By Richard Edwards
10th August 2022
Like it or loathe it, The Hundred isn’t going anywhere. In fact, despite its second season only just beginning, it looks set to spread across the recreational game, in both junior and senior cricket.
As the Sky and BBC commentators never tire of telling us, the competition’s main USP is the fact that it’s FUN. DJs, a simpler concept that’s easier for those not familiar with the game to understand, and a format that has been very much designed with youngsters, rather than county aficionados, in mind.
But while the rights and wrongs of the competition’s creation continue to be debated, what is happening on the ground? And is this divisive format laying down its roots across the English game?
According to Chris West, chairman of the North Yorkshire and South Durham Premier League, the answer is a most definite yes.
Although he says, it’s more a case of evolution rather than revolution in a region which has never been slow to embrace innovation.
“We’re a little bit ahead of the game,” says West. “When T20 started in 2002/03, in the professional game, we had already played quite a bit of Twenty20 cricket in our evening competition. So, in 2004 we started a 90 ball, 15 over competition.
We wanted something a little bit different, and a format that could extend the season because by the end of June most teams were out of cup competitions. We wanted something that would keep the interest going.
“The 15 over competition involved coloured clothing and went on for the next 15 or so years, with a finals’ day on Bank Holiday Sunday involving four different tournaments.
“It was getting a little stale when the Hundred was first talked about in 2018/19. I spoke to Tom Harrison at the time and asked him if he minded if we converted our 90 ball competition into one of 100 balls.
“In 2019, we had 150 Hundred matches. The initial view was that the youngsters enjoyed it more than the older players. A lot of people actually said they preferred the 90 ball competition. But after the first season of The Hundred in 2021, it really took off.”
In the northwest – as West alluded to, a region that has often taken the lead in club cricket - the Hundred is now well established.
This season, across all leagues, there are now six competitions playing The Hundred format.
And the traditional Finals Day will take place later this month, involving the denouement of four tournaments involving eight different teams, two from the junior ranks, and six senior sides.
At the other end of the country, to a slightly lesser degree, there are also signs that young cricketers are sweet on a competition that still continues to leave a sour taste in the mouth of some.
Colin Smith is the general secretary of the Winchester Warriors Junior Cricket, which co-ordinates cricket in this corner of the South of England. And he tells the CCC that, for the first time this summer, the organisation’s friendly leagues – itself a new phenomenon and a more than welcome by-product of the pent-up enthusiasm for cricket post-Covid – will all
be played in The Hundred format.
This follows the decision, driven forward by the Hampshire Cricket Board, to introduce the Hundred as the standard format for County Cup matches this season.
“The Hampshire Cricket Board chose to do that rather than the Winchester Warriors, but as far as I know it wasn’t an ECB edict,” says Smith. “But the decision to use the format for all the friendly matches that are taking place from late July until the middle of September was a Winchester Warriors initiative under no pressure from the ECB or HCB.
“The clubs decided back in January that they liked the idea because so many children last summer were really excited by The Hundred. As a result of watching the sport on terrestrial TV and seeing the interest it generated, a lot of those involved in local clubs wanted to play the game as well as watch it.”
Of course, it’s possible to argue that if the ECB hadn’t sold off the rights to Sky and taken cricket off our screens after the greatest Ashes series in history in 2005, then there wouldn’t be a desperate scramble to try and make the sport more attractive to a younger audience.
As someone who spends the majority of his summer attempting to persuade reluctant parents to either score or umpire, you could argue that it’s not just the younger generation who have missed out on a cricket education over the past 17 years.
But what’s clear from these conversations is that, without any detectable public push from the ECB, The Hundred is rapidly establishing itself at the heart of the recreational game, as well as the sporting summer.
For some that might be the cause of consternation.
But for West, who admits that he’s one of cricket’s great traditionalists, he sees no reason to be fearful.
“Cricket is cricket, isn’t it?” he says.
He has a point.
And if it delivers a new generation of cricket lovers, regardless of race, gender and background, then that can only be a good
If it continues to generate debate, both regionally and nationally, then that’s no bad thing either.