A hundred reasons: England cricket’s 2020 farce

Dave Tickner
Hundred

“This is 100-ball cricket, a simple approach to reach a new generation. Based on 15 traditional six-ball overs, the other ten balls will add a fresh tactical dimension.”

The most astonishing passage from an astonishing press release as the ECB proudly announce their latest wheeze to Save Cricket. Part Marks & Spencer advert, part gibberish, part lie.

England’s already-controversial new Twenty20 competition, due to start in 2020, won’t even be a Twenty20 competition. It will be 100 balls per innings, divided neatly into 15 normal overs and then one 10-ball over because why not? Like all the very stupidest ideas, it’s almost clever.

The new “100-ball cricket” – and fair play to the ECB for using that phrase like it’s one we’re all familiar with in our everyday cricket-watching lives rather than one they’ve just made up – gives the ECB’s new competition a genuine point of difference, both against its global rivals and the domestic T20 which has to stay to stop the already-mutinous counties declaring full-scale civil war.

And while it’s easy to be glib about the idea that any potential new fan could look at T20 and go “I’d be up for that if each innings were just 3.2 overs shorter” there’s no doubt that this stuff may well matter to broadcasters.

Traditional free-to-air broadcasters need schedules they can, more or less, rely on, and T20s have been getting gradually more unwieldy as they tick up towards the four-hour mark. H100 will be more easily corralled into a strict three-hour window.

If the BBC are going to show cricket between 6pm and 9pm, they will want to be damn sure that the inexplicably vast army of Mrs Brown’s Boys fans aren’t kept waiting for their comedy fix.

It’s telling that the press release said broadcasters had “welcomed” the idea while players’ representatives had merely been “consulted”.

But these are fringe benefits given the risk involved in tinkering with a hugely successful format for a tournament the ECB are all-in on.

There are a lot of problems here. There may even be 100 of them.

First, it’s not “simple”. T20 is simple. Trying to paint 16.4 overs a side as simple is knowingly disingenuous and extremely cricket. While oft dismissed before its launch as a gimmick, T20 was only a novelty as a professional sport. Anyone who’d played recreational or age-group cricket had played 20-overs-a-side. It was already a thing.

There are many reasons why T20 worked when ostensibly similar ‘gimmicks’ in cricket and other sports before and since have failed. The biggest of these is the fact that T20 was still fundamentally and recognisably cricket. Eleven players per side, six balls per over, a wicket is a wicket, a six is a six. The relative value of wickets and sixes may change, but none of the game’s conventions or Laws is changed. Cricket has had overs of different lengths in its history; I can’t recall it ever having different overs within the same innings, though

Next, what happens when it rains, which it obviously will? How does Duckworth/Lewis/Stern handle the dynamics of the 10-ball over until there is enough data? How does any reduction in total innings length affect The Sixteenth Over?

If the purpose is to reduce the time it takes to get through an innings – a noble cause – then why not adopt an imaginative solution that doesn’t mean inventing a whole new format? You could slash the duration of every T20 innings by only changing ends after, say, three and six overs during the powerplay, and every other over from then on.

Why, specifically, is the new format 100 balls? Just because it’s a round number? Apart from batting strike-rates for some reason, 100 balls has never been a thing in cricket. Are the extra 10 balls on top of 15 normal overs there because there’s a genuine belief that they enhance the product, or just because they think their shiny new tournament deserves a hundred?

Look, it’s important not to completely dismiss an idea – even a really stupid and pointless one – before it’s had a chance to prove that it’s stupid and pointless.

It’s just possible that H100 will be even better and more successful than the format that has revolutionised the game’s popularity and earning power.

That could happen. But if it does, it will be against all evidence from all other sports and cricket’s own history of genuine gimmicks. Who remembers Cricket Max? Exactly.

Yes, it’s true that had Twitter existed in the early 21st century when T20 was first touted much of the complaints and derision now echoing around the social-media cesspit would have been just the same.

T20, though, offered something genuinely new to the professional game without tinkering with the basics.

This feels more like difference for difference’s sake, a change based on the sport’s weird obsession with round numbers and a desire to create a superficial point of difference.

England gave the world T20 cricket and then spent the next decade watching the rest of the world run with it.

T20 was bold and brave, but its genius lay in the way it changed The Game without changing the game. This is something else.

By Dave Tickner