Few could argue the impact that the England and Wales Cricket Board’s proposal of a new Twenty-20 cricket format back in 2003 had on the cricket world. But, their latest proposal to introduce a new 100 ball format is evidence how the pioneers of the short form of the game are falling behind the trend of their own invention.
The ECB altered the course of cricket some 15 years ago with the idea of creating an explosive and truncated form of a game often lambasted as laborious by the casual fan. As a teen brought up in the midst of cricket’s most entertaining evolution, it is certain that its invention brought flair and entertainment to a game that, otherwise, would have been labelled as laborious to the majority of observers.
But, the Twenty-20 format not only benefited players, but most importantly benefited both fans and broadcasters. Whilst traditionalists and cricket purists will vehemently argue that the Test format is the purest and most important form of the game, the Twenty-20 format brought innovation to a game that need to meet the demands of the 21st-century viewer. It was cricket’s answer to the Premier League.
Pulsating and ferocious and filled with attacking intent, it brought a new verve to the cricket scene that attracted the participation of young thrill seekers searching for that adrenaline rush that cricket previously couldn’t provide.
Enlightening as the new format was in the early 2000s, the same cannot be said for the ECB’s newest proposal. It is a futile attempt from cricket’s governing body in England and Wales to remain progressive and modern in a market they are falling behind in.
Whilst the Twenty-20 game may still have some doubters, the newest format, set to be dubbed ‘The Hundred‘, will most certainly form the widest schism in recent history. But, it is the ECB and Andrew Strauss’ reasoning behind the introduction of the 100 ball format which sparks the biggest scepticism over the game.
There has been a widely-held belief that the game the English organisation pioneered was in desperate need of reform to catch-up with the format advanced by their counterparts in India and Australia, but this was not exactly the reform fans had in mind.
The Indian Premier League and the Australian Big Bash have brought draft and auction systems to add a further layer of interest to a game that was previously in dire need of modernisation to meet the needs of the ever-growing digital aspect of contemporary sport. Digital media content has added an extra layer of insight and has increased the scope for fan engagement in the Twenty-20 format with viewers being able to vote for Player of the Match awards.
Having seen the success of the formats shown over the world, I too found myself in the camp in favour of reform. A shake-up of its current iteration with the added luxury of the world’s best short-form players attempting to hold their nerve in our very own Twenty-20 franchise system added an extra sense of excitement around a game that had gone a little stale.
Yet, it seems the ECB have come up short in meeting what the cricket fanbase was so desperately hoping for. This latest format solves very few of the issues at hand that led the calls for reform. Why introduce a new game that is a truncated version of a game already gone stale?
Credit must be given for the introduction of a franchise system, but little has been announced yet of its precise system. We know there will be eight franchises, and we know the games will be shoehorned into a short space of time when the County Championship sides take a break in their season, but there has been little indication of who will be eligible to play in it.
With all due respect to the County Championship players, without the added value of the world’s best superstars plying their trade in the format, there is little to appeal to the casual observer to make them attend a 100 ball game more than the T20 blast, if it is just a slightly, albeit hardly noticeably condensed version of the current format, which will exist alongside it.
But, one thing is for certain, whilst the ECB had found the recipe for success with Twenty-20, this new format is far from innovative. What exactly does the reduction of 20 balls a side achieve? The game is hardly shorter nor more explosive. So what is the purpose of 40 fewer balls per game when there were no gripes with the time the T20 Blast games were running for.
When Andrew Strauss was questioned on the matter, he stated that it was to increase the interest of mums and kids. Even ignoring the ignorance of such a statement, it still begs the question of how much simpler it really is. Whilst a 100 ball format seems simpler on paper, when we scratch beneath the surface it creates more questions than answers.
Is 15 overs of a traditional six balls and a final 10 ball over simpler than 20 overs of six balls? What happens with the final ten ball over – does it equate to one over in stats or rather to 1.4 overs? How does the extra four-ball over impact stats?
Maybe over time, some of these questions will become answers and maybe I’ll find myself watching one of the eight city franchises proving my initial suspicion over the game to be ill-founded. However, for now, there is a distinct lack of clarity to prove it is a step in the right direction.
But I suspect it is more of a step sideways to prove they’re trying to be new, when in reality, it doesn’t move the needle in providing the version of cricket fans are so eagerly waiting to see in England.
The new format is a sign of change. But, not one borne out of necessity. Instead, it is portrayed as something borne out of the need to be original, when instead the EBC should focus on building a successful product fit for all.