Marcus Hook’s Surrey CCC column: My verdict on The Hundred – which has created a divide – and the one big benefit to come out of the tournament

Aside from the genuine concerns, The Hundred has so far proved a great advertisement for domestic cricket. The finish to Monday’s Trent Rockets v Northern Superchargers clash at Trent Bridge will live long in the memory.

I just wish some of the tournament’s flag-bearers were a bit more balanced in their observations and less dismissive of what has gone before – namely 131 years of the County Championship, 52 summers of one-day cricket and 18 years of T20.

The return of live cricket to the BBC has seen viewing figures soar due to The Hundred, which is hardly surprising. When darts was last free-to-air, the audience for the now defunct BDO outstripped the far more superior PDC tournaments, which have only ever been available via satellite.

Kevin Pietersen claimed he had never seen a crowd for a county game like the one for last Saturday’s clash at Leeds – an attendance of 10,324 compared with the 16,647 who went to the Yorkshire v Lancashire T20 clash at the same venue in 2019.

Pietersen also predicted The Hundred will produce better, more skilful England players.

With that kind of expert punditry I’d rather listen to the 10-year-old boy they interviewed at Lord’s the following day, who said: “The reason there’s so many wickets is they just try and smack it.”

It saddens me to see the divide The Hundred is already creating. Many of its supporters seem to take the view that you would be mad to go back to county cricket after the tournament is over.

It’s a bit like expecting Fulham, Sheffield United and West Brom fans to stop going to football now their teams are back in The Championship.

What they also seem to be forgetting is that the IPL, which has revolutionised cricket in the last decade with games drawing, on average, worldwide audiences of six million – restarts on September 19, with the 2021 tournament relocating to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

Let’s see how many people are still talking about The Hundred come the final of the IPL on October 15.

The former England batsman Graeme Fowler wrote on social media: “My involvement in cricket has ended. Watching the 100, I think this is a pointless competition. An answer to a problem that didn’t exist. Thanks for all the fun during the years. I’ll still be on Twitter, but not talking about cricket.”

But I’m with Lawrence Booth, the editor of Wisden, who posted: “The depiction of Hundred critics as ‘haters’ is crazy and cynical. The critics I know are motivated by concern for the game, not enemies of progress.”

Everyone needs to accept The Hundred for what is – cricket and razzamatazz, with some exciting finishes, while, over here, there’s the same thing, but without the hype.

In terms of “over here” I’m talking, of course, about what feeds The Hundred – county cricket.

The 106 county pros who make up the vast majority of the eight mens’ squads haven’t just been plucked out of thin air; they have been invested in, for years in many cases, by the 18 first-class counties and their academy structures.

Those who dismiss county cricket should also note that The Hundred has not yet produced the pre-pandemic Vitality Blast attendances seen two years ago. Thursday and Friday nights at the Oval have witnessed crowds of 24,000, but not last Thursday, when 18,126 turned up for the Invincibles’ curtain-raiser.

Without wanting to sound one-eyed, the biggest positive is that The Hundred has, just as I predicted, increased the profile of women’s cricket.

Lord’s produced the biggest attendance ever for a women’s contest – 13,537 – for the game in which Surrey’s Alice Capsey (pictured) made a name for herself by hitting a match-winning 59.

It was intended to be a London Spirit v Oval Invincibles double-header. But when the subsequent men’s game was rained off without a ball being bowled, the crowd was offered a full refund on their tickets.

Talk about cricket shooting itself in the foot.

Isabelle Duncan, whose book Skirting The Boundary is a history of women’s cricket, said: “Last week we heard about the massive salary gap between the male and female players, and now this.

“The Hundred was supposed to be the chance for women’s cricket to be placed on an equal footing. This reflects badly on the ECB because it is implying that women’s cricket has no financial value.

“You might say that it’s a technicality, but somebody at the ECB should have seen this one coming; and it’s too late now as they can’t change ticket conditions once they’ve been sold.”

A further indication that The Hundred isn’t as inclusive as it could be came on Tuesday, when Pietersen implied on commentary that the pitches for the men’s games in The Hundred might be better if the women didn’t play on them first.

Meanwhile, the 50-over Royal London One-Day Cup – which perhaps takes the phrase “a blend of youth and experience” a little too literally – continues to run in parallel with The Hundred.

And if it’s non-stop action you crave, you’ll have to go a long way to top the Surrey-Notts game at Guildford, which produced 528 runs, 29 sixes, 14 wickets and six career bests. The sign on the scoreboard promised quality construction. But, instead Surrey, who won by 33 runs to go joint top of Group 1, delivered quality destruction.

 


 

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