n Tuesday, the ECB drip-fed details of the opening season – delayed, like almost everything else, by the pandemic – of the Hundred, the shiny toy on which they have staked the house. They announced the fixtures, the remaining men’s players after a low-key redraft, and a raft of women’s signings, too.
It was broadly good news.
The seven overseas men announced were all high ticket items, either established superstars like David Warner, Kagiso Rabada and Keiron Pollard, or their heirs, like Nicholas Pooran and Jhye Richardson. Some fine domestic players were picked up too, and the eight squads look pretty solid (Southern Brave the strongest of a strong bunch, even though you weren’t asking).
With the likes of Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy locked in too, the same can be said of the women’s competition.
The fixtures were impressive, too: a women’s match launching the competition, a Lord’s final adding some lustre with play-offs across London at the Kia Oval. More double-headers than originally planned will help drive down operating costs, offsetting spiralling marketing bills, and might just – initially at least – raise the profile of the women’s game (although why not have a few of the women’s games second, not first?).
Despite these positive aspects, the reaction on social media was predictably negative. Six hours after asking his 43,000 Twitter followers to grade from 1-10 how much they cared who played for which team in the competition, Wisden editor Lawrence Booth had received more than 500 responses. At a glance, the mean response would have been 1 and the median 0.
By now, such a reaction is unsurprising and, for the ECB, not undeserved. From the day, almost three years ago, they ambushed county executives with the 100-ball concept, then rushed out a press release crowing about the “fresh tactical dimension” that was the now mothballed 10-ball over, their communication around the tournament has been all wrong. More recently, their use of social media has been unnecessarily antagonistic and immature.
There are other major drawbacks to the tournament. Some of the decision-making has been questionably clandestine. Much of the branding is – as all the Australians coaching in the tournament (another issue altogether) would say – “pretty ordinary”. There are legitimate fears about the marginalisation of the county game (and particularly the non-test match grounds). Exactly what deliveries 101-120 did wrong is still not totally clear.
And it has positives, too. The team sheets look great. Sky, the BBC and all their collective clout are right behind it. It’s in the middle of summer.
All of this has led to even fair-minded fans of a great game feeling pitched against each other in a strange “roundheads vs cavaliers” battle that is tragically tribal. The Hundred is unlikely to be as bad as its detractors (the majority) claim, nor the panacea its advocates and administrators hope. It has been wholly unedifying.
By luck not design, the most important announcement for the Hundred came on Monday evening, not Tuesday morning. Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown could barely have been more perfect for it. The tournament begins on July 21, a month after the earliest date the final legal limits on mixing will be lifted.
Full grounds are not beyond the realms of possibility and there is an audience awaiting, with a huge appetite to be outside, with a beer, in the sun, after more than a year locked down. Already, cricket is riding a wave because England’s national teams have been fun to watch in recent years. Barely a soul watched live cricket in person last summer, so people are unlikely to be fussy this time.
Whichever side of the fence you sit, it appears the Hundred has a better chance of succeeding now than at any point in its chequered history.