It was 18 years ago that an ECB administrator called Stewart Robertson came up with the idea of Twenty20 ostensibly to provide a financial boost to struggling counties.
I remember it well because, in a different role for this paper, I had a conversation with the then cricket correspondent about how we should cover the first game at the Rose Bowl.
‘This is not a job for you,’ I told him. ‘It’s not real cricket. Let’s send a feature writer.’
I won’t be covering the inaugural games in the Hundred this week beginning on Wednesday
Too much has been invested in this by Tom Harrison and the ECB for it to be a flop now
Which is how the Daily Mail’s initial verdict — on what became the monster that revolutionised the world game — was, ‘It’ll never catch on’. Not exactly a headline to be trumpeted years later.
So that is why I won’t be covering the inaugural games in the Hundred this week. I don’t want to be that Mr Grumpy who rushes to condemn the even shorter, more controversial new format the ECB have gambled our game’s future on.
Not because I could be made to look very silly in years to come but also because the game I love cannot afford for this to fail. The stakes are too high and too much has been invested in this by the governing body for it to be a flop now.
The consequences would be ruinous but, despite that, the ECB, in their wisdom, are basically risking English cricket’s future on one spin of the roulette wheel.
The consequences would be ruinous and the ECB are basically risking English cricket’s future
I would prefer colleagues with more of an open mind to have a go at reviewing the Hundred’s opening nights at the Oval on Wednesday night and Thursday because from day one, three years ago now, I have struggled to see why the ECB are doing this. It seemed crazy at the time and nothing has happened since to change my mind.
We have already got a short form that works. The Mail quickly realised our day one verdict was, to say the least, wide of the mark. Cricket found a way of making itself accessible in the modern, impatient world through Twenty20 and Robertson’s invention became an international phenomenon.
So why change now? Why change when England’s county T20 competition remains a huge success. No, it’s not the IPL but the Blast has been gaining spectators year on year and finals day remains one of the most popular in the calendar, even since it was shunted to September.
I have sat at Lord’s and watched Middlesex play in front of a full house packed with families and young people, male and female. It is a scene repeated all over the country.
I have sat at Lord’s and watched Middlesex play in front of families for T20 Blast games
But that is not good enough for the ECB. First they insisted we needed a new ‘city-based franchise’ T20 competition and then, out of nowhere, after a big broadcast deal had been secured on that basis, came blue sky thinking and the Hundred.
Now that bright idea has completely undermined not only the Blast but also the 50-over domestic competition which starts on Wednesday basically as a ‘development’ event. Can you imagine what both could have achieved had the ECB given them even half the marketing resources and support they have indulged on the Hundred?
Of course cricket wants a new audience but the danger is that it is completely disregarding and disillusioning its existing one. That audience, young and old, are being treated with contempt by the game’s guardians and could be driven away by it all.
I just hope those guardians know what they are doing.
Kate Cross (right) is one of the most eloquent voices in the game as a rising media star
But it’s not all bad news. It’s the men’s Hundred I can see no point in. And good luck trying to get them to bowl their 100 balls in 65 minutes to satisfy the schedules of terrestrial broadcasters, still the only reason I can see for creating yet another format.
It is different for women because the equal billing they are receiving for this tournament and the fact it all kicks off with a women’s game on Wednesday night makes this a tremendous opportunity, even though pay issues remain. The spotlight is on the women’s game like never before.
Kate Cross is not only the captain of Manchester Originals in Wednesday night’s first game against Oval Invincibles but is also one of the most eloquent voices in the game as a rising media star and an administrator in the making. So her verdict is worth listening to.
Next month we can enjoy the cricket an English audience still loves when England play India
‘I do get frustrated when people are sceptical about this tournament,’ said Cross. ‘They seem to overlook the fact that this is an incredible stepping stone for the women’s game. People can have tunnel vision at times. It happened with T20 when they said it will never take off and now it’s the format around the world that brings in the most money.
‘I’m not suggesting the Hundred will do that, but I get wound up when people want to take this opportunity from us just because it’s a new format. You’ve not seen the product yet. Maybe do that first and then make your decision.’ So that’s why this Mr Grumpy does not want to be the one who says, ‘It will never catch on’. Let the Hundred be a huge success.
Then next month we can enjoy the cricket an English audience still loves and cherishes when England play India. Test cricket. Mess around with that at your peril, ECB.