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The Hundred: A T20-style triumph or soon to be cast onto the cricket innovations scrapheap?

The Hundred: Opening night at the Kia Ova
The Hundred: Opening night at the Kia Oval
©Reuters
 

It’s been a little over three years since the ECB first informed county cricket clubs of its intention to introduce a new limited-overs format to the domestic cricket calendar. The inaugural iteration of The Hundred is now underway and it continues to divide opinion: There are those who feel trepidation at the thought of this new format flopping, and those champions of cricket innovation who are convinced that The Hundred is the key to further expanding cricket’s audience both across the UK and worldwide.

Whatever side of the fence you are on, one thing that is certain is that The Hundred brings fresh new city-based franchises, new tactics with both bat and ball, and (or so the ECB is hoping) Hollywood performances from the big names retained to play. Casual and serious cricket punters alike will also be following with interest as many of the best betting sites have priced up new and exciting markets for this format.

Even the purest of cricket purists - the types who prefer to see Hashim Amla gamely dig in for an unbeaten 37 from 278 balls to rescue an unlikely draw for Surrey at Hampshire in the County Championship - have to admit that the Twenty20 format has been a resounding international success since the ECB introduced it back in 2003. However, sporting format innovations are not always as triumphant and the ECB will be acutely aware of the time, effort, and money poured into new cricket game types that have fizzled out.

One example is Cricket Max. The brainchild of former Black Caps Test and ODI captain Martin Crowe back in the 1990s, the Cricket Max format saw each team bat two ten-over innings, with other deviations from the traditional Laws of Cricket including 2 extras being awarded for a wide ball, 4 stumps instead of 3, no LBW, and double runs scored from any ball hit into a trapezoid-shape ‘Max’ zone behind the bowler.

Some of Cricket Max’s more sensible innovations like Free Hits after a no-ball have since been adopted by the ICC, but Crowe’s complicated concoction ran out of steam after the 2002 New Zealand Players Association strike led to the cancellation of that year’s Max competition, which served to compound the lack of international interest in the format. An international match between New Zealand and India in 2002 was the last we saw of Cricket Max. 

Another example is the 45-over format introduced for the 2010-11 Ryobi One-Day Cup (Australia’s List A domestic one-day tournament). Each team’s 45 overs were split into two innings of 20 and 25 overs respectively, with a maximum of 12 overs to be bowled by one bowler. Critics pointed out that a lack of 50-over match practice for Australia’s ODI players may scupper their chances at the 2015 ODI World Cup and Cricket Australia swiftly reverted to the traditional one-day format the next season. That seems like a good call in hindsight given Australia went on to win the 2015 final against New Zealand in front of over 93,000 fans at the MCG.

The jury also remains out on some other more recent tweaks to everyone’s favourite summer sport, including the ongoing Solidarity Cup competition in South Africa, where matches involve three eight-player teams batting for 12 overs in total, split between two periods of six overs from each of the other two teams. Simple, right?

While innovation in sport is often a good thing, too much of a good thing may end up alienating more fans than it attracts. The ECB will be hoping that The Hundred strikes the right balance between simplicity and authenticity so that it doesn’t end up on the cricket ideas scrapheap.

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