ECB 'Right' to Postpone Hundred Competition - But Show Must Go On When Safe To Do So

Hundred. The name has been synonymous with success in cricket, as a batter takes off their helmet, raises their stick of willow and absorbs a standing ovation from the crowd.

Unless you’re a bowler in which case you try to hide and avoid mocking handshakes from your teammates after passing three figures.

The ECB added a new definition to the word ‘hundred’ when they first proposed a 100-ball competition back in 2016, with the term meaning “a hugely unpopular short form of cricket that is barely any different to existing Twenty20 that will damage red-ball cricket for the near future.”

The competition was christened ‘The Hundred’ – imaginative name, I know – and was due to take off on the 17th July.

However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ECB stated on 24th April that there would be no professional cricket until at least the 1st July.

With social distancing measures expected to last until autumn, and maybe into the winter, it appears highly unlikely that we will see any live sport, even behind closed doors, in the UK this year.

With the ticket prices for The Hundred set relatively low in comparison to the T20 Blast, only £10 for an adult ticket, the ECB would hope that this would entice newer cricket fans to come along to the ground to watch.

In fact, Tom Harrison, the chief executive officer at the ECB, said that “It’s created the quickest sale of tickets other than World Cup Cricket we’ve seen” when speaking to ESPNCricinfo.

This, therefore, would mean that grounds would be full, or at least have a few thousand spectators, with people in very close proximity.

What’s more would be the amount of press and media, ground staff, catering staff, match officials and the players themselves at the grounds, so even hosting matches behind closed doors would still be a huge risk to personal health and wellbeing.

Furthermore, counties such as Hampshire, Kent, Essex and Yorkshire have deferred contracts to overseas players such as Nathan Lyon (Hants), Matt Henry (Kent) and Peter Siddle (Essex) due to the potential risk to player health.

With The Hundred squads having three overseas players each, that would mean a total of 24 places for English domestic players.

This is without taking into account players such as Roelof van der Merwe and Ryan ten Doeschate who play for the Netherlands but are eligible to play as non-overseas players in the English domestic setup.

Would The Hundred be as big a success without players such as Steve Smith, Andre Russell and Rashid Khan?

Didn’t think so.

This brings me on nicely to the subject of money.

Whilst overseas players were some of the biggest financial signings for The Hundred, with 16 out of the 24 overseas players being paid at least £100k, they are players that will likely attract more spectators.

Specifically, a younger audience who have grown up watching Twenty20 cricket and are typically more excited about short-form matches than your traditional cricket supporter who turns up with a picnic, a scorebook and some coloured pens.

The counties were due to receive an estimated £1.3 million from the profits made by The Hundred but are now set to lose £85 million now faced with the likely prospect of no cricket this year.

This will undoubtedly have repercussions on the county game for the next few years at least, but the financial cost is nothing compared to the potential human loss that hosting live sporting fixtures could bring.

However, if we do get some live cricket this year, and it’s likely it won’t be until late summer at the very earliest, the ECB has already stated that they plan to reschedule international matches as late as possible, with the T20 Blast occupying the last spot in the season.

But hang on, something isn’t quite right here.

The ECB appears to be welcome to the idea of a whole international team touring – not to mention the media that would come along with them – but counties have already deferred contracts for their overseas players.

Also, where would The Hundred fit in?

If we can’t play cricket until August at the earliest, surely the priority would be international matches against the West Indies and Pakistan?

They would be more likely to bring in more profits than a domestic competition, no?

And with the T20 Blast occupying as much of the best weather in September, there doesn’t seem to be the time for The Hundred to go ahead this year.

One thing is for sure though – the ECB must go ahead with The Hundred.

They have pumped so much money into the competition, along with broadcasters and sponsors, that it would be a waste to deny the English public a cricket tournament that, whilst controversial, has the potential to be popular.

Maybe the new format could bring in some innovations, an increased use of technology, and create a bigger profile for the English domestic game. Who knows, not I.

We will just have to wait, and almost certainly keep waiting another year, to see what The Hundred has in store.

One way or another, The Hundred will happen, and the demise of the county championship and test cricket will be there for all to see as we make way for our white-ball overlords.

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