Making Sense Of The Nonsense
Whether you support the proposed new tournament or not, it is hard not to be flabbergasted by the way the ECB has handled the unveiling of ‘The Hundred’ during the past month.
English cricket’s governing body has lurched from one press conference to another, one ‘pivotal meeting’ to the next; leaving a trail of faces in palms and disbelieving shakes of the head in their wake.
Controversial from the get-go, domestic cricket has yet more threads to pull at when discussing this ‘bold’ new venture – with the dizzying way things unravel enough to send you mad if you let it.
Lets try and keep the madness at bay for a moment to address the key issues shall we:
To slip into the first person for a moment, I was in Las Vegas when The Hundred was initially announced.
Being in a different time zone did not make the idea any clearer, any more exciting or any more innovative. It seemed just as crazy.
There is a point at which an individual’s understanding that, as an existing cricket fan, this new tournament is ‘not for them’ is broken – and that’s when you begin to question exactly what the heck is going on? Who is driving this boat? And for what passengers?
What’s worse is that the ECB seem to be almost backtracking, now using terms like ‘concept’; which only seems to suggest they’ve set fire to the bridge before they’ve even crossed it…
Why even make the announcement if it wasn’t the final format? Surely they knew what would happen?
Why is fifteen 6-ball overs and one 10-ball over easier to understand than twenty 6-ball overs?
The notion that 100 balls is a nice, round number holds up in broad terms – but when trying to apply it to cricket’s established set-up, things begin to fall down.
It doesn’t make it any simpler for non-fans, and it only further alienates those existing supporters already aggrieved by this entire saga.
If they REALLY wanted to bugger about with things to make it a 100-ball game, why not just make it twenty 5-ball overs? At least that has a chance of being seen as something of a ‘compromise’….
Still, I guess it gave everyone a chance to be funny:
Joe Root will be ‘assigned’ to a team. But only for marketing purposes, he won’t play.
So he’ll appear on the posters, in the adverts, doing silly dances on social media and such and such; but he won’t strike a ball in anger in The Hundred, because he’ll be playing for England.
So the England captain is going to be shoehorned into a competition he won’t play in to help sell it to people the ECB then say *drum roll please* probably won’t know who he is anyway….
Honestly, why bother? At least if you put Adam Lyth on a ‘Leeds Lions’ poster, people will get to see him play (just bear with me for examples sake). A connection can be built between those watching the competition and those being used to promote and play in it – “That’s the guy from the poster!”
And if the perception is that ‘they won’t know who Joe Root is’, then what does it matter if they use Adam Lyth instead? They won’t know who Adam Lyth is either, but at least this new audience has the opportunity to learn who Adam Lyth is by actually seeing him play!
THE ‘NEW’ AUDIENCE
Ah yes, the ‘new’ audience the ECB is so desperately seeking.
Even ignoring Andrew Strauss’ somewhat ham handed ‘it’s for mums and kids’ comments, this is a two pronged affair:
1) Do the ECB think non-cricket fans – the ones they want to attract to the game – are ‘too thick’ to understand the globally accepted format of Twenty20? If not, why change the format at all?
Why mess with something that existing fans know, understand and would (at least it a decent number of cases – at home and abroad) probably get behind.
Tinkering with things in this way just tends to piss people off for no apparent reason.
At least having an existing audience that will watch and cheer gives you something to work with, and at the risk of sounding cynical, ‘cash-in’ on.
Twitter is an echo chamber, the real world less so. There are existing fans who would go and watch the new competition; but when you’re complaining your audience is too small already, why would you risk decreasing it even further in the hope (and that’s all it is right now) enough people who don’t currently like the sport will suddenly decide that actually they do like cricket – which leads us nicely on to…
2) If these non-cricket fans didn’t turn out to watch before, what makes the ECB think The Hundred will suddenly change that?
What evidence do they have that a 100-ball competition will suddenly suck people in where a 120-ball competition did not?
Show your working! It’s one of the most basic concepts taught in GCSE Maths.
Perhaps we should simple ask another question – Why are some people in the UK in positions of power obsessed with unicorns at the moment? Because that’s what the ECB is chasing here.
The ECB seems to have spent more time juggling than a village cricketer dealing with a skier on the boundary, so at odds are some its statements with, y’know, reality.
As it turns out, the ECB were ‘grammatically correct’ – apparently speaking to PCA Chairman Daryl Mitchell, England ODI captain Eoin Morgan and England opener Tammy Beaumont – but this early statement could be, at best, described as stretching the truth.
It’s become somewhat clear, once again, that the ECB jumped the gun with their announcement of The Hundred, and their attempts to dress up the amount of ‘consultation’ they had done prior to the big reveal.
Morgan might be a fan – his non-cricket friends might be fans(…) – but the 31-year-old is in the minority among his peers.
None of this covers for the fact the ECB cannot seem to agree whether The Hundred was ‘in development’ for months, or a late change of lane though:
Either answer is damning – either they spent six-months thinking about it, and this is what they came up with, or they came up with The Hundred they rushed the announcement without even ticking some of the most basic boxes.
Again the need to see the ECB’s ‘working’ on this seems paramount. Not that anyone actually expects to see it.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The vast majority of the problems the ECB seems keen to address with this new competition probably could have been solved if they’d actually given the T20 Blast some proper backing – not just a poke and a prod every now and then, followed by the ECB Chairman running it down.
It was within the ECB’s power to offer Blast games to free-to-air broadcasters – either as full, live games or a Match of the Day style round-up show (depending on how the draw up the schedule).
‘Global stars’ already participate in the Blast – Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Andre Russell have all featured in the County competition in recent years.
The ECB controls the schedule – and thus could have pitched the competition whenever they damn well wanted to during the summer.
With venues in 18 locations across England and Wales (more if you hold games at out grounds as well), the opportunities for fans (existing and new) to go and see an actual game live are much greater, for far more people, than restricting it to eight cities.
The building blocks were all there – even down to the ‘plucky underdogs’ having a chance to win the tournament! *waves in the direction of Northampton*
Whilst the Counties have done an admirable job selling the Blast, boosting attendances, advanced ticket sales and interest, the ECB has largely failed it as a competition for reasons that are unclear – or perhaps sit in plain sight, depending on your viewpoint…
It is hard not to suspect a very particular Venn diagram is at play at the ECB.
In life, you meet people who only really like an idea if it is theirs. Other people’s ideas? ‘No thanks’.
You meet people who will only help drive an idea if it is theirs.
And there are those who will make sure their idea bloody well happens, ok?!
These three things are the same and different at the same time, depending on the circumstances, but it is hard not to feel this is where the ECB have landed – or certain individuals within it – the sweet spot of the Venn diagram.
And so we must have a new competition – because that is their idea.
That it is now, seemingly, being driven by mysteriously vague market research and ‘out of the box’ thinking with no tangible anchor attached to reality does not fill those who devote their time and energy into supporting English cricket with much confidence – but nonetheless it seems destined to happen. Because someone at the ECB bloody well says so, and after all they spent all that time bullying the Counties into line….
The Hundred seems like an initiative more driven by marketing men than anyone else, but because it’s still close enough to ‘the idea’, those in power will continue to smile and congratulate themselves on ‘saving’ English cricket…