What The Hundred can do for cricket participation in the UK

We make no apologies for sticking on the cricket theme for the second week running – even with certain events in Tokyo dominating the airwaves – as a new tournament arrived in England last week, with the expressed intention of reaching a new audience and increasing participation.

The Hundred kicked off in dramatic fashion with a revamped version of the game whereby each team receives 100 balls, delivered in 5-ball spells. But with the basic tenets of the game the same as ever: score more runs and win the game.

The differences were there for all to see when two women’s teams (the Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals – city-based teams as opposed to county) took centre stage for the opening game of the new competition at The Oval amid fireworks, DJs and an audience full of families. Almost 8,000 spectators turned out for night one of The Hundred, the biggest ever crowd for a UK cricket match.

And the younger members of the crowd were interviewed by presenters to stir up more interest in the stadium – with one girl getting a huge round of applause after singing ‘See you again’ by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa. 

TV audiences were also promising, with the match being screened simultaneously on terrestrial television on BBC (2.5m) and Sky Sports (1.95m) with a lower percentage than usual of adult male viewers watching cricket on the screen.

The players walked out to the field amid fireworks and exciting music. The batters were introduced separately and walked out one at a time, pulling more attention towards the players.

The scorecard graphics were different too, with bright green and pink colours. Overs were replaced by balls on the scorecard and there was a separate column for a wicket in a vertical section on the right while the total runs had a vertical column on left. Traditional cricket fans may have felt bamboozled for a bit (but then, how confusing are traditional cricket scorecards to young audiences?)

Manchester Originals’ batted first and soon had the crowd out of their seats with Harmanpreet Kaur’s scoring 29 runs in 16 balls. They eventually scored 135 runs in their 100 balls. 

The Invincibles slumped to 36-4 at the start of their reply but captain Dane van Niekerk scored a quick 56 and was helped by Kapp’s 38-run knock as the home side won the match in dramatic fashion with just two spare balls. 

Compared with the most recent T20 series between England and Pakistan which saw each match take at least four hours, this was all over in a little over two hours, including time for another innovation ‘strategic time outs’. 

The ECB’s plan was to try to attract a diverse crowd to create a vibrant atmosphere to watch entertaining cricket – and it seemed to achieve its goal. The next question is whether it can sustain the interest?

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, esteemed cricket writer Scyld Berry was not so sure. He said he could understand why three previous cricket innovations (floodlit cricket, county Twenty20, and the Indian Premier League) worked but could not say the same for the men’s Hundred.

The other three innovations, he argues, were all based on ‘one new and simple idea’ – whether it’s playing cricket under lights in hot countries, giving UK audiences a chance to watch a whole cricket match after work in the evening or getting the world’s best cricketers together at the IPL.

But really the only new thing about the men’s Hundred is the five-ball over rather than a six-ball over, he wrote. And with every other version of the game remaining the same all over the world, this might only serve to confuse young cricketers as they switch between a five-ball and six-ball over.  And here, Berry suggested that The Hundred reverted to its original idea of having 15 six-ball overs plus one 10-ball over at the end. That would have been a new and simple idea.

With the innings of both teams reaching its climax: the big question of the innings will be: who is going to bowl the last over of 10 balls. “The focus is on the bowler, for once in the sport’s history, another novelty” writes Berry. “Most will not fancy the challenge of that 10-ball over. A few would want to be the hero.”

So, work is still to be done still on the format but Berry did agree that the women’s Hundred is “a big step forward” because of the way it will grow the player base and expand professionalism in the UK. But It probably needed the men’s game to come with it to show the UK was united in its view that domestic cricket needed a shake-up and it needed to get more young people picking up their bats and balls to play the game.

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