The launch of the Hundred has been officially pushed back to 2021 after the England and Wales Cricket Board accepted that social distancing, travel restrictions and empty grounds make staging the tournament impossible this summer.
Announcing the news on Thursday the ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison, reiterated the desire to forge ahead in spite of the delay, stating “there will be an even greater need” for the Hundred when the sport emerges at the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.
For now, however, with professional matches not possible before 1 July and few certainties beyond this as regards the remainder of the season, the eight-team 100-ball competition must be put on hold; the focus, instead, will be on trying to host international matches and the T20 Blast, albeit behind closed doors.
Outlining the reasons for the delay following an ECB board meeting on Wednesday, the statement read: “The new competition has a vision to grow the game and is part of the ECB’s long-term strategy to inspire a new generation to choose cricket. A number of reasons were outlined for the decision including: operational challenges caused by social distancing, alongside ongoing global travel restrictions, making the competition’s ambition to feature world-class players and coaches unattainable in 2020.
“A behind-closed-doors competition directly contradicts the competition’s goal to attract a broader audience through a unique event experience for viewers and spectators.
“With significant furloughing across the partnership network of 20 venues, the logistics of delivering a brand new sporting event, without a tried-and-tested delivery plan, would be incredibly challenging.”
The delay in announcing the inevitable was, in part, because of negotiations with BBC and Sky, the broadcasters who have come together for a five-year £1.1bn rights deal that includes coverage of the Hundred. In the statement Harrison thanked both for their ongoing support and insisted that revenues from the tournament will become more crucial to the sport than ever, despite a projected loss of £7m in year one.
“The situation we find ourselves in as a country means that delivery of the Hundred will not be possible this summer,” Harrison said. “While we are naturally disappointed that we won’t get to realise our ambitions this year, the Hundred will go ahead in 2021 when we are safely able to deliver everything we intended to help grow the game.
“As we emerge from the fallout of Covid-19 there will be an even greater need for the Hundred. Our survival as a game, long term, will be dependent on our ability to recover financially and continue our ambition to build on cricket’s growing fan base. That need has not gone away, if anything it is now more critical.
“The Hundred will create millions in revenues for the game through hosting fees, hospitality and ticket sales, as well as delivering £25m in annual financial distributions to all first-class counties and the MCC. Its role in driving participation, alongside supporting the development of the women’s game, will be material in generating take-up of our game across countrywide communities.”
Squads for the eight men’s teams were selected last October but it is understood that discussions continue as to whether they will be retained for 2021 or drafted again. Accordingly there are also talks taking place over compensation for the players and coaching teams resulting from the 12-month delay.