Sam Billings of Oval Invincibles Men (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Hating The Hundred

Why do cricketing authorities think we’re stupid?

Artillery Row

As a cricket fan, I am the first to admit that the game can be confusing. Silly mid-on, leg-gully, deep-extra-cover — it is easier to understand The Phenomenology of Spirit than it is to list all of the obscure-sounding fielding positions. Developed by Marylebone Cricket Club in 1788, the game is governed by 42 laws regulating everything from the height of the stumps to how often grass on a cricket field must be mowed during a match (daily, if you’re wondering). Leg before wicket is the cricket equivalent of the offside rule in football. Have you ever tried to explain to a non-fan why the batsman (sorry, batter) was not out when it was pitching outside leg? They will look at you as if you’re having a stroke.

With so much to learn, it’s easy to see why cricket can be alienating. It doesn’t help that a recent report criticised the game as suffering from “widespread and deep-rooted” racism, sexism and elitism, supposedly played by a small number of privately educated boys — its methodological flaws never troubling the mainstream media.

A couple of years ago, the game’s exalted moral arbiters decided to fill the already saturated summer of cricket in Britain with a new competition: The Hundred. Why the need for a new format when T20 is already so popular? I don’t know. However, the decision has deeply divided the critics. Some have praised it. When Michael Vaughan supports something, though, you know it’s wrong.

Insulting those you are intending to pitch it to? It’s a bold strategy

In 2021, the ECB launched The Hundred with the aim of broadening the appeal of the game. At first glance, it looks a lot like T20 cricket: see the ball, hit the ball, with dancing cheerleaders and fireworks aplenty. However, whilst T20 is relatively simple — one of the reasons it’s so popular — The Hundred is a more complicated matter. The traditional six balls an over are gone, replaced by ten balls, which can be delivered by two different bowlers. As with the evolution of TikTok challenges, cricket has entered the stupid phase.

It seems that T20 needs to be dumbed down for the lumpenproletariat. Former England international and Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss said, “We want to make the game as simple as possible for them to understand.” He is referring to mums and kids, who are apparently too stupid to understand a game shortened by twenty balls. Insulting those you are intending to pitch it to? It’s a bold strategy; let’s see if it works.

Ironically, something that was already simple to understand has become complicated. Scoreboards were once basic, showing runs scored and wickets lost, sometimes showing the bowler’s figures and runs needed to win. Now they’re an indecipherable lysergic mess, filled with garish graphics that look outdated on the Spectrum ZX81.

The 100-ball tournament runs from 1 August to 27 August, and it features eight city-based teams: London Spirit, Birmingham Phoenix, Manchester Originals, Oval Invincibles, Northern Superchargers, Southern Brave, Trent Rockets and Welsh Fire. Each team plays eight group stage matches, one against every side, with a bonus match against a “local rival”. Four matches are played at home and four away. The winner of the league advances to the final, with second and third placed teams facing each other in a knockout for a spot in the final.

After watching a few games, I see The Hundred suffers from the same T20-like bantz-style commentary. Rumour has it that Michael McIntyre was being courted as a potential commentator for Sky’s coverage. Thank God that didn’t happen. Instead, we get expert analysis from former Love Island contestant Chris Hughes, who is doing his best to manufacture rivalries between the teams. As any sports fan will tell you, you can’t magically create rivalries. The Hundred has been going for two years; it’s hardly Rangers vs. Celtic.

There’s already a problem with T20: there are about 14 franchise leagues across the world. With the exception of the South Pole, there is a franchise tournament on every continent, with the inaugural season of Major League Cricket taking place last month in the United States.

Fans are not even guaranteed to see their favourite player, as the Hundred happens to coincide with the Caribbean Premier League. For the jet-setting T20 mercenaries, they face a difficult decision: playing on a tropical island … or a rainy Monday afternoon in Birmingham, a few feet from an abandoned shopping trolley dumped in the canal. Oh, the agony of choice!

We need to get rid of this drek and promote the four-day game

The best players will inevitably turn away from the longer format and chase the cash in the shorter game. Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported that Mark Wood could miss the winter tour to India to compete in the United Arab Emirate’s International T20 League, which runs from mid-January to mid-February. I don’t blame a player for having a chance to make money, but if the ECB doesn’t address the issue, the test game could be seriously damaged.

What does this obsession with shortening the game tell us? With baseball-style names and strategic timeouts, we’ve Americanised a centuries-old, quintessentially British sport. Delayed gratification has given way to dancing girls, fireworks and urban DJs. What great idea does the ECB have in store for us slack-jawed yokels next? A six ball competition with one ball delivered by a Paddy McGuiness riding a horse? How about moonwalking between the wickets? Or a wet t-shirt competition at half time? For the rest of us with an IQ above 70, what about an idiot board reminding us when to cheer?

We need to get rid of this drek and promote the four-day game. It’s the pinnacle of the sport, after all. Men and women of all classes have been enjoying it for generations. To do this, county games must start on a Thursday to accommodate a weekend finish. If the longer game sounds unexciting, well — what were doing during the Ashes?

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