The Hundred, it would be fair to say, has not made the most successful arrival in English cricket.
We won’t go too deep into the various missteps here. You know them well enough by now. We’ll not talk about fresh tactical dimensions and Miami rap concerts and telling all existing cricket fans to f*** off and calling women a bit thick and all the rest of it.
Suffice to say, pretty much everything about The Hundred so far has appeared almost designed to piss people off and turn them against it. On that score, it’s been pretty successful. An awful lot of people really, really hate The Hundred. If one were to attempt an ECB-level of spin on it, one could almost argue that the sheer vastness of the number of people who really, really hate The Hundred is evidence of cricket’s popularity. It just took The Hundred to remind them that they liked it, just like it took Brexit to make people remember they like going on holiday or having medicine and food.
Anyway. The Hundred. Most people who know about it hate it. That’s not ideal for any new tournament, but it made tonight’s part of The Hundred’s troubled birth even trickier. The Draft! The Hundred Draft! Live, televised spreadsheet-filling! For three hours! F*** that!
For already popular tournaments with plenty of goodwill behind them, the draft or auction is a bit tricky. Both crucially important and fundamentally dull. There is no getting away from the fact it is by necessity a lengthy – particularly ironically so in this case given the format’s brevity is its top selling point to the #mumsandkids – and inherently dull exercise. Three men stare earnestly at a computer screen for 40 or 50 seconds and then Ian Ward reads out the name of a cricketer. Three more men stare earnestly at a computer screen for 40 or 50 seconds and then Isa Guha says the name of a cricketer. This happens about 100 times. The Draft is key to the tournament yet has absolutely no chance of winning new fans or converting those ranked in opposition, while also potentially giving them rich new material with which to mock it.
It was a big hurdle for The Hundred to overcome. But it just about managed it. The Hundred Draft was a passable two-and-a-half hours of television. If you’ve ever watched the draft or auction for any T20 league anywhere else in the world, you’ll know this constitutes unfathomably high praise.
Sky went for it. The ECB went for it. Sky wheeled out their big guns – Ward, Guha, Hussain… Key – while there was a three-line whip for casually-clad England stars. They got Andre Russell in the studio and Steve Smith by video link with an almost sarcastically Australian backdrop.
At various points the Sky sofa had Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer and Jonny Bairstow on it. Roving reports around the Sky building had plenty of other big names showing admittedly varying degrees of interest.
There were genuine highlights. Rob Key explaining how the Draft would work in the precise style of Jamie East giving the backstory of the Lannisters or the Night’s Watch or whatever on Thronecast.
Trent Rockets knowing weeks in advance they would have the first pick of the night and still taking 20 of their allotted 100 seconds over it. (Incidentally, the one ‘sporting’ flaw with the fundamentally socialist and fair concept of the Draft was that the Rockets going first and last in each round, and each round being followed by several minutes of interviews and chat and adverts meant 50% of their picks were conducted on a 10-minute clock rather than a 100-second one)
— Vithushan Ehantharajah (@Vitu_E) October 20, 2019
Those willing to give The Hundred some sort of chance were proved incontrovertibly right fairly early in the Draft process itself. The first round was for the top-whack £125k pay bracket and an early principle was established of a Rashid Khan or Andre Russell being selected and one of the three pre-selected members of that particular squad giving a suitably enthusiastic visual reaction to the news in the Sky cafe where they all seemed to be based. The thumbs-up quickly became the established visual signifier.
Then Manchester Originals spunked £125k on Dane Vilas, and Jos Buttler made a face. A lovely moment.
There were more. Jonny Bairstow sat on Wardy’s sofa nervously pointing out that five rounds into the draft his Welsh Fire hadn’t picked a spinner and then having to pretend that Ravi Rampaul was “a good pick”. The fact the whole thing looked like a cross between Top Gear and a pub quiz machine.
Why so Top Gear tho pic.twitter.com/P8II9q1sN5
— Vithushan Ehantharajah (@Vitu_E) October 20, 2019
Shane Warne defying the convention whereby everyone had to declare themselves happy with their squads at the end, instead complaining that other teams had picked players he wanted to pick and all but admitting he wasn’t happy with about half the names on his London Spirit roster.
Like Warne’s squad, the night was not in any way perfect. There was a half-hour summer retrospective between rounds three and four that slowed things right down just when it looked to be cracking along at a decent lick. Even then it included interviews with Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes so was by no means a disaster. It was quite a summer, and the footage-heavy retrospective was presumably at least in part a subscriber pitch to those watching on the BBC website.
The Sky One simulcast just going off air with no warning at 9pm because there was a new episode of S.W.A.T. is a bit crap But again, no new fans were really going to be won over by the Draft. Two hours on Sky One is probably enough.
So to the bigger problems. The broadcast was slick enough, but surprisingly short on detail. The on-screen graphics were minimal, the lack of Blast stats as reference points clearly deliberate and a reminder of battles still to be won. Sky’s statto Benedict was there, but not used at all until the very last round and only then to tell us which hand the one or two slightly obscure picks bat with.
There was no effort to spruce up the draft grid itself. It was literally a spreadsheet that popped up every now and then with a few more draft order numbers replaced by names each time. Could more have been done? Certainly there seemed a reasonable case for a Sky Sports News-style on-screen set-up, retaining the specifics of each pick as it happened at the foot of the screen and adding more info such as the current squads and perhaps highest-profile available or discarded players in rotation to the right.
A decision had obviously been made to keep things clean and to minimise numberwang and clutter, perhaps necessarily so given the cross-channel nature of the broadcast, but it did feel like it was taken a touch too far. There was almost no meaningful analysis of any player beyond always being a “good pick” or someone who “gives it a whack” or quite often the fact they were a good friend of Rob Key.
But how much analysis can reasonably be expected in what is paradoxically a very slow and also very fast-moving event?
Even when the full squads were complete, it’s almost futile to try and decide who ‘won’ the Draft. Nobody really knows, beyond the important point that the list of players who did – and just as importantly did not – make the cut should leave nobody in any doubt about the on-field standard of what will play out next summer.
How can you love cricket, look at this list of players and not at least be a *little bit* excited for this competition? pic.twitter.com/a9MiMv0zEv
— Yas Rana (@Yas_Wisden) October 20, 2019
Just to stitch ourselves right up, we’ll end with a couple of observations on the squads themselves and who did well/badly. Sport is famously not played on paper – although who knows what those wacky ECB lads will come up with next, eh readers? – but if it were then Southern Brave would surely be the winners. Trent Rockets made the almost certainly shrewd but very certainly dull decision to focus on local players as far as possible (and ‘local’ here means Notts by the way, whatever guff about being an ‘East Midlands’ team you may yet hear), while Manchester Originals made piss-poor use of an advantageous position coming into the draw with their four top-price slots available. It’s understandable they should want Dane Vilas – local, leader, very handy player – but who else did they think was really going to draft him in the first two or three rounds? They surely could have waited and made better use of the big bucks
London Spirit’s head honcho Warne was the one coach obviously and visibly grumpy with his squad – at one point his captain Morgan actually abandoned the Sky sofa to try and help out – and theirs was the squad that most conspicuously resembled a collection of individuals rather than the building blocks for a coherent team. They will, you suspect, be relying heavily on some Maxwellball nonsense and in fairness should get plenty in this format.
The most serious point came late in the show, though, when the final squad lists were on the big screen and Buttler enthused about England finally having this sort of tournament in their back yard. He was either genuinely excited about this tournament or he’s a very good actor. And the Vilas pick had already proven that not to be the case.
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