Cricket can sometimes be a polarising sport. When generations clash over the perfections and imperfections of the modern game, the ‘purists’ sometimes find themselves under pressure to justify the benefits of the longest format of the game; a 5-day test match.
In the current climate, bright lights, big shots and constant excitement is a necessity to attract crowds and the younger the generation to a a sport that the English Cricket Board (ECB) felt was in desperate need of a regenerated format of the game.
As a result, The Hundred was born.
A regionally franchised format that sees each innings consist of just 100 balls (as opposed to the 120 of a T20 format). Matches are constrained by time with punishments for slow play. With live music and throughout the matches, the primary focus for the governing body was to attract the younger generation to the sport and, so far, they seem to have pitched the concept very well indeed.
The Format of the Hundred
Following on from the successes of T20 franchised competitions around the world such as the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Big Bash League in Australia, England’s answer follows some similar traits. Bright uniforms and regionalised names such as the Oval Invincible’s and the Southern Braves create a vibrant forefront to what is now the shortest format of the professional game in the country.
Camera’s attached to helmets provide a unique perspective alongside some extravagant and innovative plays that have seen scores excel to a mammoth 200 throughout the opening weeks. Instead of ‘overs’ the Hundred delivers balls in sets of 5 with a bowler having the option of bowling back-to-back ‘sets’ and a total of 20 balls in the innings. The fielding team changes ends every 10 balls to ensure that a high-pace is maintained throughout and revolutionary concepts to the sport such as timeouts only add to the intrigue that built up in the preceding weeks.
The rules have been devised in an attempt to simplify some confusing concepts to those new to the sport and make it easy to follow for all regardless of age or experience.
The launch of the Hundred
With the operational challenges and restrictions on global travel that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of The Hundred competition was predictably delayed a year to begin in 2021. To facilitate the quality of the competition and the draw for spectators, a global list of players, mixed with Englands brightest emerging players was a necessity for organisers and whilst there are still some hurdles to be addressed with bringing over the very best talent int he world, a wealth of experience and talent have come to these shores to showcase their skillsets.
To make the sport accessible and visible to all, The Hundred has been running both a women’s and men’s competition alongside each other with major sponsors for all teams. In a historic move, The Hundred was launched with a stand-alone women’s match as the Oval Invincibles and the Manchester Originals faced off on a Friday evening at the end of July before their male counterparts did so at the same ground the next day.
Close matches across the opening weekend helped to establish the tone of the competition whilst crowds have been treated to exciting contests throughout. Both the BBC and Sky Sports have provided consistent coverage of both sides of the competition with the former picking up an additional there womens’ games after the demand became clear through the opening matches.
Women’s and Men’s The Hundred Competition
With a full match taking just two and a half hours, the ECB have opted for double-headers with the women playing first and the same men’s teams following immediately afterwards to encourage families to attend as part of a ‘day-out’. At times, this has been a contentious issue with women’s matches typically overlapping the end of the working day whereas the men find themselves playing in the more favourable evening slot.
In the build-up to the competition, the ECB made significant moves to promote a gender balanced competition and parity between both tournaments. In doing this, an equal prize-pot of £300,000 each will be provided for both the Men’s and Women’s teams as well as equal prizes for individual player awards. All of this comes as a platform to the ECB’s commitment to provide £20million in the next two years that will include 40 professional contracts.
A massive disparity in the salary’s of the players competing still leaves a considerable amount of work to be done in order to truly create a balanced playing field. The average salary of male players in The Hundred stands at over 8 times that of their female counterparts. Whilst this has been acknowledged, the current competition is aimed at bridging that gap.
The Future of The Hundred
The decline in participation levels that accompanied the waning popularity of the sport in the second half of the 20th century led a radical change in focus for the governing body. An opportunity to showcase the skillsets at the top of the game to an easily accessible audience whilst targeting the digital opportunities that would accompany that has given The Hundred the platform on which it is currently founded. Providing womens’ domestic cricket on a free-to-view platform such as the BBC has given the exposure that the game so desperately needed and with the timing of the Tokyo Olympics, The Hundred fixtures often found themselves starting immediately after the final action from Japan, ensuring a continuous provision of sport for those still looking to satisfy their desire for competitive edge.
The impact of COVID-19 has undoubtedly restricted the number of overseas players available for the competition however the secure bubbles required amongst teams has meant that, like its’ Australian equivalent, the concept of ‘one club, two teams’ is more evident than any other form of domestic cricket with both men and women from the same teams spending a considerable amount of time together. The parity that has been demonstrated throughout the marketing in the build-up and during the competition itself has paved the way for the progression of the sport as an entity within the United Kingdom and whilst there are clearly avenues in which aspects can be fine-tuned, The Hundred has proven a considerable number of doubters wrong and shown that it will only move from strength to strength over the coming years.