Hundred must show it can ‘grow the game’ to be a success – ECB
The England and Wales Cricket Board has insisted the Hundred will be judged a success only if it “grows the game as a whole” after the controversial new cricket format came under sustained scrutiny from MPs.
Executives from cricket’s governing body, including the chairman, Colin Graves, and the chief executive, Tom Harrison, were in Westminster to give evidence to the digital, culture, media and sport select committee. The subject of inquiry was “the future of English cricket” and, flanked by two World Cup trophies, the most senior figures in the game laid out their plans for what Clare Connor, managing director of women’s cricket, called “the biggest opportunity ever, for both the men’s and women’s games”.
At the top of the list is the Hundred, a new format which will be played by eight city-based teams over the course of six weeks next summer. Some games will be shown on the BBC, marking live cricket’s return to terrestrial TV after a 15-year absence. But the competition has been accused of sucking attention and resources from other parts of the game and with opponents – complete with Stop the Hundred T-shirts – sitting in on proceedings, there was no avoiding the topic.
Asked by the Conservative MP Julian Knight about the “extraordinary” controversy over the format, Harrison said the Hundred “is about growing the game and protecting things we value the most” and cited as proof the 50-over World Cup this summer.
“We’ve just seen grounds across country packed full of fans,” he said. “Forty per cent of those were first-time buyers. The vibrancy, colour, noise and energy from those matches will live with all of us. The Hundred is an attempt to replicate some of that and bring it back every year. It’s not to take away from the counties but to make sure we use every advantage to grow the game.
“Research shows we have 1.5 million who regularly watch cricket but over 10 million who like the sport. We have to bridge that gap, to reach out to children and families. We want every community to say “it’s a game for me”. To that end we’ve deliberately put teams in large conurbations with different target markets.
“We hope county cricket fans turn up in their droves. We do not want to cannibalise T20 in any way. We will benchmark the Hundred’s success on whether it grows the game. Within four or five years cricket has to show it has the ability to grow.”
Asked why the ECB had not simply rethought its offering in Twenty20, the shorter form of the game that was first devised in England and has become a global sensation thanks to the Indian Premier League, Graves said: “The new tournament brought TV back to the table. If we had stuck with T20, terrestrial would not have been there. T20 works for a market. We believe there is a market there for a new tournament.”
Graves claimed there were “at least” four other countries looking at implementing the Hundred, if it proves a success.
The involvement of terrestrial TV (alongside Sky, which will show the majority of the Hundred matches live) has been a central selling point of the Hundred. It was also a source of some wry amusement to the committee who noted the decline in cricket participation that followed the departure of live cricket to pay TV in 2005, following England’s spectacular Ashes triumph.
The Labour MP Ian Lucas asked about the decision, ending his question with the entreaty, “please don’t do it again”. Graves, who was chairman of Yorkshire Cricket Club in 2005, said the ECB had “at that time possibly missed one or two tricks” but claimed the organisation was now in the process of “squaring the circle”.
One positive structural change this time has been the creation of professional cricket in England for women and the Hundred will be the first sporting competition to have men’s and women’s tournaments from the outset. “Our plan for the women’s game in the next five years will see £50m invested,” Connor said.
“We’re looking to increase representation in playing, coaching and other workforce roles. There will be three times as many professionals. Ten years ago you couldn’t earn a living as a female playing the sport, now you can. We should all celebrate that.”