fielding and batting. Nor is it any switching of sides to acknowledge that some elements of its start that look to be quite promising – the popularity of the women’s competition being high up in any such list. It is true enough that it might not have needed the Hundred for this focus in the media coverage to have occurred, but it’s also quite possibly true that without it, it simply wouldn’t have happened. It’s the Olympic regeneration argument – of course a city could – and probably should – sink billions into resurrecting a derelict area, but would it happen without such an event? Likely not. There have been significant missteps from the ECB in their approach to the women’s game, pushing the idea it is equal to the men’s when it clearly isn’t, either financially or in profile was to create an argument where there didn’t need to be one through overclaiming. In the same way, creating the impression that the women’s matches have no value through the cancellation policy looked awful, even if the intent was honourable. To their credit, they have acknowledged with something of a wince that they need to look at that again – more of that please, errors are forgivable, responding to them is a good thing.

Sam Morshead’s article in the Cricketer (do have a read if you haven’t already) noted some interesting dynamics with their social media engagement that provides a tantalising suggestion there may be some genuinely new engagement .  This is inherently a very good thing already, and were it to continue then a sceptic might well need to revise some preconceptions. That’s a big if, but it can only be a good thing and hoping for it not to happen because of a dislike of the Hundred would be a very skewed set of priorities.  Cricket needs engagement, it needs a wider demographic showing interest, anything else continues the slide to irrelevance.  Whether it required the Hundred to do that is a very open question, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t intriguing and it should most definitely not be ignored. Another area that is worth watching is the level of supporter identification with the teams. In this I declare an interest that’s not an interest: I don’t follow a particular county, and my overriding problem with the overseas T20 franchise leagues is that I couldn’t care less who wins and who loses. That lowers the degree of interest substantially, but mileage clearly varies in this, and creating a fanbase out of new franchises is both concerning and perhaps in another sense pleasing. It depends how it’s looked at, either a shallow level of interest, or a large market of potential cricket lovers waiting to be tapped.

On the other side of the ledger, the determination by some media figures and journalists to act not as guides or observers of the competition, but instead as rampaging zealous missionaries is intensely irritating and playing the audience for fools.  Even the most ardent believer in it would accept there are wider issues that cause disquiet, and while it is not reasonable to expect that to be a topic of debate in coverage, it goes beyond that to steamroller any possibility that this isn’t the greatest sporting show ever created. It shows scant respect, not just to critics, but to those who on balance are enjoying it and looking forward to it, but can spot the Pravda editorial a mile off.  Media coverage should not be akin to politicians announcing their latest initiative to party conference, and it’s something of a betrayal of journalistic values, and broadcasting standards, to treat it as such. 

Some in the media will undoubtedly believe in the concept and the tournament, there’s not a thing wrong with that, and an inability to accept that someone might have a different view without it meaning they’re somehow evil is one of the curses of modern times.  Others, it is less clear that it is anything but glowing support for the purposes of getting paid – there is still nothing wrong with that, except inasmuch as there’s a pretence at impartiality that isn’t plausible.  Therein lies the problem, most employees are expected to toe the corporate line – I have no intention of going wildly off message about those for whom I work, because I’m not an idiot – but if journalists are to claim that their role is different, and they are open-minded truth seekers, they can’t jump into bed for the company shilling and still maintain that air of separation and independence.  They can be an arm of the PR team or they can be journalists, they can’t be both. 

It’s a mild annoyance in the coverage, and it’s a reflection of where we are rather than a particular stand out, but it damages everyone else working in the sector by association, which may be partly why Huw Turberville and George Dobell are so clearly annoyed about the “Kim Jong-un school of journalism” as Dobell put it.

None of the perceived successes of the competition to date alter the initial objections to it, nor have they been in any way answered by the overly-enthusiastic response of some of its adherents.  The relegation of the 50 over competition to irrelevance, the further sidelining of the red ball competition, the potential for county cricket to be marginalised even further, the effect on the Test team – these are all live, real issues and won’t go away.  The amusement at the pickles the ECB got themselves into over the format matter little when the games are on, but the determination of the likes of Michael Vaughan and others to dismiss all criticism by saying it’s just a game of cricket is to attempt to bypass any discussion of the greater issues by focusing on the least relevant subjects.  For it IS just a game of cricket.  And cricket is a bloody brilliant game, messing with the format was never going to change that, and since cricket fans have been trying to tell everyone for decades how good it is why react with surprise?

But the same applied to T20.  There’s a distinct air of revisionism and straw manning in some of this.  There is no doubt that there were some, often journalists, who saw it as the end of civilisation when it was launched, but those didn’t include people who actually played cricket, for club, village, school and parks cricketers were familiar with the format on the simple grounds that they’d played it their whole lives, and they largely shrugged when it was first brought in professionally and wondered why it had taken so long.  That a retired colonel (this is a completely arbitrary assumption – see how easy it is?) wrote to the Daily Telegraph bemoaning it matters in no way whatever, and shouldn’t be used as a pretence that concerns about the Hundred are grounded in a widespread belief that the clock should be turned back to 1920.

Indeed, the initial explosion of interest in T20 when it first arrived should signal something of a warning sign for the Hundred.  So much of that pointed to as success for the new competition applied to 2003 as well (clearly not the women’s element) with the same novelty and excitement.  And while it is undoubtedly true that the ECB would be entirely thrilled with the same pattern and popularity, it also points to one of the other objections that T20 was already highly successful and didn’t need to be tinkered with.

As to where we go from here, perhaps there is one overriding issue that may dictate things, and that is the success or otherwise of the England team.  T20 was launched with the backdrop of a national team on the up, by no means a dominant one, but where the investment in the county game was beginning to show signs of success in the Test arena at least.  The current depth of red ball cricket in England doesn’t hold such promise, and with series at home to India and away to Australia (assuming it goes ahead), the results therein will be watched closely.  India have had some red ball practice in advance of this series, the England players have not.  Australia, for all the Big Bash hype, have maintained a greater degree of balance with their nursery for Test cricket.  There is something of a hope that things will turn out for the best, but if England don’t produce Test cricketers, they will be soundly beaten more often than not.  The wider damage a weak England causes the Test game is a separate, though vital, part of the equation – the patience of the public with such an eventuality may be a different question.  For the ECB do rely on a degree of ignorance among the casual supporter, those who will watch the Hundred and have no awareness of the potential problems ahead, or the impact on other elements of the professional game.  But they do tend to notice if England get thrashed a lot.

There was hope from some that the Hundred would fail, but there was rather more widely made accusation that anyone who expressed reservations about the concept hoped the Hundred would fail.  A curious assumption that those with deep concerns wanted it made even worse.    People have varying views and reductive and simplistic attack lines are no more valid for all on side than they are the other.  Those who approve of the Hundred often do so for the very best and most thoughtful of reasons, and it’s about time that was recognised as a possibility too. There is a contradiction in that with some of the criticism herein, but if there is an intention behind it, it is to try to comprehend a motivation that moves beyond catcalling for daring to hold a different opinion. We all do it, and we all need to do better.

We are where we are is one of those phrases that manages to be true and yet still annoying when used to express an indifference to what might happen next. But the Hundred is here, and it is not going away for the forseeable future no matter how much some might wish it to. But the battle for English cricket is only just beginning, for the unwieldy nature of the domestic season is not sustainable for any length of time, and what happens next is where the action is.

Hit, Feel, Rap, Sweat

A shorter post, I promise, on today’s men’s Hundred fixture. Some brief observations on the game and the surrounding hoopla. Once again, I watched it on BBC as this is the main reason it seems to have this format and competition.

The main thought was that yesterday felt like a major occasion and the game rose to it. A good game can be a good game because or, or despite, the format, and the fact Oval dug themselves out of a hole with clever cricket, and that the technical level of the batting was pretty good made it a reasonably captivating experience. That this got more viewers than the Women’s World Cup Final speaks volumes at how the game has inexorably blown it over the years.

Today’s game felt like just another T20-type game with a load of players put together in teams that they really weren’t linked to. Saqib Mahmood for the Oval team? Phil Salt for Manchester? I know the draft is part of this but if the players aren’t really linked to a team it feels a bit false. I know you start somewhere, and that players might get established over the years, but when the game needs results now, it feels desperate.

The line-ups utterly underwhelmed. That’s obviously down to player withdrawals, but it is really hard to get the excitement up for Colin Ingram, Colin Munro and to a lesser extent Carlos Brathwaite or Sunil Narine. It feels a bit of a seniors or rejects tour. If this tournament had the top top players I could see it getting more traction. Again, does it have a year or two to wait? When Jos leaves Manchester, Sam leaves Oval, one fears for the replacement level talent because both teams felt a bit thin. It doesn’t feel like a quantum leap in quality.

BBC really need to look at themselves. I don’t want the occasion to be given royal-level gravitas, but don’t treat your viewers like idiots. Links didn’t work, at one point there was inane chatter (outside of Vaughan and Tufnell) over a delivery (it might have taken a wicket) and putting Jimmy Anderson on the boundary who gave the impression he’d rather be anywhere else even if he didn’t feel that way simply didn’t work. I liked Tymal Mills, the right blend of enthusiasm and analysis. Isa is floundering on live work, especially the filler at the end when there’s only so many ways to ask everyone the same question (but really, football bantz?), and that needs to be tighter. Is there an alternative to the secondhand car salesman Vaughan and his faux cockney spiv sidekick Tufnell? Please tell me there is. We do need the BBC to get this right. Yesterday they outnumbered the Sky audience 4 to 1. If the coverage stays at this sub-par level they are going to hear it from much more influential people than a mere grumpy blogger.

I had to go out, so missed the end. The game seemed frenetic, and while a lot of it will come with adjustment, I am still working rates out as runs per over and bowlers having a set number of balls is just a change in mindset. Whether it is necessary, others can survive. I wonder how much Winviz are paying for their input. Importantly, I didn’t get a sense of occasion like I did yesterday. Some bloke I have never heard of, playing a tune I couldn’t here reminded me of the time Sky wheeled out that act who did a terrible version of Baker Street for a Premier League fixture. They abandoned that soon enough.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there. The last thing is that the social media buzz before, during and after was markedly down on my feed. Whether that was the same for you, I don’t know. The sense I get is that this has got off to a steady start, and steady isn’t good enough for what this competition aspires to do. It could really struggle if Team GB does well in the Olympics, and really struggle when the Premier League starts. which is when this ends. I don’t sense it has gripped the nation enough, certainly the men’s competition, but it is early days.

On A Happy Honey Day, Am I Being In The Way?

It is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in the world we live in. Something new has to be good. Evolve or die. The only constant is change. To sit still is to be complacent. The Hundred is a seismic change and after one game you are either on the side of one, or the side of the other. No middle ground. So because of that the lines are drawn and the result is anger and I told you so. The results haven’t even begun to be evaluated – this is a long-term project, not a short-term feelgood factor. There are a lot of people hurting today, like me and you, cricket fans. Division, as I know, is not resolved in a day, months, even years. You can’t pretend not to care when you do.

So, it is the morning after the night before. The Hundred launched itself properly with a game played at The Oval between the Invincibles and the Manchester Originals. The women put on a pretty good game of cricket, with a quite exciting finish, with the key moment being Mady Villiers’ six off Sophie Ecclestone. I am not, for a number of reasons, most of them time related, a regular watcher of women’s cricket (and indeed men’s these days as well) but this was not a surprise to me. That it appeared a surprise to the host broadcaster I watched, and some of those on Twitter, is another thing.

The immediate aftermath from the game appeared to be that as this had been a brilliant game, with a fantastic finish, that the Hundred was a rip roaring success, and that the haters might be advised to pipe down a little. I mean, this ignores that there was a T20 with a similar exciting finish the day before, so it might be the sport that’s doing well, and not necessarily down to the format, but 24 hours is a long time in this day and age. On the evidence of last night resistance is futile. Now, if you think this is a straw man I am sticking before you, let’s see Paul Hayward’s tweet:

To put it mildly, this is nonsense. An experienced sports journalist should not be writing this arrant nonsense. Who knew that when someone bowls to someone who bats, and the game is in play, that it can get close and be quite good to watch? It’s still cricket, and cricket is really, really good. Why the host broadcasters, the ECB, Paul Hayward and others seem so unsure of this is beyond me.

Because I watched it doesn’t mean I am fully on board with this format, fully on board with the ECB for doing this and putting the game in huge jeopardy and therefore going to sing its praises. On a night when there was no other sport on the TV that I was hugely bothered with, it was something to watch. I mean, I hated what England did back in 2014, but I still watched them, and I don’t think anyone would consider my outpourings on How Did We Lose In Adelaide as acquiescence.

To make a sort of comparison, and with a sport that was on TV last night, darts messes around with the format of its competitions, be it the number of sets played, or a double to start, or a straight legs total like they use in the Matchplay. They can have knockout competitions, league competitions, groups then knockout competitions. It’s still darts. If you shortened a Premier League football match to 80 minutes, made the goals a bit bigger, had 10 players a side, and you scored 1/2 a goal if you hit the woodwork, put two good teams against each other and it would still be something to watch.

For me the format was too gimmicky. As my boss is inclined to say, a solution in search of a problem. I can’t see how it makes the game simpler, but then maybe I am too pre-conditioned against change. When the captain of the Invincibles, Dane van Niekerk said she was trying to work out how many runs per over were needed, it was a reasonably damning indictment, issued in a really honest and soft way. I am sure people will get very used to it with time, but you are asking yourself, as a person who has followed the game since he was a kid, why do this? Why change the concept to the number of balls? You could allow someone to bowl two overs on the bounce if you wish. I don’t know.

The key elements of this competition are that the BBC will cover it, that it gives the women a competition on an equal footing to the men, and that it is shorter than T20 to meet the BBC’s programming needs. We have been told by those inside cricket that the BBC would not countenance a county-based competition, which is about as large a case of the tail wagging the dog as you might ever see, so we have eight franchise-organised, city-based teams, with no history or overly tangible support base, and you are asking the public to get invested in it. Not only that, you are asking new cricket fans to be the driving force, because you’ve shown you didn’t give a damn about existing ones. You can’t replicate the IPL here, because India won’t let you (being very protective of their own product, and who can blame them) and the Big Bash in Australia is based on the six existing state teams and an additional side from the two largest cities.

So while we had a decent attendance last night – it remains to be seen how many of them at the game were paying spectators (free tickets can be a really good marketing strategy) – and the BBC got in on the act, let’s not start doing a victory lap if you are the ECB. This is a colossal gamble for the game, and one nice night has not changed that.

I chose to watch the action I did on the BBC (I took a 4 mile walk during the game as part of my 5 million steps for the year challenge that I have set for myself). I know I am not the key demographic here, not the target audience, although, frankly, I don’t know why not when I might be one of those persuaded to pay for tickets for this. The fireworks were naff, but then I hate fireworks anyway. The BBC found a young child who loved them, which was nice. I had no idea what was going on with the toss, and the BBC had about six people working on the game, which given two of them were Vaughan and Tufnell, was two too many. More of them in a minute. Isa Guha did a reasonable job, but below her usual standards, and people were switching around and moving, due, of course, to Covid. It wasn’t an easy job last night. My overall impression of the BBC stuff around the edges was I missed the professionalism and slickness of the BBC Sport team in years gone by. In an attempt to engage a new audience it looked borderline amateurish. Carlos Brathwaite, who impressed last year, was disappointing in his analysis, when repeatedly mentioning “old-fashioned cricket” to describe how van Niekerk and Kapp rebuilt the innings. Say it once, Carlos, but not over and over.

Overall there was a defensiveness over the place that the women had found themselves in, probably understandably the tone was one of justification at times (they really shouldn’t be doing that, and perhaps it is sad that they still feel they need to). I am just not interested enough in the teams, the competition or the format to actively seek out further matches on a regular basis, and that goes for the men’s game as well as the women’s. I was actively considering putting as the song lyric in the title “you can’t pretend to have fun” from the Was Not Was song “Shake Your Head”, but it’s more like trying to force you to have it. I went into last night attempting to divorce the game itself from the circus surrounding it, and while it was in progress, and I was concentrating on the sport, I largely did that.

There is always a but, though. There are plenty of good women broadcasters around, and probably a lot more quite good or average ones. Any one of those would have been preferable to 2 and a half hours of Vaughan and Tufnell. I’m not a fan of Shiny Toy, you know that, but he’s a tedious arse who has alienated me and many others. He isn’t even a good commentator, doesn’t bring much in the way of tactical insight, wings it, relies on cliches and frankly, his selection as the lead was a joke. Tufnell spent the first few balls guffawing in his faux comedic geezer schtick at Lizelle Lee playing defensive shots, giving the impression that he’d done next to no research on the teams, and that he was there because someone might recognise him from Question of Sport (Oh that’s him, is it?). Isa Guha was a little too enthusiastic, and that put her off her game a bit, but she was most importantly for all concerned in selling mode and will settle down, I am sure. Kate Cross appeared underused, I am not sure quite what the roving reporter was up to (and that stuff when interviewing kids makes my teeth itch), and as I said earlier, Carlos Brathwaite had an off night.

There was little revolutionary. The branding appears to have come straight from the London 2012 school – make it bright, make it quirky, sell it everywhere, you’ll make the people like it – and while the onscreen graphics could do with some work (I am sure many of you, like me, had bits of the side-bar scoring missing because my screen wasn’t wide enough), they weren’t too intrusive (for example, in the BBC’s Open golf highlights, the scores for the players are enormous – do they think we all have fading eyesight!) and I really didn’t mind them. Other quirks went un-noticed (did they have a time out in the first innings), and for all the requirement to squeeze this in to a 2 and a half hour slot, the game over-ran, so we had some blank airspace to fill with a load of old rabbit to wait until 9:30.

The final few observations are my own. The press, and the print media in particular, are not our friends. They are not the friends of cricket lovers up and down the country. Let’s say I am disappointed, but not surprised, when strident critics of the format and what it has done to cricket in the UK, sometimes priding themselves on being on the side of the county game, are photographed on a freebie at the game. They will get prickly at the suggestion, but they must have thought “this doesn’t look good”? Me having a go isn’t going to make a difference, they have to look at themselves and say have they been honest with their punters? Their conscience not mine. If I pay for a ticket to watch it, I’d feel reasonably comfortable with that as I have not been as strident a critic of the game as others. I still paid for a test ticket for Cook’s final game even though I hated the ECB and felt Cook had a lot to answer for. If you give me a freebie, well, fine. I’m answerable only to the readers on here, and that’s fine. I think a good friend of the blog summed it up in a DM I received. Remember how the print media and so on kept mum about Sanford, how they saw it as a chance to put the IPL in its place which had rewarded KP and Flintoff so handsomely, and that when it turned bad, they all said “we told you it was bad”. Let’s not even go there on 2013-14. I was disappointed.

Does the WinViz stuff do anything to add to the show? If not, then why have it. I don’t need to be paid money for bogus analysis by some people who saw what happened in baseball and thought, we can do that, to tell me after it got to 3 balls left and 1 to win there was a 100% chance that Invincibles would win. Having been 86% a couple of balls before. That’s not really simplifying the game for punters watching. Can’t they just watch and see how it is going. Why do you need to quantify and analyse everything. It’s a game to be enjoyed. Oh, no, of course. It’s a damn business.

The men’s competition starts tonight. We will be told, no matter what, that it is great. That the newness is the charm. The concentration of the elite sport into 8 rather than 18 teams will make things more exciting. The quality will be better, when the audience it is trying to attract won’t really know what to compare it against. The ECB have all the cards and yet they are still exposed. They have bent England and Wales’ cricket constitution to its will, made the counties dependents on their largesse to an even greater degree, made them sacrifice the golden goose of the Blast, with all its faults, and rendered the 50 over competition even more irrelevant. They have sacrificed their reserve pot, most of it gone even before the Covid disaster hit. They have launched a competition as an Olympics is about to start, with the EFL starting in two weeks, the Premier League a week after, and a public who may have found other things to do. There’s the risk that if cases continue to rise at scary levels, that teams and public will find more problems. Given the close links between the ECB and their primary broadcaster, you aren’t going to hear much negative stuff. They are in pure sell mode. This is a Tom Harrison, and therefore ECB, vanity project, which will succeed on their terms because they will set the success criteria. We will need the journalist corps to hold them to account.

Many loyal, domestic cricket lovers feel utterly abandoned, reviled and borderline humiliated by what has happened in the last few years. They are in agony over this. If they are against it and campaign as such, they are participating in a disaster, and will be blamed. If they compromise and go to the games, or hope it succeeds “because it has to”, then they are betraying the team they support. These are your sports biggest advocates, its biggest supporters, its volunteers, its conduit for access for kids and the recreational game. This competition has called them “haters” (see Welsh Fire blurb) and its founding father has dubbed them “obsessives” and “it’s not for you”. It’s arrant madness even if it does succeed. Remember. It wasn’t the supporters who made the sport less visible by putting the national team exclusively on a pay TV channel. Yet these people stuck with the game despite that. And when they were needed, they were told they weren’t. So, Paul Hayward, think about that next time when you jump in to make an observation like that.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

The overnight news about the proposed football European Super League will have caused many a wry smile from cricket followers up and down the country. All the usual words and phrases are in there – “stakeholders” will be consulted, it’s about “partnerships”, a “sustainable commercial approach” and not forgetting “solidarity”. A copy and paste of corporate gaslighting and bullshit meaning little except for a power grab and a desire to enrich themselves yet further and remove the jeopardy that is the essence of sport.

Football is a vastly bigger and wealthier game than cricket, and as such the response is magnitudes higher, but the arguments are the same, the objections are the same, and the lack of any interest in what the little people think is just the same. We’ve been here time and again, and we will see the same degree of pretence that it’s for the good of “the game” (another reminder that those in power only mean the game as it pertains to them, not the game itself) and that it’s nothing other than trying to secure the financial stability of the sport.

Where football differs is that this has attracted the attention and the ire of the politicians, who never fail to sport a point of votes principle on which to opine. To that extent, football fans are luckier. When both the ICC and ECB, internationally and domestically decide to put aside matters of sporting integrity in favour of filthy lucre, there is a deafening silence from all but a very few. Cricket doesn’t particularly matter, and certainly doesn’t matter to enough. Football does.

But the same set of parameters apply – that sport is a means of generating money rather than the other way around, and it’s both reflective of the reality in which we live and also a governance question that has never been addressed. It has been said before that the most dangerous foe any sport can face is a man (always a man) in a suit saying “I can help”. Yet there’s also the endless hypocrisy about it all. Sky News has spent much of the morning decrying the greed involved and parading their new found commitment to tradition and sporting values over dollars and euros – a quite breathtaking demonstration of rank hypocrisy. Should it go ahead and Sky win the broadcast contract, expect a rapid reverse ferret from their news channel to promote it as the greatest sporting invention since the round ball. Likewise, while Gary Neville’s monologue about the tradition of the game is helpful for all those opposed to the Super League, he’s one of those who has benefitted heavily from the concentration of power and resources in the hands of the few. His part ownership of Salford City is the same in microcosm – invested money making a team competitive above the level it would otherwise be – not a thing wrong with that, except the selectivity involved in deciding what is morally acceptable and what isn’t.

Football and cricket are different in so many respects, not least that football clubs have always been rapaciously commercial for a century or more. A quick look at the origins of many of the leading clubs shows very little has changed – all of the so called “traditional” big teams have become that way due to heavy owner investment at different times in the past. Just like cricket, this is nothing more than the logical culmination of a direction of travel that has been in place for decades. Few of those furious today strongly objected to the abolition of gate sharing in the 1980s, nor when directors were first allowed to take money out of the clubs around the same time, let alone the creation of the Premier League which was also sold as being for general benefit rather than personal enrichment. Some greed is apparently fine, it’s only when it goes to the next level that it’s something to object to.

But this is a cricket blog, not a football one, so those arguments can be had elsewhere. The relevance to cricket is only in the parallels, in the way that the ECB have tried, with rather less competence, to move the sport into the same frame with the same kinds of outcomes. While sports are different, the determination to force them down the same path to maximise (in the short term, it should be noted) revenues and ameliorate the bank balances of those already in positions of power is entirely the same. Franchise football with no promotion and relegation removes the essence of any sporting system, namely that teams can rise or fall on their sporting merits (and financial management plays a major role in that). But it is anaethema to investors, who wish to see a return on their down payment with certainty, something that sport is inherently bad at – which is why we watch it.

The Hundred is the cricketing equivalent of the European Super League in these ways. Ignore for now the format – it’s always been the least of the objections anyway – a fixed number of teams able to compete each year with no danger of dropping out is precisely the golden goose for sporting investors. As long as the competition thrives, it’s a one way bet, an almost literal licence to print money. The difference is the serious doubt about the level of interest outside of a pandemic year where the public are desperate for anything to watch, which is why as well as a curse for the ECB’s finances, 2021 is also a golden opportunity to embed a structure that the supporters in general loathe. The IPL and the NFL are models for owners of sports franchises to wish to expand into other areas – irrespective of the latter having various safeguards built in to try to maintain a level playing field. Indeed, the IPL perhaps more so is the perfect template to follow, whereby sport as entertainment in the same way as WWE is the aim and the intention.

The European Super League faces a lot of hurdles to overcome – the hostility from football supporters matters far more than the hostility from cricket ones, because packed grounds are more essential to football than to domestic cricket which doesn’t have that tribal following to anything like the same extent. There will be those who suddenly discover it’s not such a bad thing after all when they realise there is scope for personal professional advancement, and that’s not in itself an unreasonable position to adopt because everyone needs to look out for themselves. But it doesn’t mean everyone else has to fall in line, nor that they have to accept the worldview espoused that is nothing other than self-interest on the part of those doing so – indeed all the Super League needs now is people to come out and say this new competition isn’t aimed at traditional supporters. Some of those who advocate exactly this for cricket have been quick to decry it happening in football – don’t think for a second it hasn’t been noticed.

India, The IPL, And The Hundred

When reports of the ECB seeking private investors in The Hundred were being published by a number of newspapers and website last May, I wrote a quick post on why that would be a stupid idea called The Hundred For Sale. Now that there appears to be speculation around IPL owners and the BCCI being brought in, with the ECB apparently hoping to tap into the vast Indian cricket fanbase, it seems a good idea to write a follow-up piece detailing the problems with this specific proposal.

The proposals mentioned in The Telegraph article are:

  • The BCCI to receive a portion of The Hundred’s TV revenue from Asia in exchange for allowing Indian men’s cricketers to play in the competition. (It seems likely that they will allow India’s women cricketers to play abroad without any concessions, as they already do in the Australian Big Bash League)
  • The owners of the eight current IPL teams to be allocated a 25% share of a team in The Hundred, in exchange for an investment.
  • Exhibition games involving IPL teams to be hosted by English counties.

The first question the ECB and counties might ask is how much would a Indian TV deal for The Hundred involving some Indian players realistically be worth? One hugely important factor to consider would be timezones: India Standard Time is 4.5 hours ahead of England’s British Summer Time. This means that a 2.5 hour game (The planned duration for a game in The Hundred) which starts at 6.30pm in England would finish at the equivalent of 1.30am in India. Even if stars like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ravi Jadeja were all playing, it seems unlikely that tens of millions of Indians would stay up that late. The ECB could choose to start matches earlier (swapping with the women’s games so that the men’s games began at 2.30pm, for example), which would put them into Indian prime time but during work hours in England. That almost certainly lead to fewer tickets sold, fewer British people watching on TV, and the ECB having to deal with a very annoyed Sky and BBC.

It would also be wise the temper expectations about which Indian players would come in the event of the BCCI allowing them to do so. The IPL has essentially created a global gap in the cricket calendar, allowing both their own and other internationals to play in the tournament unimpeded. The Hundred has no such luxury, with even England men’s cricketers playing two Tests during the competition. There is absolutely no guarantee that India won’t have matches scheduled during the competition, which would eliminate most of India’s biggest stars from contention.

The relatively low pay might also discourage the top echelon of Indian T20 players from choosing to play in The Hundred. Virat Kohli receives roughly £1.7m per year to play for Royal Challengers Bangalore, but the most he could get from Welsh Fire is £110,000 (assuming he was captain). For virtually anyone in the current Indian team, that’s not an amount of money which would in any way justify spending a month in Cardiff. Players on the fringes of the Indian team like Axar Patel or Umesh Yadav might be interested, but they wouldn’t have sufficient star power to generate financial gains for the ECB in terms of Indian TV deals or additional ticket sales.

Selling shares of the eight The Hundred teams to IPL owners would also be a mistake. To quote ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, “The key is that any money generated remains in cricket, for the good of all sections of the game”. Investors understandably expect a profit, and so would be looking to take as much money as possible out of English cricket. If their priority is to make as much money as possible, the ECB’s other objectives might have to be sidelined. You wouldn’t expect the owners of Chennai Super Kings to care if cricket participation numbers in Sheffield were decreasing, for example, whilst Yorkshire CCC might. Similarly, outside investors might demand higher ticket prices to increase revenue or a reduction in on-field entertainment to reduce costs.

Having Indian investors having stakes in individual teams could also cause problems between the ECB and the counties. Right now, most of the revenue in terms of ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorship and the TV rights is shared equally between all 18 counties in the form of a £1.3m annual payment. Essentially, the ECB owns all eight teams and only delegates the management to the various counties. Because of this, it almost doesn’t matter which county is associated with which team in The Hundred. Three of the eight teams are run by three counties, four of them by two counties, and Manchester Originals are solely controlled by Lancashire CCC. If the ECB turned them into franchises, with 25% ownership from Indian investors, then all of a sudden Lancashire CCC might have a 75% stake in a team whilst Glamorgan CCC might only have 25%.

The eight teams also have significantly different prospects in terms of profitability and revenue. The Oval Invincibles will play in a 25,500 capacity stadium which invariably sells out all of its T20 Blast games, whilst Welsh Fire will play at a ground which holds a maximum of 15,643 people and in reality struggles to sell even half that many tickets. If team stakeholders get a share of ticket, food and other merchandise revenue then they’d be fools not to want the Oval Invincibles team.

Beyond money, bringing the BCCI and IPL owners into positions of power in English cricket might place the ECB in a very uncomfortable ethical position. It’s escaped few people’s notice that the IPL has the best T20 cricketers from around the world with the sole exclusion of Pakistan. Just one Pakistan international has played in the IPL in the last decade (Azhar Mahmood, 2012-15). If the BCCI were to allow Indian players in The Hundred, it seems doubtful that they would be happy to see them playing alongside Pakistani overseas players. The ECB could be in a position where they would either have to accept this or call it out, which would likely have the effect of the BCCI withdrawing their support.

One of the aims of The Hundred was to engage British Asians, who are significantly more likely to enjoy watching and playing cricket than the ‘average’ Brit but might feel a stronger connection to domestic and national teams outside England. What people often gloss over is that ‘British Asian’ covers a broad swathe of nationalities, religions and other divisions, and that they don’t all necessarily get on with each other. For example, Moeen Ali was constantly booed at his home ground of Edgbaston when playing for England against India in 2014. As it stands, the ECB might be seen as broadly neutral in any internecine rivalries (by virtue of doing absolutely nothing). If they were to endorse the exclusion of one nation’s players to appease another’s, that might also have the effect of excluding a large number of potential fans who they were hoping to attract.

As far as the third proposal regarding exhibition games at grounds like the Oval goes, it’s not inherently ridiculous. Rajasthan Royals played Middlesex Panthers in 2009, for example. That said, I think any IPL team would struggle to assemble anywhere near its full roster for a few games in England in September and almost all of their stars would be missing due to either international commitments or plain lack of interest. The larger issue might be the BCCI, who would probably be more inclined to host such a competition in India rather than allowing an English ground to profit from the IPL’s brand.

Whilst I would love for Indian players to be available for all domestic competitions around the world, as they are from every other country, the costs of doing so for The Hundred seem to far, far outweigh the benefits.

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Free, to do What I want, Any Old Time.

The announcement about unlocking society yesterday has been timely for the ECB, given that today is the draft day for the Hundred. It is entirely unsurprising that the response from the majority of the commenting cricket fraternity has either been indifferent or negative, but that’s merely a reflection of the ongoing hostility to it, and also the abject failure of the ECB themselves to engage the support base over the last few years.

Where it gets more interesting is whether, in a sense, the ECB have fluked it in terms of the timing. If, as hoped, crowds return to sport this summer, then it just might be that their launch of this concept will work – in 2021 at least. The reasoning for that is simple enough, having been locked up for the best part of a year, there will be latent demand from the public to be out doing something – anything. The Hundred, with its reasonable pricing may well be able to tap into that desire, and the open air and generally spacious (except the seats) nature of cricket watching may attract even those who are nervous about being out and about among the general public.

Put aside views of the format of The Hundred for now, it doesn’t matter. Having something to do will matter, and given it’s summer before anyone can, it largely, if not entirely, bypasses other sports in the same period, and will have an earlier major event that crosses over in the liberalisation period with Euro 2020 taking place in June and July that ought to bring back some familiarity to the concept of going to sporting events.

Against that is the undoubted likely reduction in the numbers of people who are prepared to go anywhere this summer. Each time the pubs were re-opened there was an expectation of them being packed, and in city centres that may have been more the case, but elsewhere there was a clear reluctance from many to go out to public locations. What happens this summer in that general sense is an open question, but it’s probably true that the overall potential footprint is lower, while among those who do wish to partake, their incidence of making use of what is available may be higher.

There is also the economic aspect to this. Many people are dramatically worse off, through job losses, collapses in income or business, and they will not have spare cash to be able to splurge on summer events (in this area, the low price of the Hundred is in its favour), but on the other hand there is a smaller but still sizeable group who are much better off, due to working from home rather than commuting, and the loss of things to spend money on more generally. How much one group might outweigh the other is another unknown, but there is an opportunity for the ECB to promote the entire competition in a slightly different way to had it been a normal year.

None of this undoes the structural problems faced by the entire concept, nor the challenges it will have in future years. An initial frisson of excitement at something new lasts no time at all, but if nothing else, it provides a means of making a good start. For cricket generally, the pricing attraction versus a ticket cost in excess of £150 at Lord’s for an ODI is a clear point of difference, especially for a family, and it shouldn’t be underestimated how that vast difference will play to a group of people who are open to paying for public entertainment, but not to have to sell a kidney for the privilege of attending.

What it won’t do is justify the Hundred itself, although it’s not hard to imagine the PR crowing that will result from busy grounds. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t justified either, it would simply be that the special circumstances of 2021 mean it is impossible to draw wider conclusions about the wisdom or otherwise of the whole venture. But in itself, it has the prospect this year of generating interest and ticket sales. For the ECB and the counties hosting games, that will be enough for now, and with the women’s matches running in parallel at more grounds than the core, it could be wider in reach and scope than anticipated. Indeed, the impact of The Hundred on women’s cricket more generally is a wider topic for debate, but this year, it might just make a material difference.

This would undoubtedly create mixed emotions – the ECB receiving instant absolution for their actions over the last few years would go down badly with many, irrespective of the cost of failure of the launch. But perhaps even for those most implacably opposed, it could be seen as a necessary evil this year to give the game at least a fighting chance of generating cash. Where that takes us in years to follow, that’s a very different question.