A common refrain to those of us who are not hanging out the bunting at the news the Hundred will be on our screens and in our Test grounds in 2021 is that all the curmudgeons were just as negative about the advent of Twenty20 cricket in 2003.
This is an easy parallel to draw and a simplistic one. Let me try to correct it. The proposal to introduce T20 cricket 18 years ago was truly radical; the ECB was introducing a new format for professional cricketers (though club players had been enjoying a similar version for years).
It did not do this by splashing the cash in vast quantities to the county clubs and their players, as is the case now. There were no promises of a £1.3m per annum “dividend” for each county – provided they agreed to toe the party line; no prospect of £125,000 windfalls for the lucky players involved or greatly improved deals for the Professional Cricketers’ Association.
Instead in 2002 the ECB’s Stuart Robertson and his team sold the idea on its merits. There were no gift-wrapped inducements, just the prospect of more spectators coming through the gates and more viewers for Sky subscribers.
Nor was the ECB advocating adding another tournament to an already crowded domestic calendar; the T20 replaced the Benson & Hedges competition and there was an obvious logic to that since there was already another “traditional” one-day competition in place in the NatWest Trophy.
Even so, it is true there were plenty of doubters in 2002. On the eve of the decisive meeting the ECB was none too sure how the counties would vote and Lord MacLaurin, the ECB’s chairman, got a few waverers onside. The vote was 11-7 in favour, with the MCC abstaining. The ECB had won enough support through some slick marketing, the likes of which has not been witnessed during the laborious gestation of the Hundred.
The press were wooed on a trip to Valderrama – not that we should encourage such extravagances in these stricken times. More importantly clubs and players were persuaded, not with money but reasoned argument. Moreover the transition from doing the research, conceiving the format and starting the competition was smooth and swift compared with the Hundred.
What seemed like the vast sum of £250,000 was laid aside to promote the tournament in 2003 (the equivalent of about £400,000 today, which is a fraction of what the ECB is spending on marketing the Hundred) and it began on 13 June. The televised match was at Southampton in front of 17,000 spectators. The fans were flocking to the majority of county grounds; the players were excited by that and they clearly wanted to win.
That is still the case at Taunton and Chelmsford, Leeds and Old Trafford. It is only in London, where the crowds are vast, that there can be the feel of a boozy, corporate night out but who can cavil at regular sellouts at Lord’s and the Oval? The T20 format may have been radical but the implementation of the tournament via the county system was straightforward in contrast to the Hundred with its gimmicky format and convoluted structure.
In 2020 the ECB has been less persuasive in selling its new competition and to make matters worse there will now be a three and a half year gap between hitting on this camel of a concept and an actual match. Crucial momentum has been lost, the KP nuts are already going stale, which means the hordes of marketing men and women will stay busy.
The players are understandably on board because there is money to be made and the broadcasters doggedly retain their enthusiasm. So does the ECB, despite all those ill-starred attempts to win over the doubters at the start when even the sure-footed Andrew Strauss, a surprisingly ardent supporter of the Hundred, slipped up by suggesting women and children would be able to understand this new game and that it would be a great opportunity for English coaches to showcase their skills.
Tom Harrison remains defiantly optimistic. He says his new competition will be a “profit centre” for English cricket and that he “has never wavered one bit” over the Hundred. It’s that certainty that arouses suspicions. How can he be so sure? He speaks as if the competition is already a rip-roaring success and yet it is almost 15 months before the first ball is to be bowled. This is as simplistic as saying “T20 was reviled at first but it worked, therefore it’s bound to be the same with the Hundred”.
So forgive me if I keep the bunting, which is now well-ironed since we are so time-rich, neatly folded in its cupboard for a little longer.