It’s been a decent summer for cricket.
My article back in May talked about the bold #ExpressYourself advertising campaign from the ECB targeted at new, younger audiences around the start of the cricket World Cup. This obviously paid off (due largely to the result and screening of the final live on Channel 4) evident from the amount of new conversation and excitement around the game. Whether this has matched up with an increase in participation at grassroots level is yet to be seen and is probably harder to track.
Off the back of the World Cup and an exciting Ashes, the cricket world recently saw the first auction for TheHundred (England’s long-awaited franchise short format cricket tournament, starting next year), and it has been met with a whole load of controversy and divided opinion.
And I’m not surprised.
Without looking past the Hula Hoops / Butterkist logos, 10-ball overs and bare sports-hall-wall photoshoots, some of the launch has seemed really bizarre.
When I first heard about TheHundred, I was confused. Why create another whole new format, with just 20 balls less per innings than the established short version of the game that already exists – Twenty20 – which seems to be doing a great job? It seemed like a reckless move.
Having read and inspected more, I have realised that there may be more deliberate intentions.
As someone who was born and bred on a cricket pitch, the traditions, rules and idiosyncrasies of cricket are second nature to me. But realistically, this is true only of a very small percentage of the population, and TheHundred sets about reaching a far wider audience than those who would already happily watch 5+ hours of Joe Root accumulate a hard earned 100 at Lords.
TheHundred is clearly not specifically targeted at someone like me. If anything, it shouldn’t be exactly what I want to see, as that probably means they haven’t done enough to cater for someone well outside of the current cricketing echo chambers.
I find it funny speaking to people who have never grown up playing or watching cricket to hear their perception of the game. To them, it just seems completely and utterly dull, and purposefully difficult to understand. What’s more, is the intricate rules, expressions and quirks that traditionalists cherish so dearly, also prevent the outsider from being able to learn the game and appreciate the skills on show.
I experienced this first hand earlier in the summer when I went to watch Middlesex in a Twenty20 match at Lords and I remember looking at the scoreboard in the ground as if I were an outsider to cricket. Even Twenty20, in the shortest version of the game, posted up was what would have looked just like a series of numbers, purposefully complicated, telling no clear story or narrative. If I was in their shoes, it would have told me nothing about what was going on in the game, and being bored would have been the only outcome.
TheHundred’s rules clearly set out to reinvent this drastically, doing away with traditions which traditionalists love, making it easier to understand; more accessible. While the core elements of the game remain – bowler firing ball down from 22 yards at batsman trying to hit ball to score runs whilst avoiding getting out – the way it has packaged up has been changed. The focus on 100 balls and not a lot else means a lot of the jargon like overs, extras, strike rates become less important.
For an outsider, all they need to know is the number of balls left, and the number of runs needed. Nothing new, just packaged differently. Clever.
This should hopefully take away the stigma around trying to understand the sport and all its jargon. I hope this is backed up with different commentators using new languages to prevent confusion from the old paradigms for it to really hit home.
Teams, team names, branding, identity and players seems to have been done really well. As with the Express Yourself campaign, the branding is slick and instagram-ready. Each team has a believable brand identity strong enough to buy into and become a fan. I’m much more likely to become an ‘Invincible’ than an ‘avid follower of Surrey CC’.
As with many new sports concepts, the most important part is getting THE best players on board, and with all the England World Cup team on show plus superstars around the world, there is no doubt they have done well in that department.
If all of that has been a positive, the team kits and sponsors have been anything but. The KP snacks deal, whilst I’m sure lucrative, certainly contradicts what TheHundred seems to stand for, and this is right to raise a few eyebrows. I’m also not sure who designed the kits, but they certainly didn’t have Jonny Bairstow in mind when designing the bright red Welsh Fire kit. A very fiery sight indeed.
All in all, another bold move by the ECB to attempt to grow the captive audience for cricket and grow the game as a whole. That proactivity and energy can only be applauded. Whilst there may be a few teething problems, I am confident that the tournament will be a success, attract good crowds and even potentially evolve the sport in a way that people hadn’t foreseen.
If the pilot season is success, I would like to see TheHundred tournaments rolled out for grassroots cricket, with Club-affiliated and non-affiliated teams able to enter, across all age and standard categories. For me, there is still a big gap in the UK cricket market for a competitive short format, 11-a-side league.
Let me know your thoughts!
(Pic credit: PA – Press Association)