The England and Wales Cricket Board has reportedly drafted the schedule for the third season of The Hundred – cricket’s newest format. While many players and critics have called into question the viability of hundred-ball fixtures, the ECB is reportedly very happy with the crowd turnout at the stadiums and the viewership figures.
With intentions of growing the format’s appeal and impact both at home and abroad, the ECB has now given The Hundred an exclusive window in England’s calendar – both to enable broadcasters to focus on the tournament and to allow players to devote time to the tournament.
The Hundred already has the shortest schedule among all the cricket leagues in the world – a fact that is used by the ECB extensively in its publicity campaign to attract family audiences.
The 2022 edition of the tournament lasted for just 32 days, and if the draft schedule is adopted, the 2023 edition might be even shorter. According to the tournament’s tentative schedule, the first fixture will be held on August 1, and the tournament will conclude in London on August 27.
There seem to be two main factors behind the ECB’s decision to squeeze the tournament into such a tight window – avoiding overlap with international fixtures and pacifying counties.
England hosted the first two editions of The Hundred alongside international fixtures, particularly during Test matches. But the Ashes will attract crowds to the stadium, and the ECB is keen on ensuring that neither tournament misses out on crowds at the ground.
England’s counties have also complained in the past about the overlap as it hurts their main revenue source by taking away the audience from the T20 Blast.
As it stands, county players dominate The Hundred and all counties have expressed the desire for a shorter window for The Hundred to the Andrew Strauss committee for reforming county cricket. The ECB has partially addressed their concerns.
A Mixed Bag So Far
The first two seasons of The Hundred have been underwhelming but proved to be a success in some key areas.
Apart from adding a confusing fourth format to the game, The Hundred’s rules make it highly biased towards the batsmen with the bowlers suffering in the process.
But it could also be argued that England’s recent success in T20 cricket and the ‘Bazball’ approach they are taking towards Test cricket has been influenced by the cultural impact of The Hundred on the English psyche.
Women’s cricket in particular has greatly benefited from the tournament with a single-entry ticket for both the Men’s and Women’s games boosting the popularity of the latter.
While the salaries have significant differences, the decision to keep the prize money equal has also been widely welcomed. The first two seasons have seen several records for attendance during women’s fixtures, with first-timers and families dominating the crowds – a welcome development for the future of cricket in England.
Among the players themselves, the reception is still mixed. The Hundred has failed to attract any big-name stars to its fold so far and is unlikely to do so next year.
England’s main players have a very tight schedule as the Ashes will be followed by New Zealand’s tour and they would need to defend the ODI World Cup in 2023. The ECB is in talks with a few boards to avoid any clash with other leagues. Players from New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh are likely to be available for the tournament.
In a sign of the growing impact of the tournament, the ECB has received a £400-M offer for a 75% stake in The Hundred from the Bridgepoint Group. This comes after just two seasons of the tournament, with a long road to go before the format becomes mainstream.
The offer would have injected much-needed cash into county cricket, but the ECB has reportedly declined the offer as they see the potential for the value of The Hundred to go up.
The tournament’s future is secure for the next few years with the board striking a deal with broadcasters until 2028. The interest from the private sector seems to be stemming particularly from the popularity of women’s fixtures, and the potential to attract kids to the stadiums during school holidays.
Will The Hundred Succeed?
The ECB has always been known for piloting new formats in cricket as it conceived and experimented with T20 cricket for years before other countries adopted the format. There were similar concerns about the viability and need for a shorter format of the game back then, but T20 cricket has risen in popularity to eclipse ODI cricket.
While the dominance of England has reduced in the cricketing world, it still retains an eminent place in the game. Any experiment by the ECB is keenly watched by other boards, and often imitated.
With The Hundred in particular proving to be a huge success in women’s cricket, it might find itself a niche audience all over the world.
The next edition of The Hundred is set to see bigger crowds and higher revenues.
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