Six in The City: Sixing up the New Hundred

Unless you’ve been living under a Snooker-fuelled fog of baize, or mesmerised by Liverpool’s Salah Days then you cannot help but noticed English cricket’s perennial Joke-meister General’s, the ECB, have announced a brand new competition.

But not just any competition. This is going to be the most fantasmagorical, splendiferous, the like of which has never been seen this side of the Watford Gap.

The administrators who invented the format, Twenty20, have taken things to a whole new level. No one, literally no one, could’ve dreamed this one up. It was thought cricket was just one over after another, but now we will have an over like no other. And not just one, but two per game.

They’ll be dancing in the streets of Leicester over this one. Well, they would be if any of these games were going to be played anywhere near Leicester, but I guess until Claudio’s miracle in 2016 I would imagine many Leicestorians looked on at sport happening elsewhere.

So what name will we give this new creation? It’s all about Six. Six sells in the corridors of power, the stairwells of the Nursery End. The Great British Six-off? Six In the City, perhaps for a franchise City-based thing-a-ma-jiggery. The Six Factor. The Joy of Six.

Maybe Andrew Strauss could arrange for an updated version of The Full Monty and You Sixy Thang complete with the doe-eyed mesmerist himself, Mr Panesar.

Years ago you could’ve been forgiven for being accused of flippancy back in 2003 if you’d suggested T20 wouldn’t get anywhere unless you had exploding bails, but apparently the Aussies didn’t get that email and now the ICC has adopted the practice.

According to Herr, or Herrless, Strauss, this new razzmatazz-ama-ding-dong is aimed at women and children. But then so was escaping the Titanic. Of course far be it from me to make comparisons with that disaster, but hopefully the new jamboree will have enough deck chairs for its patrons.

The ‘traditional’ T20 audience has had little time for bowlers. It’s a batsman’s game and so the emphasis is likely to be on sixes, sixes and more sixes. We await the protestations from erstwhile county cricket supporters of the big nobs from the world of cricket being “overpaid, oversixed and over here”.

But rather than poo-poo the idea, maybe we should embrace the potential new audience and there could be an opening for some new ideas to seduce them.

Already there are rumours of changes to the scoreboard to make it easier to read. They’re unlikely to bother with any of this bowling analysis nonsense, unless of course it is an attempt to belittle the poor trundler as he’s hit for six after six in the hugely anticipated 10-ball over.

Forget Gary Sobers, forget Yuvraj Singh. Six sixes in an over could be so last year, with no self-respecting tail-end slogger letting themselves be accused of nudging and nurdling maximums. Oh no, there could be bonuses for the biggest sixes.

I can see an opening for the possibility of scoring more than six off a ball. Sixes could be enhanced dependent on the distance achieved. Of course, this is an innovation which may suit the couch-dwelling media viewer rather than those who’ve dispensed with their hard-earned lucre, but virtual zones could add some excitement to an otherwise boring “anyone can do it” shot.

May I suggest this new, more than six, be known as The Tufnell? No, not in honour of Philip Clive Roderick ‘The Cat’, but Nigel Tufnell from Spinal Tap. Little did he know how revolutionary his phrase “turn it up to 11” would be, but the original Tuffers was way ahead of his time.

Picture the scene. The Oval, Chris Gayle on strike. Eleven needed off one ball. How far does he need to hit it? Well, he might need to get it as far as Vauxhall and hope it lands on a train.

We could see some more innovations with this. The technology already exists for television to inform the viewer the distance the ball has been hit so there could be ranges to hit to score more runs, but what about in the air? I’ve longed to see someone hit a ball so high in the air they can run the required amount of runs before the ball has come back down. Maybe this could improve the spectacle for these new ‘consumers’.

How long will it be before this new competition gives points instead of runs? Far easier to explain to the new viewer who may have a finite time to concentrate.

One of the criticisms of the fifty-over format is those “boring overs in the middle” where you’ve had the initial slogging from the pinch-hitters and now they’re just nudging the ball around until the final ten overs before the chasing really begins. The idea to combat this was the twenty-over format. But even this can have a boring period. The absolute genius of those who came up with the idea that in every twenty over game there are three overs and two balls where few can bear to keep their eyes open. We don’t want these newfound consumers getting bored, so cutting out twenty balls has to be the work of a true visionary.

As these new mums and kids will not have been familiar with the game before it’s probably sensible to change the fielding positions.

The wicket-keeper is bound to be changed to a ‘backstop’. Baseball is more popular and well-known around the world than cricket. Well, the Americans understand it, at least. Schools are choosing baseball for kids to participate in than cricket so this would bring a comfortable link. With many of these newbies being active on social media it seems plausible to link terms familiar to them in their virtual world to those on the field.

First slip could become “Friend of Backstop”. Second slip could be “Mutual friend of Backstop and Friend”. By the time we get to Gully then “it’s awkward” could work.  Silly mid-off could become just “WTF”. A boundary sweeper could be “autograph target”, although some grounds may need to ease up on their stewards. I have witnessed at first hand how they’re far too keen to stop kids from spoiling the view of those behind, by standing on the boundary boards desperate for a star player to plant their moniker on a bat. This could well be another area Mr Strauss has thought of everything. Those fuddy-duddies, the stick-in-the-muds who have only wanted cricket for themselves, are not going to be attracted to this format. The sort of adults who will be at these games are likely to be doing exactly what the kids are doing, but with more kiddery. Genius.

On the subject of fielding, I can see there may be the option of numbering areas of the playing field. Again, this should make it easy for those who have far too little time to read up about the game first and just need to see what happens in these hundred balls before going off to do something very exciting and very important.

To engage and try and keep the attention of these new consumers could be crucial. More on-field interviews are needed. More explaining what is happening. Just as in formats such as X-Factor or Great British Bake-off, there needs to be some level of suspense before results are given. This leads us back to the drama which may unfold on judging the distance the ball has been hit and awarding runs, or points, accordingly. Perhaps there could be live voting to give some bonus points. Get Dermot O’Leary involved to come onto the pitch and reveal the winners. Can’t believe cricket hasn’t embraced this before.

But above all, batting is where it’s at with this format. I suggest the LBW rule is far too complicated for your average pleb to understand. Why not ditch the thing? Surely it was brought in to stop batsmen just thrusting their pads at the ball rather than their bats? But if you can score eight, or nine runs off one ball who’s going to be bothering to pad up when biffing is the order of the day?

Of course, if we’re going down the baseball route then we could consider if a batsman misses the ball three times then he’s out and again this could encourage the taking of risks. After all, what is it that modern parents and their offspring love more than risk takers?

No get those batsmen smashing it out of the park and see those turnstiles turning to the sound of new spectators.

So, I for one believe there is mileage in ‘sixing’ up this new comp. More interviews, more audience participation, more voting, more big hits and it’s wham-bam thank you mam.

Doesn’t it all just make you six?