The Hundred: Analysis - Turns out cricket is as good as ever, but are all the gimmicks necessary?
The first 10 days of The Hundred has neither been as bad as the harbingers of doom were initially suggesting nor has it been a thunderous hit as the marketing machinery is trying to portray. The reality, as always, is somewhere in between.
Before one begins to analyse the success (or failure) of The Hundred, it's worthwhile to ponder over a fundamental question: was it all necessary?
Even if a quarter of the money (reportedly £70 million in reserves invested in the concept by the ECB) was pumped into the existing competitions, the T20 Blast for men and the Kia Super League for women, the matches were shown on free to air television and the tournament was condensed to eight or even 10 teams, wouldn't it have served the purpose? Was there really a need to bring in a completely new format, scrap a successful women's T20 competition and spend 10s of £millions, and all this in the middle of a raging pandemic?
Apologies for sitting on the fence, but the answer again seems to be partly yes, partly no.
While there was certainly a lot of scope to build on the existing tournaments, sometimes the slate becomes just too untidy to be made presentable all over again. The best way possible then is to wipe it clean and start afresh. Possibly, the deteriorating viewership and dipping quality of cricket required a more condensed, fine-tuned and compact competition. Marketing folks, to state the obvious, know no better than to serve the wine in a new bottle.
Talking of old wine in a new bottle, we have learnt nothing new. Cricket is a crowd puller, has always been so, regardless of the format - be it five days, 50 overs, 20 or 10 overs or 100 balls, it will remain appealing if presented in the right way and The Hundred is no exception.
You can't help but wonder over and over again whether the elusive "new crowd" is allergic to six-ball overs and sets of five or 10 will do the trick. Or that umpires brandishing a white card will somehow pull the audience to the grounds like The Pied Piper of Hamelin lured the rats.
In terms of numbers, The Hundred has been a success. Again, the numbers haven't been through the roof, but the crowd has been much better than the T20 Blast, and certainly the Kia Super League – but would the crowds have been better in the existing competitions with double header fixtures and a marketing budget?
Over 100k spectators attended the matches (men's and women's combined) in the first week of The Hundred. Close to 500k tickets have been sold, 89k of whom are kids and 109k females. In all, 83% of the tickets have found buyers.
The league has been successful in catching the eyeballs with 8.54 million people watching it on telly in the first week - 3.33 million of them having not watched live cricket on TV this year, as is being claimed. Expectedly, there has been a lot of traction on social media as well.
The peak numbers on TV are also quite encouraging. 2.5 million peak audience was recorded for the opening men's match while 1.95 million was the highest registered audience for a women's match.
The Women's Hundred, by design or by coincidence, has been an out and out success. Best put, the jump of audiences from the Kia Super League to The Women's Hundred has been manifold when compared from the T20 Blast to The Men's Hundred.
Despite the absence of all the big Aussie stars like Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning, the quality of women's games has been right up there with a good mixture of international stars and upcoming domestic players making a contribution.
There are certainly a lot of downsides as well. The summer is the best time for cricketing action, coinciding with the school holidays and everyone wants a piece of this pie. This is why the T20 Blast, the Royal London One-Day Cup, The Men's and The Women's Hundred and the international season (both white-ball and red-ball) have all been crammed into one.
For all its benefits, The Hundred, if it continues to be held in the same window, will prevent the England Test players from red-ball build-up ahead of marquee series such as the home Ashes or the upcoming five-match series against India.
Be sure to catch a lot of references to The Hundred the first time the England Test batting line-up collapses this summer
At the same time, the biggest T20 leagues in the world are successful, not because of the garnish or the side dish, but the main course. The quality of cricket has to be paramount, which is not possible without the availability of England Internationals. Just like Australia's Big Bash, The Hundred will suffer from the absence of big-ticket players, not least poster boy Ben Stokes.
All said and done, the league is perhaps too big to fail, with more money riding on it than you might anticipate. Despite having to scuffle with the COVID-19 situation which did not allow many/most leading International stars to participate and battling umpteen logistical hurdles, The Hundred balls have begun to roll.
The long-lasting repercussions of cricket's newest format on the county game and, by extension, on world cricket will only be visible after a couple of years at the least. At the moment, despite all the criticism, The Hundred, it appears, is here to stay.
© Cricket World 2021