“First class” or format of the future? How the Hundred divided English cricket

“Let’s catch our breath,” said Gary Lineker, at half-time in the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy at a feverish Wembley stadium nine days ago. “It wouldn’t be an English summer without a little cricket …”

It was then, with a captive audience of 25 million people and a 55-year-old itch to scratch, that the state broadcaster decided to run a 30-second commercial for The Hundred – the new competition that kicks off Wednesday night and has the potential to make or break English cricket.

It was a bold statement of intent from the BBC, and the kind of exposure cricket has sought for decades, but this attempt to place The Hundred in the mainstream of sports conversation shouldn’t be taken as proof. that the competition has won its army of skeptics. . Far from it: 12 months after its initial launch, the sport remains hopelessly divided on the merits of its new flagship tournament.

For those who support him, he will bring a new audience to cricket, and a dusty sport steeped in tradition will speak a language that young people understand, acting as a gateway to other versions of the game. For those who oppose it, he will speak a language that young people understand. stifle county cricket and foment division between the haves and have-nots at a time of existential financial crisis.

But how did we get to this point, and what has happened in the past 20 years since the counties agreed by majority with one vote to create Twenty20 cricket, a decision that has set the ball rolling on the Route des Cent?

Powerpoint in a golf club

Desert Springs is a golf resort with ’emerald fairways’ in the desert region of Andalucia in Spain, and one of the most unlikely destinations for a group of cricket administrators who are plotting the biggest overhaul of their game since. generations.

It was during a reconnaissance of the cricket facilities at Desert Springs in October 2017 that Colin Graves and Tom Harrison, then current President and CEO of the ECB, were briefed on an exciting new format.

Counties had already voted for a new tournament, a Twenty20 based on eight city teams, on April 26, 2017 (38-3 voted for), but the 20-over format was taking too long, dragging up to over four hours in some cases. . It didn’t appear to a young and family audience that the market research indicated that the board wanted to vacate the premises before 9 p.m.

Sanjay Patel, then commercial director of the ECB before becoming director of The Hundred, gave a Powerpoint presentation in a conference room that would change English cricket forever.

“I didn’t want it to be any different from a T20,” says Graves. “I didn’t think outside the box. But the only thing the counties said after voting for it was, “Yes, we want this new tournament, but don’t take anything away or copy the existing T20 Blast.” After the initial shock, we discussed it and everyone said, “We can see it works.”

No one claims credit for coming up with The Hundred – for now, this is attributed to the Blue Sky Group’s thinking between the ECB and outside agencies – but Patel admits that it was essential to find a format suitable for families. , given the T20 Blast’s metamorphosis into a rowdy guys night out, with grounds transformed into “the city’s biggest pub garden,” according to a county president.

“We felt at the time that one of the things we needed to address was a format played in the shorter window for this family audience,” Patel said. “This is where the conversations started. Now we are there, ready to launch it.

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