The Hundred makes ditchwater look interesting - Chris Waters
In my experience, considerably more people do not like the Hundred than do like it, while a substantial number who claim that they like it secretly don’t; often, they are to be found in dressing rooms, backroom set-ups and commentary boxes and have some sort of vested financial interest.
Increasingly, there is pressure to bow to the fact that the Hundred is great for the women’s game, which it is, and to overlook the corollary that it is damaging and destructive to men’s county cricket.
That is not a popular corollary in the current climate - not least in the wake of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) report, which rightly seeks to close the gender pay gap but which was necessarily detached from the specific cricketing considerations in this case.
Indeed, no reasonable argument can be made that the Hundred is good for men’s county/Test cricket, or at least a verifiable one, anymore than it can be denied that it has benefited a women’s game unloved and unchampioned in comparison, specifically in terms of double-headers that draw in more crowds.
Whether that is sufficient reason to view the corollary as acceptable collateral damage perhaps depends on whether you are a man or a woman; what, if any, is your affiliation to the men’s and women’s games, and how you believe that cricket can best evolve as an inclusive, diverse and relevant entertainment.
Opinions are like belly buttons - everyone has got one, and mine is that the men’s Hundred should be scrapped and the women’s continue as a separate entity. It is absurd to argue that one should exist, so to speak, to prop up the other, given the colossal knock-on effects, an argument itself demeaning to the talent and potential of the women’s game anyway.
The effect on the men’s schedule caused by the Hundred is huge: the County Championship, the pathway to Test cricket, has been marginalised to the extent that we barely have an English spinner worthy of the name and vast chunks of the season without any first-class cricket for spectators to watch. The One-Day Cup, intriguing though it is without the country’s leading 100-white ball players, which means youngsters are blooded, is a development exercise.
The T20 Blast, devalued by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s desire to champion its new toy over its old one, has also suffered, while no starker illustration exists of a schedule exacerbated by the introduction of a fourth format than the fact that the Ashes had to be got out of the way as quickly as possible to accommodate a format where - they tell us without irony - “every ball counts”.
No, the Hundred has ridden roughshod over the cricketing landscape on a myopic mission to attract through the turnstiles those with little or no interest in the sport. The argument that such converts will, in turn, gravitate towards established forms of cricket is pie in the sky and overlooks the fact that it is rarely a good idea to showcase the best of something by showing it - in this judgement anyway - at its worst.
Had the Ashes been played in August and shown on free-to-air television, or an equally backed/remodelled T20 Blast, are we to seriously imagine that as many new followers would not have materialised?
Play any cricket in August, give it a clear window and people will turn up to grounds; whether broadcasters want to show it is, of course, up to them. It’s a quaint idea, I know, but cricket should exist for the people who really do care about it, not for the main purpose of making money.
While regarding the rise in attendances and viewing figures at this year’s Hundred with consequent suspicion, amid a general propaganda machine that might have embarrassed Joseph Goebbels, there is also the question as to whether the Hundred is actually any good.
Again, I would argue that it is extremely confusing to follow in terms of the scoring, that pretty much every T20 competition ever invented is superior, or at least as good, and the fact that people keep telling us how good the Hundred is must, in itself, be an admission that it is not very good - “the lady doth protest too much, methinks”, as Shakespeare said.
The forced razzmatazz; the naked commercialism (epitomising so much that is wrong with modern sport), the second-rate, outlying feel of the Hundred compared to other franchise competitions makes ditchwater seem more interesting by comparison; on top of that, they reckon it is losing money, its very raison d’etre.
We have now had three years of this gruel and – the benefits to women’s cricket excepted – thin stuff it has been, hardly the rip-roaring success that some people claim.
The men’s Hundred lacks substance, significance and is damaging the game. Time for a rethink.