Why club cricket could benefit from the Hundred’s format

Whatever one’s criticism of The Hundred, it includes innovations which have shifted the balance towards the ball – and this could help energise recreational cricket – especially for younger players.

Now before you leave the page and have a massive go at me, I am not suggesting all club cricket is reduced to 100 balls. Even if sometimes my Sunday side plays that format by accident.

The fact is however, participation in club cricket – especially for young people – is declining.

And no young person is encouraged to play by standing at fine leg, not bowling and batting at number eleven – as was the case when I was younger. I almost quit numerous times.

From my own experience of being on a club’s committee more recently however, I find it’s a weekly nightmare to get 22 players out across two teams.

People don’t want to give up their weekend unless it’s going to be worth it for them – or perhaps more significantly – unless they’re playing with their mates.

While The Hundred has its many faults – not least that it’s plonked in the middle of the Test summer and poses a possible existential threat to other forms – it clearly has its benefits too.

First and foremost, it has engaged communities, families and individuals who probably otherwise wouldn’t have got involved in cricket.

When I went to the Hundred, there were some city w******s in the stands – who came to the women’s game for pre-drinks before making beer snakes during the men’s fixture – but there were also a huge number of young people, including significantly from south Asian and Caribbean backgrounds.

And that’s important.

In club cricket, participation is generally low, but there is a large contingent from south Asian communities. The problem has aways been that it doesn’t filter through to the domestic game. Given this large pool of untapped talent, there has always been a risk that participation from south Asian communities – especially among younger people – might decline as they move away from the sport their parents and grandparents played, and move to football or other activities. After all, why would people play a sport in which they cannot progress, if they are good enough? The decline in the participation for those of Caribbean heritage is a case-in-point for this problem.

The Hundred has undoubtably brought in more young people to the game, who might well now want to play cricket, with their friends. And implementing a similar format in recreational cricket – could be the best way to do it. Replicating what they saw on TV, or live, to get them in the door, especially in age-group cricket, might be a good way to re-energise club cricket.

More significantly, the actual game lends itself to the fielding side more than Twenty 20 does. I’ve played a few T20s at club level – and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a single one. They are shoved into midweek evenings, and rarely does a bowler get their full allocation of overs.

For many recreational cricketers, Twenty 20 is played not because it’s a format conducive for big-hitting, but because it’s the shortest form.

Well, the Hundred is shorter – and unlike Twenty 20, and even other limited overs cricket, The Hundred’s format has offered a lifeline to fielding teams- which might be of benefit to club cricketers.

First and foremost, players can bowl 10 balls in a row, which means if someone is bowling well, pressure can be applied for longer. Indeed, it means there can be multiple ‘sets’ of 10 balls.

This has an obvious benefit for the fielding side, if they’re on top, they can stay on top. That’s significant, because many club cricketers will be put off from playing if they’re standing around in the field for hours on end not touching the ball. The Hundred’s format keeps them in the game and involved, more regularly.

The other plus of the Hundred, is the fact that when a player gets out caught, even if the batsmen cross, the new batsman has to face.

This offers the fielding side a chance to keep a set batsman off strike, thereby tipping the balance to the bowers again.

The result of this, has been extremes doing very well.

The leading wicket takers in the Hundred this year so far have been mystery spin, in Adil Rashid, Rashid Khan, and high pace, in Marchant de Lange and Adam Milne.

In other words, the Hundred allows the fielding side to stay on top, and when the fielding side is on top, it’s harder to play against either mystery spin, where a batsman has to create the pace, or extreme pace, where reaction time is lower and it’s harder to dominate.

The Hundred offers a bit more balance between bat and ball than T20 in this respect – and that could be of benefit for club cricket.

Especially for age group cricket – meaning Under 15s and down – the Hundred’s format could be ideal.

It gives bowlers an extended spell when they’re doing well – thereby rewarding them, and it ensures their games do not become centred around stage-managed big-hitting, which isn’t commonplace in low-level or age group club cricket.

I don’t have all the answers, but it might be an interesting experiment for clubs to play a Hundred-style format, to see if it can be more fulfilling than regular 35 over or 20 over games.

The Hundred’s rock-and-a-hard-place: Match-day experience versus quality of cricket

I wasn’t in the ECB’s brainstorming meeting when they were plotting The Hundred, but I bet it started something like this: “How do you get new people into cricket?”.

The Hundred is not too dissimilar to T20, which is hugely popular and successful, but unfortunately, England didn’t master it. India did. And India has a very large captive audience.

The Hundred feels in some ways, like England’s attempt to ever-so-slightly reinvent the wheel, using a franchise-based, city/region-based model, instead of the old bloated county structure.

It’s in in its early days so I went to a game this week to see what it was like. I regularly go to T20s, and love watching any cricket at Lord’s. This visit was more curiosity than any affinity to the Hundred or ‘London Spirit’.

In truth, I was hugely cynical and skeptical before the tournament started, but I have really enjoyed it so far. Watching it on TV has been great.

It mustn’t be ignored, that the diversity and size of the crowd is impressive. As I waited outside St John’s Wood Station, there was an eclectic mix of red-trousered MCC tie-wearers, young kids, families, and your bog-standard cricket fan. To say Lord’s was a sell-out is an understatement. There was barely room to move.

Playing was the London Spirit against Trent Rockets, and on show were some incredible players: Rashid Khan, Marchant de Lange, Eoin Morgan, Alex Hales and D’Arcy Short. The problem was most certainly not the quality.

It very quickly became apparent, that however much I enjoyed watching the Hundred on the TV in the past few weeks, what I was going to get live, was a different product.

When I watch The Hundred on the TV, I have commentary, analysis, the odd statistic. The fact it’s 100 balls is immaterial if the quality is good.

When I watched it live, specifically the men’s form, I was flooded with gimmicks on the one hand, and starved of any cricketing context on the other.

Whilst before I was watching cricket, now I was ‘experiencing’ cricket.

All around me were kids trying to get onto the TV camera, asking the London Spirit production team if they can be picked for the big screen activity they were doing. This involved whacking a ball into the crowd, (which had a significant number of city workers, who were quite drunk), picking a card to start a chant or a Mexican wave, or other such trivialities to distract them from the actual game going on right in front of their faces.

They weren’t really watching the cricket at all.

They were there, and will remember it as they had a good time. But it wasn’t because of the cricket.

Maybe, hopefully, the next time cricket is on the front or back pages for the right reasons, they’ll remember the time they went to Lord’s and that cricket seed will grow.

Who knows.

But when I watch live cricket, as an actual fan, I want to engross myself in the game. It should go without saying, but I want to *watch the game*, and have something riding on it.

I also want to know who fielded the ball, who took the catch, what the batting order is, and most importantly, how fast Marchant de Lange is bowling.

The big screens at the Hundred don’t give you that. They just give the bare bones. God forbid the plebs can’t process more than two things at once. And there is a distinct lack of both replays and details. Even the use of the word ‘wicket’ has vanished.

Most disappointingly, the Hundred is set up to be a quick format which has wide appeal, but the pitches used at the moment are disappointing. There is a huge amount of spin being bowled across the competition, and plenty of low scores, which isn’t really what the doctor ordered.

Watching both the Rockets and Spirit scrape to 120-odd was quite painful at times, and it certainly won’t help inspire a generation of young cricketers, who had hoped to see some big hitting. Sure, the nail biting finish is fun, but 80 percent of the game was actually pretty crap.

The match-day experience of the Hundred is not something I’d want to go through again as a cricket fan.

I like the format, on the TV, when I don’t have to experience all the unnecessary gimmicks.

But let’s hope one day all the bells and whistles can be dropped – and fans can just appreciate the quality, when they are also fans of the game as a whole.