100. Yearned for by batsmen; loathed by bowlers. It’s silly really. Why should a batsman feel disappointed in himself as he unstraps his pads back in the dressing room having been dismissed for 99? And why should a bowler feel relieved that he hasn’t got the dreaded three figures against his name in the bowling analyses even if he’s gone for 99? In both cases, it’s only one run and, except on very rare occasions, what’s one run here or there, in a game that usually comprises multiples of 100? But there it is – the personal landmark of three figures looms large in a cricketer’s mind.
Is that why I took an instant dislike to the concept of the ECB’s new brainchild, The Hundred? An irrational reflex, I tell myself. “What’s in a name?” queries Juliet, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” True enough. What other, considered objections can I make to the big idea? Plenty, as it happens.
The Hundred – the number of balls each side has to bowl – makes no sense. All games of cricket that I have ever played in comprised a certain number of overs and even my wretched grasp of mathematics informs me that one hundred cannot be divided by six, the number of balls per over. The eight ball over favoured by the Australians was abandoned in 1979 and that doesn’t fit in with 100 balls either. The whole idea is illogical and smacks of a marketing gimmick. The principle is that deliveries would be in clutches of ten. A ten-ball over would be from one end, five ball bowled by one bowler, then five by another, or all ten by one. (Keep up there at the back!) Silly, plain silly.
There are of course other reasons for my scepticism, many of which have already been expressed in parts of the media. One of them is the enormous cost - £60 million, I read somewhere – which could surely be better spent elsewhere. What about the ECB’s professed intent to grow the recreational game and to invest in the grass roots? Another knot difficult to untangle is that England have just won the World Cup, a 50 over format that produced some of the most thrilling cricket ever seen on these shores. Well done, England! What a marvellously talented and exciting team you are. Now go and win it again in four years time, thus cloaking yourselves in the mantle of greatness. But the trouble is that the ECB, in order to make room for The Hundred, have downgraded the domestic 50 over competition to a ‘development tournament’. Having climbed the mountain, you do not go on a gentle stroll among the foothills; you climb it again or find another mountain to conquer.
The Twenty/20 – a success, I have to admit, despite my initial misgivings – will inevitably be downgraded too because it will now run alongside (and therefore in competition to) the new Hundred. All the best players will be otherwise engaged so the Twenty/20 will become not much more than a 2nd XI competition. As for the traditional county programme…. well, don’t get me started on that again. If our priority – as has been publicly stated by the ECB – is to win back the Ashes in Australia in 2021-22, then shunting the four day game to the margins of the season is no way to prepare for that battle. Like Brexit in the political sphere, The Hundred is about to dominate English cricket and the game and its national representatives – its Test team – will be the poorer for it, even if the ECB will be the richer (they hope).
Am I alone in finding the draft for the eight teams, broadcast live on Sky all rather tacky and demeaning, an exercise in pure commercial hype? I’m afraid it brought to mind those awful team picks in the school playground; pity the poor boy not picked until last. Basically this looked very much like a crude method of ranking current county players. As for the names of the teams….. what publicity mastermind thought up these brand epithets, dripping in hyperbole:
Manchester Originals (to be sold alongside Duchy Originals)
Northern Superchargers (only for petrol heads)
Birmingham Phoenix (the Great Fire was in London, not Birmingham)
Trent Rockets (the leisurely speed of the River Trent is hardly rocket-propelled)
London Spirit (evoking the Blitz I suppose – if so, in poor taste)
Welsh Fire (what, with all that rain?)
Oval Invincibles (Surrey may have been in the 1950s but now?)
Southern Brave (their badge looks like a rail network motif, so good luck there)
I am aware that Juliet encouraged me not to read too much in a name but come on….really?