THE HUNDRED begins today with divisions deeper now than when the tournament format was revealed in 2018.
Opponents insist it is a huge risk, a gimmick played by made-up teams that could destroy county cricket and undermined by a bad PR campaign, the withdrawal of most overseas stars and Covid.
Supporters claim it will be well-attended, attract big free-to-air TV audiences, make money and, most importantly, bring a new, young, diverse audience to cricket.
Take your pick. The positions are entrenched. As normal, there is truth and flaws in both arguments.
Certainly, the commitment to women’s cricket is illustrated by today’s curtain-raiser being a stand-alone women’s match between Oval Invincibles — featuring Georgia Adams who is a huge fan of the format — and Manchester Originals. The men’s game between the same teams is tomorrow.
After that, women’s and men’s matches are double-headers. The genesis of the competition was research that insisted most people think cricket is too complicated, too long and too inaccessible.
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So a new format was invented, with shorter matches finishing by 9pm.
The Hundred is meant to be easier to understand and one essential was a partial return to terrestrial TV with cricket behind a paywall for the past 15 years.
The Beeb are plugging and promoting their coverage and a glitzy promo was shown at half-time during the Euros final.
Posters are popping up everywhere — in my local gym in Surrey, for example — and Eoin Morgan and Joe Root are very publicly backing it. The competition needs fine weather, some exciting early matches and to engage British Asians.
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Sam Billings, captain of Oval Invincibles, said: “It’s going to be incredibly exciting.
“It’s a really cool, new environment. Some players are going to make a big name for themselves.
“Hopefully, we become one of the most popular teams by playing exciting cricket and winning.
“Having games on free-to-air is massive — the more accessible, the better.
“The 2005 Ashes were huge on free-to-air so why can’t the same thing happen and open a new audience?”
With the exodus of overseas big names — due to Covid, international commitments and The Hundred paying modest money compared, say, to the IPL — the big stars will be from England.
But Test players such as Root, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes will feature only in the first two games before the Tests against India.
The cricket is likely to be fun, crowds decent (although many tickets have been given away) and TV audiences respectable — it has a prime BBC2 slot from 6-9.30pm.
The biggest worry is the potential collateral damage. The county 50-over competition — remember, England are world champions in the format — is being played at the same time with some counties losing eight or more players to The Hundred. Resources and budgets will be stretched.
And the money-spinning T20 Blast — a financial lifeline for many counties — could be cannibalised by The Hundred.