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.

If you have any comments about this post, the ODIs, or anything else, please post them below.

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.

How To Tell A Bad Idea In Cricket Without Actually Trying It First

The Australian Big Bash League have just announced three new rules which will feature in the competition due to start next month. These are ‘Power Surge’ [Two of the six powerplay overs must be taken after the halfway point by the batting team], ‘Bash Boost’ [Teams get a bonus point for being ahead after 10 overs] and ‘The X-Factor’ [Teams can substitute one player at the midway point of the first innings].

The announcement has been met with almost unaminous derision and disbelief from cricket fans, and quite a large proportion of the media too. The answer to that from its (relatively few) proponents is to watch it in action first. This strikes a nerve with me, because it’s the exact same answer people (almost exclusively employed by the ECB, Sky or the BBC) gave when faced with criticism of The Hundred. In the most extreme example, Isa Guha wrote that she felt people only had “the right to have a go” at The Hundred after it had been played for “4-5 years”.

There are three main ways in which this answer annoys me. The first is that it takes us as fans and customers for granted. There is absolutely nothing preventing us from spending our time and money on something else if we don’t like what we see. Second, I think most people can tell whether they like something or not very quickly. A bad first impression, such as from an ECB director going on national radio to tell people that the new cricket format isn’t for anyone listening, is a hard thing to overcome. A company ignores a significant negative visceral response from its consumer base at its peril. The third, and perhaps most important, is that its incredibly patronising. Few hearts and minds have been won by people implying that the people who are concerned must all be morons.

All of which begs the question: How can you tell a good idea from a bad one without spending tens of millions of pounds (or dollars) trying it in live televised games for a few years?

1) Is It Actually A New Idea?

One obvious way in which proposals can be judged is if they have actually been tried before. For people who were following cricket in 2005, the Big Bash League’s ‘X-Factor’ sounds remarkably similar to the ‘super sub’ idea which was briefly used in one-day internationals. That was abandoned within a few months after almost everyone involved agreed that it massively favoured the team who won the toss. It’s difficult to see how the BBL substitution rule won’t suffer the same fate, and it certainly hasn’t been explained by anyone from Cricket Australia.

Heeding lessons of the past need not be confined solely to cricket either. If we wanted to look at The Hundred’s reducing the number of cricket teams in England & Wales, we could compare it to the experience in Welsh Rugby from 2004. Nine clubs representing nine cities and towns were amalgamated into five (later four) regional teams. Despite undoubtedly producing a higher average quality of rugby, in terms of improving the finances or the number of supporters in Welsh rugby it has been a comprehensive failure.

2) Can You Make A Logical Argument In Its Favour?

In life, it’s generally a good rule of thumb that you probably don’t understand something very well if you can’t also explain it to someone else. Likewise, if you can’t clearly express why a change to the playing conditions of a tournament is an improvement then it probably isn’t.

It is a common theme that any explanations coming from the ECB or Cricket Australia on topics like these miss a vital step. They typically spell out what the problem they are trying to address is. They always say what they are doing. What they never do is link the two together in any kind of logical manner. Imagine that you went to a doctor with a splitting headache and they decided to put your ankle in plaster. That’s the level of logic that cricket boards seem to operate at.

When talking about the changes to this year’s BBL, the Big Bash’s player acquisition and cricket consultant Trent Woodhill said both, “Integrity [of the game] is about high performance and it’s about the contest between bat, ball and fielders.” and, “It happens in all other sports, coaches have a major say in the result. We want dialogue, we want discussion from broadcasters, as to why a coach or captain has made the decision they’ve made.” So the position of Cricket Australia appears to be that ‘bat, ball and fielders’ are the key to the integrity of the game, and that these new additions will make those aspects less important relative to the actions of the coaches and captains.

I’m certainly struggling to find a compelling argument for why Cricket Australia believe bonus points based on the scores after ten overs would be a good idea. If the team batting first scores 200-6 (Or, being in Australia, 6-200), their opponents are more likely to score an extra point if they are all out for 105 after eleven overs than they are scoring 199 from their allotted twenty overs. Why would you potentially reward losing by 95 runs more than losing by 1 run?

The ECB’s arguments in favour of The Hundred are even more egregious in this behaviour. To take just one example, one of the few snippets of the extensive research that the ECB have actually released to the public states that ‘75% of families would prefer a game that is under 3 hours in length and finished by 9pm’. That’s a fair enough point to make, but misses out two fairly obvious flaws. The first is that T20 Blast games already last under three hours (barring rain delays). Their own playing conditions state that games should last for 2 hour and 45 minutes. The second is that ten of the thirty-four games of the men’s Hundred scheduled this year were due to finish at 9.30pm because they could only start after Test matches against Pakistan had finished for the day. So, regarding the ECB’s own arguments for why The Hundred is needed as a format, the first part shows it to be unnecessary and the second part doesn’t apply to either competition.

3) Will It Still Work In An Imperfect World?

It’s very easy to make plans on paper which appear flawless but come apart very quickly in real life. To take a recent(ish) example, look at the 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup final. Even the most one-eyed England fan must admit that having the game and the overall winner decided by boundary countback was a little unsatisfying. The fact is that the tie-breakers were agreed by every cricket board involved, who almost certainly thought that there could never be a situation where both teams would be tied after the super over. It really helps to consider these scenarios before they happen, rather than complaining about them after the fact.

With cricket, whether in England or Australia, the most common issue competitions face is the weather. One shower of rain and everyone’s on their computers trying to work out the DLS scores and how to come out ahead in a shortened game. Ten games were rain-affected in last year’s Big Bash, so it is not something which should be overlooked. With that in mind, how well do Cricket Australia’s proposals handle rain delays and reductions in overs?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is not well.

The ‘Bash Boost’ bonus point for being ahead after ten overs becomes a nightmare if rain occurs at any point between the start of play and the midway point of the second innings. Imagine a game where Team A scored 80 runs in their first ten overs and batted for the full twenty before it rained for an hour during the mid-inning interval. Team B then face a DLS target of 120 from ten overs. How many runs do they need to win the bonus point, and after how many overs?

If the rain occurs during the first innings, it becomes more complex still. Let’s say that Team A scores 80 in the first innings in ten overs when it starts raining, leaving Team B to chase a DLS target of 70 from six overs. Is the target for Team B to beat based on what Team A managed to score in ten overs or five? I get a migraine just thinking about the complexity required to keep things even remotely fair to both teams with such a system in place.

4) Can You Hold A Trial First?

Even after you’ve cleared all of these hurdles, it must be worth playing a few trial games with the proposed rule changes to see how actual cricketers and fans feel about them. The Big Bash League are basically committed to these new rules for 61 games this winter. Almost two solid months. If Australian fans start whinging (and we all know that goes against their national character, but it could happen), then that’s a lot of unnecessary resentment and strife for the players, coaches and administrators to deal with. It also potentially risks tens of millions of dollars if cricket fans decide to stop watching altogether.

With so much at risk, surely it’s worth seeing how it plays in real life before committing so much money and effort? A week of games, with players trying several scenarios as well as full games. If everything goes well, they act as further promotion for the competition and new rules. If things go poorly, you have only lost thousands of dollars instead of millions.

In the ECB’s defense, something I rarely say, they did actually hold some trials of The Hundred in 2018. The general consensus appeared to be that it was very, very similar to T20. The problem there is that it was supposed to be to a distinct and entirely new format which would attract people who found T20 too long and boring. Trials don’t serve a purpose if you ignore the results, unfortunately.

5) Are You Being Honest About Your Motivations?

All of the above points assume that cricket boards are fundamentally truthful and open organisations whose statements can be taken at face value. Both Cricket Australia and the ECB talk about making cricket more exciting, more popular and more modern with their new formats. What neither mention in their press releases and interviews is a desire for cricket (or at least their portion of it) to become more profitable. With three new rules, each with their own branding, the proposed changes to the Big Bash give Cricket Australia at least three more opportunities per game to add extra sponsors, making the BBL more profitable. For the ECB, they seem annoyed at T20’s popularity around the globe because they think they invented it and deserve some licensing money from the global leagues. They genuinely believe that other countries will pay them for the rights to host competitions using The Hundred as a format, if it can be a success here.

Regardless of whether they are right or wrong (Spoiler: They are wrong), it seems at least some of these public relations issues are caused by their disingenuity. If Cricket Australia had said, “In the current circumstances, we need to make more money this season or risk further job cuts,” then people might have been more understanding about the whole thing and willing to give it a go for a season. Telling people who already enjoy cricket that these nonsensical rule changes will make cricket more fun, on the other hand, is a recipe for disaster.

I don’t consider myself a cricket traditionalist. To be honest I find the idea a little amusing when it comes to a format like T20 which has only been played professionally for eighteen years. There are many rule changes I would like to see, or at least try. But it doesn’t seem too much to ask that governing bodies try to think things through before putting the contents of their brainstorming session on national television.

Thanks for reading, if you have any comments about this post or anything else please add them below.

How Not To Market A Product

As The Hundred begins its marketing campaign for next season, it seems like a good time to talk about some incredibly basic things to consider when selling something. It seems like the ECB needs all the help it can get.

The most basic tenet of marketing, at least as far as I understand it, is to always consider your audience. This encapsulates two concepts: The audience you currently have, and the audience you want to attract.

For @TheHundred, the first demographic is very easy to define: English cricket fans. Before a ball has been bowled, or a game televised, the only people who will have any interest in an upcoming domestic cricket competition’s Twitter account are obviously people who already like the sport. They almost certainly follow the England cricket team, and are more likely than not to be familiar with county cricket too. They might be men or women, young or old, rich or poor, but they all have that in common.

Knowing that, the obvious approach would be to use @TheHundred Twitter account to promote the cricketers involved in the competition. “You like this player? You can see him next summer in The Hundred.” The people following the account will already know them, and you might persuade some of those followers who were on the fence about the whole thing to give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s not sexy, it won’t win you an award for innovative marketing, but it works.

One incredibly odd choice for The Hundred is when its tweets and posts give every impression of being dismissive or downright hostile towards county cricket and its fans. I struggle to think of any example where a company has attacked or insulted its own customers whilst promoting a new product. For example: Coca Cola owns both ‘Coke’ and ‘Innocent Drinks’ (or at least 90% of it). Innocent’s Twitter account has never said, “Coke is incredibly bad for your health. Drink Innocent’s smoothies instead!” Literally no responsible company would do that, ever.

But the England And Wales Cricket Board do.

The second group, the Twitter account’s presumed target audience, is the more interesting aspect of The Hundred’s marketing efforts so far. It has been stated repeatedly by its proponents that The Hundred is designed to reach people who might be discouraged by their impression of the T20 Blast as a competition for ‘lads’. To quote Simon Hughes: “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.

If you look at who responded to The Hundred’s Twitter relaunch positively, and there wasn’t that many, a clear pattern emerges: They are all youngish men aged roughly 25-40. No women, no British Asians, no kids. Just blokes who I would guess like a drink and some ‘bantz’. If The Hundred’s aim was to draw in a new diverse audience for English cricket, they appear to be failing badly.

This is not a surprise to me, although I suspect the same could not be said for many at the ECB. My impression is that children or even the under-25s rarely use Twitter. Instagram, TikTok and Twitch all seem to have a younger user base, and so might be better platforms for attracting schoolkids or young adults to cricket. I would hesitate to even speculate on the best way to draw British Asians into English domestic cricket, but it’s not immediately obvious that the ECB have tried anything beyond creating a franchise-style competition vaguely reminiscent of the IPL/PSL/BPL.

The worse misstep in the ECB’s marketing approach regards women. The tone of The Hundred’s Twitter output could be charitably described as ‘laddish’. The thing to remember about this kind of the behaviour is that it is generally how men act when in the company of other men. Women tend not to participate in it, nor find it appealing. This might be why the vast majority of internet trolls appear to be male. If you were promoting a new competition which proclaimed (falsely, in my opinion) to be based on the principle of gender equality, with both the men’s and women’s competitions inextricably linked, why would you choose to project such an obnoxious and exclusively male personality on social media?

The problem the ECB face is that this is not an isolated problem with regards to their promoting cricket outside of their core white male demographic. If you remember last year’s launch of The Hundred’s website, the stock photo used prominently on the front page was literally the top Google result for “male audience”. When Andrew Strauss first announced The Hundred on Radio Five Live, he implied that the reason more women weren’t cricket fans was because they weren’t able to understand the game. There are two things which these three events have in common. The first is that they all demonstrate a chronic inability to consider the ECB’s output from the perspective of a female audience, which leaves them struggling to connect with roughly half of the UK population. The second (and more damning) commonality is that each of them would have been thoroughly prepared over several months. None of them could be excused as mistakes made in haste. Every detail will have been pored over by virtually the entire PR/marketing/social media arm of the ECB, not to mention a few very well-paid executives, and no one appeared to notice any issues.

Being ‘Outside Cricket’, I must admit to having almost no knowledge of the ECB’s inner workings. That said, I would be utterly unsurprised if I were to discover that the people involved in these debacles were almost exclusively white men aged thirty and above. Particularly when it comes to the senior roles where decisions are made. Whilst perhaps not essential, having a diverse staff must surely help when it comes to attracting a diverse audience. Otherwise you risk seeming out of touch, patronising, and frankly a bit of a joke.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments about this, or anything else which came up during our extended break, please post them below.

The Hundred For Sale

Last week, a sports investment company sent a press release to every cricket journalist extolling the virtues of the ECB hiring them as consultants in order to facilitate investment in The Hundred. It was a pretty obvious advert being portrayed as an independent ‘report’ which I chose to completely ignore. Unfortunately, the cricket journalists themselves decided to pick up on it and the story has been gaining traction ever since. I think now that its fundamental flaws need addressing.

The mechanics of investment seem fairly simple. The investor buys a portion of a company, in exchange for which they may receive a some of that company’s revenue or profits. In addition, if that company gains in value then the investors can typically also sell their stake to someone else for more money than they paid. For the company selling the shares, they get a short term increase in money available to them without having to repay a bank loan. That extra money can allow the company to expand, or restructure themselves in order to become more profitable. If everything goes well, everyone wins.

There are two scenarios which I can see applying to private investment in The Hundred. The first is the wildly optimistic outcome where the new competition is a huge hit, filling stadia with fans and earning a massive TV deal from 2025 onwards. If that happens, the ECB will likely lose a lot of that profit to the private stakeholders which they could have otherwise kept and invested in English cricket.

The second, perhaps more likely scenario is that The Hundred stalls. Perhaps not a total failure, but the offered TV deal in 2025 is lower than expected and the ECB want to cut their losses and start again. The problem with that would be they would have given up some measure of control to the private investors in exchange for their money, and so they might not be able to do so unilaterally. What should be a simple process instead becomes a complex and expensive negotiation involving lawyers and all sorts.

So it would be fair to say that I think this kind of outside investment will financially harm English cricket in the medium to long term, one way or the other. It has been suggested that the ECB might not have any choice in the matter due to their own current lack of funds. This is, I think, hyperbole.

Regardless of what happens this season, the ECB will still receive £220m in 2021 from Sky. I believe that is more than the television, ticket and membership revenue of all English cricket combined in 2019. It’s not currently clear exactly how much the ECB will be getting this year, except that it won’t be the full amount due to the postponement of The Hundred, but even then it is likely to be more than last year if the England men’s team play most of their scheduled games. So long as counties are sensible with their finances, and readjust their plans to the new situation, there shouldn’t be any threat to their existence.

In conclusion, I believe welcoming investment into The Hundred (or really any other aspect of English cricket) is a mistake which should be avoided. Things aren’t as bad as many people seem to fear (at least in the professional game), and so now is certainly not the time for panicked decisions or short term fixes.

Feel free to comment below.

Why The Hundred Must Be The ECB’s Priority This Season

No one could confuse me for being an advocate for The Hundred, nor a fan of either its concept or execution by the ECB. I have written posts here about its lack of simplicity, its patronising marketing towards women, its sycophantic press coverage, the ‘research’ which allegedly led to its creation, the ECB’s own justifications for its creation, the dumb team names, and the huge gender inequality inherent in the new competition. I have even written a Dr. Seuss parody about it. Last but by no means least, I have written a post with a hundred reasons why I think it’s a bad idea (Spoiler alert: I am also 82% through writing a second post with a hundred more reasons, although many of these may have become redundant based on current events). All told, I’ve written well over 25,000 words here on the subject. None of them complimentary.

Which is why it may surprise some of you to discover that I genuinely think The Hundred must be the ECB’s first priority when (or if) domestic cricket returns this year.

I’m no more a fan of it now than I have been before. Its a bad idea, made worse by the people running it. The rationale for it is flawed, and it risks alienating cricket’s loyal customers in order to attract new people. And I don’t even like any of the crisps. But none of that matters now. In light of cricket being essentially closed at the start of the season, there are two basic reasons why I think it should be the first domestic competition to return.

The first reason is that the competition format is literally made for television, which is important because it seems possible that people won’t be able to attend games in the near future. The main reason counties want T20 Blast games is their profitability, but a large portion of that money comes from attracting fans to the grounds. If large gatherings are banned (and the average T20 Blast crowd last year was over 7,000), then I think it might quickly become expensive for the counties.

The Blast’s format is basically designed to have as many games in as short as a period as possible in order to maximise attendance, with 126 group games played over 44 days. Sky Sports Cricket can typically only show 2 matches per day, and that includes the international cricket which will be almost certainly be happening in the same window. Without serious changes, such as a dramatic reduction in the number of games coupled with an increase in the competition’s duration, it seems likely that county cricket fans would only be able to watch around a third of the competition at all.

The Hundred, on the other hand, has 32 group games scheduled over 28 days. Ideal for Sky to fit around a Test series (which most of us will hopefully be watching), as was the original plan for this year anyway. If the women’s games were all made double-headers with the men’s, as the rationale that women’s cricket wouldn’t attract large enough attendances to be sustainable seems pointless if there are literally no fans present anyway, Sky might even be able to show all of them too. And that’s before we consider the BBC, who have the rights to show 10 men’s games and 8 from the women’s competition. With no Wimbledon, Olympics or European Championships this year, The Hundred might be the most high-profilelive sports they have this summer.

It may be possible that the English cricket season starts early enough to play both the T20 Blast and The Hundred, but even in that situation I would have The Hundred go first. The later the Blast is scheduled, in my mind, the more chance there is that people will be allowed to go to the grounds.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is money. It’s been that the ECB is concerned that “Sky Sports will withhold part of this year’s £220million television contract if [The Hundred] is postponed“. If people can’t attend the games, then that is already a huge amount of money lost from English cricket in terms of gate receipts and beer snake ammunition. Other revenue, such as sponsorships, might also be affected. This is not a time when we can afford to be picky about where the money to fund English cricket is coming from, or what it is paying for.

This crisis could hardly have come at a worse time financially for English cricket. The £220m Sky TV deal meant that everyone blew through their 2019 reserves with the secure knowledge that a huge pay cheque was waiting for them this season. The ECB’s funds got to such a low point that they couldn’t even afford to pay their white ball international contracts for four months. The players received generous pay rises going in to this season, as (I would guess) did the coaches and many other staff behind the scenes at the counties and ECB. This means that English cricket is now more expensive to run than ever before, and needs as much money as possible to continue as it is now.

That £220m wasn’t a gift from Sky, but a payment for the ECB and counties providing cricket games for them to air. Specifically international cricket, the T20 Blast and The Hundred. If the ECB fails to deliver all of those competitions, then Sky would presumably be well within their rights to withold their next payment. They might even be be able cancel the contract altogether, and that could be a real disaster. With Sky Sports and BT both having lost subscribers during this sporting hiatus, it seems very unlikely that the TV rights for English cricket from 2021 would be worth anywhere near as much to them as the current deal offers.

Will The Hundred be any good? With few overseas players and likely no crowds, I wouldn’t have thought so. And, like I wrote at the start, I can think of plenty of reasons why it was going to suck even before all this happened. That said, people might be sufficiently starved of live sport by the point it starts not to care about such things.

In summary: I think the ECB should prioritise The Hundred, and it should be the first domestic competition to take place this year.

And no, this is not an April Fool.

“Makes sense doesn’t it!” – The ECB, The Hundred, And Women’s Cricket

Today, as almost ninety thousand cricket fans crammed into the MCG and millions of TV viewers around the world watched the Women’s T20 World Cup final, seems an excellent opportunity to look at the status of women’s cricket here in England. The perception seems to be that we are making good progress towards a professional and popular women’s game. And, relative to some countries, we are. But there have been numerous opportunities squandered, a multitude of promises unfulfilled, and far too many empty platitudes.

Personally, I’ve found it frustrating that England has seemed to lag behind Australia in developing women’s cricket recently. England awarded the first full time central contracts in 2014, followed by Australia in 2015. Other than that, Australia have really taken the lead in the women’s game. Cricket Australia started the Women’s Big Bash League in 2015, followed by the ECB’s Kia Super League in 2016. When Australia’s domestic competition went fully professional in 2017, I naturally waited for the ECB to follow suit soon after. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, in 2019, the ECB finally seemed to come through on the next logical step for women’s cricket when the PCA announced that 100 new professional domestic cricketers would be created in 2020. It was included in the ‘Heads Of Agreement’ which detailed exactly what pay and other considerations professional players and the PCA could expect for the duration of the new £220m per year Sky TV deal. Meanwhile, people from the ECB were saying that there would be eight full time teams, based in the same cities as The Hundred, where these new professional players would play throughout the summer.

The creation of a professional domestic structure is absolutely key for the future of women’s cricket in England. It should provide a high standard of competition, which improves the ability to develop players for international cricket and also makes the  game more entertaining for potential supporters. In the best case scenario, if you build women’s cricket up like Cricket Australia have with the Women’s Big Bash League, you can even reach a point where women’s cricket is profitable rather than something subsidised by men’s cricket. Which is, frankly, more than men’s county cricket seems to manage.

Recent developments seem to suggest that we are a long way from the ECB committing to this kind of growth. First, the ECB reduced the number of new full time contracts from 100 to 40. Now, around 5 weeks before the English cricket season begins, we haven’t heard a single thing about any of these new players being signed or even the teams they’re supposed to play for. I’m starting to think that the ECB may have abandoned even these modest goals.

The reduction from 100 to 40 professional crickets is incredibly important for two main reasons. Firstly, it massively restricts the opportunities for women to make a career playing cricket. Australia’s star player, Ellyse Perry, had the option of either football or cricket as a career and chose cricket because there were more opportunities and higher wages in Australia. If she was English, it seems very likely that she would have become a footballer instead. Other prospective cricketers will have left the sport because they will have had to choose their full time job over cricket, because training and playing cricket in your free time in the hopes of gaining a rare full time contract just isn’t financially realistic for many people.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is that a reduction to 40 new full time cricketers reduces The Hundred and the new 8-team domestic competitions (if they arrive) to semi-professional status. It’s simple arithmetic. If there are 21 cricketers with England central contracts, the 40 new domestic players and 24 overseas draft picks, that equals 85 total professionals.  There are 8 teams in The Hundred with a squad of 15 each, meaning that there is a total of 120 players. So at least 35 squad members in The Hundred this year will be amateurs. Club cricketers. A far cry from the rhetoric about it being an elite competition.

The reduction also acts as a reminder to all of us (not that anyone here needs reminding) that the ECB are not to be trusted, nor should their promises be believed. In another related example, England’s women cricketers were reportedly told that their pay brackets in The Hundred would range from £50,000 to £15,000. When the final figures were announced, it was actually from £15,000 to £3,000. Quite a difference.

I almost don’t blame the ECB for constantly lying and cheating though, because everyone else seems to just let them get away with it. The press don’t seem to care enough to write about it. The counties can’t even collectively act in their own interests, so the idea that they might somehow get their act together to help women’s cricket is almost laughable. The most disappointing to me is the PCA, who are supposed to represent and  protect these women cricketers from abuse and deceit by their employers. Not for the first time, the PCA’s response appears to be silence and inaction.

But most of this isn’t new. Whilst I’ve been angry about this consistent failure by the ECB to build up women’s cricket in England, the thing which really spurred me to write my first blog post in about six weeks was a couple of smug, arrogant and incredibly misleading tweets by the new “@TheHundred” Twitter account.

 

#EachForEqual is the official theme and hashtag for this year’s International Women’s Day (which is today). It is meant to represent support for “the gender equal boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, [and] more gender equality in health and wealth.” So let’s examine how the ECB are doing on these aspirations which they are publicly supporting.

Gender equal boardroom – 4 out of 12 on the ECB board. There’s just one woman acting as a representative for the 40 counties and the MCC who elect the chairman and approve the board, I believe.

Gender equal media coverage – The ECB are always at pains to say that the men’s and women’s competitions are inextricably linked, and that both will gain signficant exposure. In the real world, Sky are committed to showing all 34 men’s games and just 11 women’s games whilst the BBC seem likely to air only the final. To put this into context: Sky showed 12 Kia Super League games in 2019, which means that the total coverage of women’s cricket by Sky will actually decrease this year.

Gender equal sports coverage – In The Hundred, the men will play 34 games at 8 grounds. All televised, all in big cities. The women, on the other hand, will play 30 games at 20 grounds, mostly in small towns and mostly not on television (and quite possibly not even streamed or with radio commentary).

Equality in wealth – Even including the £300,000 team bonus for winning, which is the same in both competitions, the average wage in The Hundred for a woman is around £60,000 less than for a man.

In other words, they’re achieving none of it. I don’t think they’re even working towards it. It’s just a meaningless hashtag and phrase.

The huge new TV deal and The Hundred were supposed to usher in a new era for women’s cricket in England. Whilst the press release platitudes and slick social media marketing still proclaim that to be true, the reality is far different. No amount of flashy videos, hashtags or other nonsense should distract us all from the fact that the ECB is absolutely screwing up the women’s cricket. Somehow even worse than they’ve done to the men’s game.

And the most frustrating thing to me is that hardly anyone seems to care.

The Graves Who Stole Cricket

Graves1

Every fan down in Taunton liked cricket a lot.
But Graves, who lived in the cave above Taunton, did not!

Now Graves hated cricket! The whole cricket season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, that his ties were too tight.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

Or that he couldn’t fathom something you couldn’t buy in a store.
That cricket, perhaps, meant just a little bit more.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his ties,
The fans of cricket were who he did truly despise.

Staring down from his cave with a sour, Gravesy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town,

For he knew every fan down in Taunton below
Had a cricket game coming to which they planned to go.

“And they’re happy and joyful,” he snarled with a sneer.
“Tomorrow is cricket! It’s practically here!”

Then he growled, with his Graves fingers nervously drumming,
“I must find some way to keep cricket from coming!

For, tomorrow, I know, the fans all around,
Will wake bright and early. They’ll rush to their ground!

And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

They’ll sit close together, in tens and in twelves.
They’ll sit in the stands, enjoying themselves!”

And the more the Graves thought of this cricket fan crowd,
The more the Graves thought, “This can’t be allowed!

Why, for seventy-one years I’ve put up with it now!
I must stop cricket from coming! But how?”

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!
The Graves got a wonderful, awful idea!

“I know just what to do!” The Graves said with a hoot.
“I’ll just make a quick ECB tie and a suit.”

So he went to the ground, suitably dressed,
And the foolish cricket bigwigs were very impressed.

Graves said , “There are people who aren’t yet cricket fans,
And to convince them, I have some very cunning plans.

The problem, you see, is that cricket’s too long.
You’ve been playing for centuries, but doing it wrong!

The people think that too much cricket is played.
So the less you play cricket, the more you’ll be paid!”

So Graves sold his idea. Lesscricket, he called it.
And he explained to the bigwigs how they all could afford it.

“There’s less balls, less games, less teams and less players!
But more money!”, Graves added, to answer their prayers.

For the cricket bigwigs all had the same small, slight flaw.
Whatever they had, they still wanted more.

They wanted their hands on all they could get,
Including the bank’s money, so they were all in huge debt.

Graves promised them riches, he promised them cash,
And so the bigwigs did something quite rash.

They gave Graves their key to the players’ room,
Not knowing that Graves meant to cause them their doom.

Graves snuck in to the ground later that night,
With his Gravesy bag and his Gravesy light.

He saw all the Taunton players, all in a row.
“These players,” he gravesed, “are the first things to go!”

Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took everyone present!

It was quarter of dawn. All the fans still a-dream,
All the fans still a-snooze, when he packed up their team.

He went everywhere that night, to Hove and to Kent,
Taking all of the players from wherever he went.

Graves stroked his chin, he was lost deep in thought.
“Where can I hide all of these players I’ve caught?

Perhaps where there are no fans of cricket?
That would be the perfect place to stick it.

No cricket fans to make their horrible noise,
No happy children, no girls and no boys.”

So Graves took them all to Cardiff in Wales,
And he told all the players some incredible tales.

Graves told them, “Ignore the empty stands,
You’ll all make more money without those pesky fans!”

Graves laughed as he returned to the scene of his crime,
As the fans down in Taunton reached waking-up time.

“Pooh-pooh to the fans!” he was gravesily humming.
“They’re finding out now that no cricket is coming!

They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
Then the fans down in Taunton will all cry boo-hoo!

That’s a noise,” grinned the Graves, “that I simply must hear!”
He paused, and the Graves put a hand to his ear.

And he did hear a sound rising over the hills.
It started in low, but was giving him chills.

But this sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded mad!

Every fan down in Taunton, the tall and the small,
Still somehow liked cricket without players at all!

They were angry, and upset, and looking to blame,
The person responsible for taking their game!

He hadn’t stopped cricket from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

The fans all gathered, in their clubs and their porches,
Then went looking for Graves with pitchforks and torches.

Graves, being clever, turned tail and ran,
And he hid in his cave, as only Graves can.

This really wasn’t going the way that he’d plotted.
Graves was really quite sad until something he spotted.

The children in Taunton weren’t playing cricket at all.
They looked puzzled if you gave them a bat and a ball.

With no team to love, no players even near,
Those kids would be fans of something else this year.

Perhaps tennis, or rugby, or hockey, or netball,
But cricket won’t enter their young minds at all.

“Eventually there will be no new fans of cricket,” Graves foresaw,
“The few fans left, I can easily ignore!”

The Graves was so happy. He had cheated and lied,
And now got to watch as cricket slowly died.

His grin was enormous, and some people say,
That his heart grew three sizes that day.

For cricket’s demise filled Graves with great joy,
As he started to think what was next to destroy.

The moral, dear children, is to guard what you hold dear,
And don’t believe all the promises you hear.

Because every single person in an ECB suit and tie,
If their lips are moving, is telling a lie.

 

Merry Christmas from Dmitri, Chris, Sean and myself!

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.