To many cricket fans, the 2005 Ashes series doesn’t seem a long time ago. Flintoff, Pietersen, Hoggard and co tore into a vintage Aussie side to win the Ashes for England, with over 22 million viewers tuning in to witness a classic sporting encounter. The team became household names and cricket had never been so popular in England – and yet, just 13 years later, English cricket has never been less popular. The introduction of a new 100 ball format – to be known as, simply, The Hundred – is a move designed to arrest that slide, and yet many remain unconvinced.
Cricket participation in England is falling
The reasons for the decline in interest in cricket are numerous and debatable. Many cite the ECB’s decision to flog the broadcasting rights to Sky, taking live cricket away from free-to-air TV and the vast audiences that come with it. While those arguments still swirl around, it’s difficult to dispute the fall in interest. The ECB carried out its own survey of school children which showed that three in five didn’t even rank cricket in their top 10 favourite sports, while adult participation in club cricket – despite a host of excellent initiatives – has fallen by 64,000. At Test level, England are enduring a miserable run of form and results and continue to drift further and further from the public consciousness – and County cricket finds itself well and truly in the margins and often played in front of no one.
How will it help English cricket?
So here we are with a new 100 ball format that asks more questions than it provides answers. What will that do to help the Test team? How will that help with the County Championship? What does it mean for women’s cricket? How does it help grassroots club cricket? Is a 100 ball game really much different to 120? And is it an insult to the cricketing public’s intelligence? Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, wrote in Wisden recently that “people won’t need to know the ins and out of the lbw law or even how many balls are in an over”, just so long as they can “enjoy watching sixes fly”. Growing the game is said to be the ultimate goal, but you sense it may only grow the bish-bash-bosh element while longer forms will continue to suffer.
The Inside Cricket podcast recently surveyed fans at The Oval, and opinions were decidedly mixed. One respondent said “Why do we need this? We’ve already got a successful short format of the game. This will just become Celebrity Big Batting. You might as well just get a bowling machine in so every batsman can come in and have a slog.”
It’s difficult to argue with that. Indeed, it’s often the case that low scoring T20 games are more enjoyable than high-scoring slog-fests.
Live cricket back on the BBC
The move will see live cricket returning to the BBC, an undoubted plus, massively widening its potential reach. Tony Hall, the BBC director general, said at the time of the deal:
The BBC is delighted. It’s long been our ambition to bring live cricket back to BBC television. I’m thrilled to see that ambition realised. Cricket is an integral part of the British summer and the BBC will be putting its full weight behind the nation’s favourite summer sport. Our aim will be to make the new competition a huge success.
In club cricket, many find they lack the sufficient spare time to devote to a full day every weekend. Last Man Stands attempted to counter that – an 8 a side game, with 5 ball overs instead of six, and 12 runs awarded for any six hit off the last ball of the innings. 100 ball cricket attempts to build on that, but it remains to be seen to what extent it will be embraced by club cricket.
It’s fair to say feeling within the game is mostly negative. ‘The Hundred’, as it will be known, may well bomb, but with cricket struggling so badly many of those naysayers still feel it’s worth a go. What do you think?
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