Cricket is great; we won’t save the game by telling everyone it isn’t

The latest ECB marketing wheeze for The Hundred has Dave Tickner banging his head on the desk in frustration. We must stop apologising for our great sport and start showing some faith in the game.

“Root and Stokes will be allocated to a team for marketing purposes, but they won’t be playing. The ECB made the point that this new audience won’t necessarily know who Stokes and Root are anyway.”

Now, we’ve all had our fun with The Hundred, the ECB’s half-baked, arse-witted attempt at a Not-Quite Twenty20 tournament. But this is next-level stuff.

The concept of The Hundred is the only thing in the world more stupid than the surely fictitious mouth-breathing thickos it’s apparently being condescendingly aimed at. It’s surely medically impossible for anyone to be simultaneously as thick as the ECB thinks millions of mums and kids are while still continuing to breathe in and out or remembering to eat.

The astonishing quote at the top (delivered by a messenger, Worcestershire batsman and PCA shop steward Daryl Mitchell, who it should be stated for the record does not in any way deserve to be shot; none of this is his fault) represents a new peak in 2018 cricketing stupidity. And remember 2018 is the year that Australia banned its best player for a whole year just to make some already-abandoned point about standards and Australia’s elite exceptionalism.

Let’s look at it more closely, because it really is quite something. The ECB are going to allocate their most well-known players to teams in The Hundred, even though they won’t be playing in it, to help with the marketing. And – here’s the really clever part – It won’t matter that they don’t end up playing, because the audience won’t know who they are anyway…

SO WHY ALLOCATE THEM FOR MARKETING PURPOSES AT ALL? Sorry to shout, but this has got out of hand. When your latest big wheeze sounds precisely like it was cooked up by Siobhan Sharpe and could be lifted verbatim for David Tennant to narrate you’ve surely got to admit that the jig is up.

It’s become clear since the initial announcement that The Hundred is not only incredibly thick but also hasn’t been remotely thought through on the most basic practical level.

Genuinely, it would now be less embarrassing for the ECB if this whole thing turns out to have been a communication error, an internal memo accidentally announced to the world that they’ve gamely tried to make the best of. A “there are no bad ideas” brainstorming gag that got out of hand. The only other option I can think of, beyond the horrifying thought that they genuinely think this might be a good idea, is that it’s a nefarious, Machiavellian kind of Trojan Horse (or camel, perhaps) designed to sneak the city-based T20 past horrified county cricket fans. Convince them something as shitbone awful as The Hundred is coming along, and when ‘only’ a city-based T20 tournament arrives it suddenly looks like a blessed relief.

The official line out of the ECB remains that they genuinely think this will be good and simpler to follow than T20 and can bring a whole new audience of mums and kids to the game. The utter lack of evidence for this means people have looked elsewhere for other possible reasons.

There are two theories, and there is probably something in both. The ECB wanted a new tournament to rival the IPL and the Big Bash. To do it, they needed the counties on board. To get the counties on board they had to keep the old tournament as well. To keep the old tournament as well they needed a new format, even though the old tournament had precisely the ideal format for the new one.

So they’ve effectively hulled the new tournament before it leaves dock to protect the old tournament they didn’t really rate. Again, it sounds too stupid to be a thing that could actually happen until you consider the Root and Stokes wheeze. If the last few years have taught us nothing else, it’s that this is precisely a stupid enough thing to happen.

Whether as a by-product of this or an additional driver of the concept there is the apparent happiness of broadcasters with a slightly shorter format more easily inserted into a free-to-air TV channel’s schedules.

At this point, it’s hard not to take some slight pyrrhic pleasure at the fact that those most ideologically opposed to The Hundred are exactly those most likely to champion the need for cricket to be on FTA and, specifically, BBC television.

But that fleeting joy won’t get us anywhere.

If the ECB really are happy to let marketeers piss about so fundamentally with the sport just to get it on FTA while simultaneously congratulating themselves on the fact that people don’t know who Joe Root and Ben Stokes are, then the sport in this country has even bigger problems than any of us realised.

Cricket – and specifically cricket in England here – needs to stop apologising for being so complicated and impenetrable. It really isn’t a uniquely complex sport, no matter what whimsical tea-towels have to say on the matter.

Cricket, like all great sports, begins with a deceptively simple concept beyond which is as much depth and complexity as its follower wishes to uncover in pursuit of understanding.

If cricket has one problem (if that’s the right word) in terms of opacity, it is the inability to objectively answer the question “Who’s winning?” until the final moment. The Hundred does nothing to remedy this anyway, and it is in any case part of the game’s great appeal once you’re sucked in. It’s the reason why DLS and PredictViz and WASP and the like exist; all of them elaborate but imperfect attempts to answer a riddle that can be solved with a simple glance at the corner of the screen in all other team sports.

If the BBC can commit to 17 days of live snooker from a darkened room in Sheffield, where matches can run to 10 hours with no concrete end time, cricket should feel secure enough in its own skin not to rip up its fundamentals to get the same treatment. If tennis, with its own idiosyncratic scoring system and lack of mainstream appeal, can get a month of Auntie’s undivided attention every summer, then cricket should feel confident enough to deserve the same. If the BBC can show Every. Single. Stone of every GB curling match at the Winter Olympics then… maybe cricket shouldn’t even want to be on the BBC at all. And let’s not even start on the Royal Wedding.

The point is this. The most worrying thing about The Hundred is not that it’s a rubbish idea; it’s that it shows just what a low opinion those who run cricket in this country have of the sport.

Cricket is not impossibly complicated or impenetrable. The general public are not too stupid to understand it. We just constantly tell them that is and they are, and then seem horrified to discover they believe it.