Was The Hundred Tournament a Success?



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Did The Hundred tournament succeed in 2021?

The Hundred tournament courted controversy in English Cricket like nothing before it. Not even the advent of T20 Cricket in 2003 caused so much uproar. Out went counties, out went the small grounds, and in came franchise Cricket. It split the traditionalists, and it divided the Cricketing fraternity. Now that the tournament has finished its inaugural season, it’s worth examining whether The Hundred tournament succeeded. First, we must start by understanding why the competition came to life.


Why Did the Hundred Tournament Come Into Existence

After over eight million people tuned in to watch England win The Ashes back in 2005 on Channel 4, all Cricket disappeared behind a paywall on Sky. The satellite broadcaster did improve the game in several ways; central contracts, redevelopments at Old Trafford and Headingley, and innovative coverage bringing fans closer to the game, are some of the big positives from Sky’s cash.

Sadly, one of the downsides to Sky monopolizing the game was a lack of visibility. As other sports such as F1, Rugby Union, and Tennis enjoyed extensive live coverage on free-to-air TV, Cricket didn’t. The boffins at ECB HQ became acutely aware that Cricket was fading into the abyss of irrelevance. New chairman and retail tycoon Colin Graves recognised that Cricket had disconnected from its younger audience.

The former Yorkshire chairman devised a plan to understand why Cricket was fading away. He determined that the lack of FTA coverage and an image problem kept the game from engaging with a new group of fans. He rectified this by inking a landmark deal in 2017 with the BBC and Sky to bring Cricket back to terrestrial TV. The idea still centered on a new T20 competition back then, but there was a glaring caveat staring in front of everyone.


Why T20 Got the Boot

T20 is Cricket’s kingmaker. The short form created a new gold rush as domestic leagues worldwide popped up, offering players high-octane action and untold riches. The ECB wanted their version of the IPL and Big Bash. The issue was, they already had one; the T20 Blast. The County competition offered high-class Cricket and had existed since 2003 in various guises. Graves’ main bugbear was that the competition was too awkward, too long, and lacked quality across the board.

With 18 first-class counties, the Blast had no discernible schedule. They tried to fit games sporadically; however, the players didn’t like going from red-ball Cricket to white-ball. The ECB then attempted to play it in one block; they found that it goes on for too long. A trimmed competition was required.

The other elephant in the room was the length of T20 games. Initially conceptualised as short-form Cricket, domestic T20 matches can drag on for over four hours. The IPL, in particular, battles that as games finish well past midnight. That is no good in England; it is also not suitable for broadcasters. As David Lloyd said, Cricket is a sport that has a start time and no end time. That doesn’t work for a non-sport channel like BBC 2. Therefore the ECB needed something condensed into a three-hour package. With its streamlined format, condensed schedule, and quality play, The Hundred Tournament ticked all the boxes.


Did It Work? It Did For the Women’s Game

After a delay in 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic, The Hundred Tournament kicked off with a bang in 2021. For the first time, a standalone women’s match launched a Cricket competition in England. That initial game pulled in an audience of 1.6 million, a record for a women’s match in England.

The women’s game enjoyed massive success as the exposure pulled in big crowds and big TV audiences. Saturday’s final got played in front of 17,000 fans, a new attendance record for women’s Cricket. Adding quality Cricket from stars Anya Shrubsole, Danii Wyatt, and Heather Knight, youngsters emerged from England and the rest of the world. Jemimah Rodrigues and Abtaha Maqsood starred and pulled in a new audience from the South Asian community.


What About the Men’s Game?

Despite several vital overseas players like Steven Smith and David Warner, the men’s tournament thrilled and spilled equally. Liam Livingstone emerged as one of English Cricket’s newest stars as he displayed brutal striking in his batting. The Lancastrian deservedly won the MVP award. With the ball, New Zealander Adam Milne shone when he was bowling. The Kiwi flew in with his express pace and clever changeups.

It wasn’t just the experienced campaigners making waves; youngsters like Will Smeed, Blake Cullen, and Harry Brook burst onto the scene. Playing with professional England players like Ben Stokes and world-class overseas talent such as Rashid Khan will only develop these young Cricketers and in that helps the England side.

Just like the women’s tournament, the men’s tournament delivered action and brilliant entertainment. After years of people talking down the domestic game, the players showed they are on the level of India and Australia. Pooling talent from the minor counties with established internationals worked a treat.


Did the Format Work?

In short, yes. The Hundred tournament didn’t have too many games overrun. Introducing a fielding penalty for teams being too slow with their bowling is genius. For too long in T20 contests, the fielding side takes far too much time, and there’d be no penalty besides a paltry fine.

The short structure of the tournament provided The Hundred with a short and sweet lifespan. It did not go on for three months like the IPL, which meant that the competition’s interest didn’t wane. The new batter always taking the strike generated interesting tactical battles and more marquee matchups between elite bowlers and batters.

Lastly, the sets of ten ensured less time changing ends, moving fielders around and killed the phantom of watching Cricketers graze on a field. Brave head coach Mahela Jayawardene feels that some of the rules from The Hundred tournament could make their way into other franchise competitions.


The Crowd

After 90% of available tickets got sold, it is clear that The Hundred was a hot ticket, even amid an ongoing pandemic. The family ticket represented fantastic value at 25 pounds. The crowds saw plenty of families, young children, and women in attendance. Broadening Cricket’s appeal to different demographics was a key target for this competition. Judging by the attendances, it did just that.

The one drawback to the crowds may have been the return of the Blast crowds. The rowdy, drunken Friday nights are a staple of the T20 Blast, although they can intimidate and dissuade young families attending with their children. Family areas, drinking zones, and non-drinking zones should get considered for season two of The Hundred tournament in 2022.


The Bottom Line

In a prism, The Hundred tournament was a success. It brought a new audience to the game while showcasing some of the most talented men and women in England and from across the globe. 2022 should see more elite overseas players as the pandemic gets managed.

Off the field is where it gets hard to judge. Crowd management can be better, the women’s prize money should be higher, and scheduling the tournament in a crowded summer is still a challenge. Moreover, generating affinity to new teams, especially in areas like the North East, East Midlands, and South East, is a problem that the ECB is yet to tackle.

Although there is one significant factor that we haven’t considered, 19,000 fans don’t turn up to watch a four-day game between Leicestershire and Gloucestershire. Without The Hundred tournament, the County game is in dire straits. While it may not be ‘real Cricket’ or a tournament aimed at casuals and kids who spend their time on TikTok, English Cricket needs The Hundred. It requires the financial injection from The Hundred. There may not be a County game left without it.


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