The Hundred is the league which we deserve, but not the league which we need.
A few days back, the inauural edition of the Hundred got underway. The first match was a game from the women’s competition where Oval Invincibles played against Manchester Originals in front of a near-packed audience at the Oval in London. Just as it was anticipated, the matches seemed like something of a spectacle. There were some funky rules which were put into place for this tournament to work. Some rules were supposed to make it different, more approachable, and more welcoming for newer audiences.
One of the new rules stated that a bowler will bowl five balls before he or she is replaced by another bowler. This is of course unless the captain wants to continue with the same bowler. In that situation, he or she can have a go for another five balls before being asked to go and stand at the mid-wicket boundary waiting for a call from the captain. It didn’t take a long time for a captain to implement this rule.
Oval Invincibles skipper Dane van Niekerk asked her wife Marizanne Kapp to deliver consecutive 10 balls to start the tournament. As she finished her 10 deliveries, Mel Jones who was on-air at the time said, ‘there she finishes her block of 10 balls.’ In the next few days, watching the Hundred, I came across several terms. ‘Sets of balls,’ Kevin Pietersen said one day.
‘Her five balls are done and we can move to blah blah’s five balls.’ There was a clear attempt in describing or using a particular term for signifying or denoting what we have long called Overs. But, you can’t say overs. You just can’t. This is what the ECB wants. This is not your average short game. This is not T20. This is new. This doesn’t have overs. It is a set of balls or a block of balls or a collection of balls or any other word that can describe a set of things.
Can’t call it ‘Overs’
Through the past one week of watching the Hundred, one thing was clear, there is a resistance to use the word ‘overs.’ As far as I can remember, I just heard the word once through whatever matches that I watched. The question is why though? What did the word ‘overs’ do to England so badly that it has almost become criminal to use the term to describe a set of deliveries bowled by a single individual?
And now I want to point out that Rashid Khan’s second spell which had some beautiful googlies, I’d say it happened in the 71st, 72nd, 73rd, and 74th ball of the match and not in the 12th over of the innings. This makes things a little weird to understand. Overs help not just to understand when a particular thing happened but also put into context with other things which happened around it.
The term ‘over’ has been synonymous with cricket since its very existence, it seems. I tried to look for the first time it was used and there was no proper information on it. But, while doing so, I stumbled upon the fact that Test cricket in England between 1880 and 1888 had four balls in each over, which then got to five between 1889 and 1899. Then there was a period when each over had six balls, while there was another period which had eight balls.
Until 1980, there was no official rule which stated that everyone has to have six balls and can’t have more or less. Each country could make a call whether it would want an eight-ball or six-ball over. In fact, there was even a time when captains before the toss decided how many balls would be bowled in an over.
Does the Hundred deliver everything it promised?
Now, let us come back to the Hundred and what it stands for. The tournament has been marketed as a gateway for newer audiences. Well, true. It does that. In a piece on his blog, renowned cricket writer, Jarrod Kimber, who traveled with his young family to watch the opening match of the women’s tournament, wrote that the vibe was unique. He noted that it is a place where more and more families can come together and enjoy the sport.
Maybe, creating a better atmosphere at the cricket ground may well help gain some new audience. But in 2021, getting an audience is not just about that. Essentially, not all T20 leagues want you to go and watch it at the grounds with your families. Most of them want to be glued to the screen. Because that’s where a huge chunk of money lies. Broadcasting deals, the holy grail of franchise-based leagues around the world.
ECB has sought that for now. But what about the broadcast? There were two things which the Hundred promised to do, for one fitting the entire game within a three-hour period and two, making scoreboards easy. Now, here is a thing, these two things could have been done with the existing T20 format or with a little tweak to it.
The first match which I watched went on for 153 minutes (2 hours and 33 mins) and almost 200 balls were delivered. Every match seems to end before 3 hours, which is good. But, what should be taken into context is that the tournament also has put in some strict rules to ensure time is not wasted. For instance, a new batter has to mark his crease within one minute (a minute lesser than the previous rule) of the previous batter being dismissed.
There are cut-offs for each inning, something which the Big Bash League might introduce in its upcoming season. One of the biggest complaints against T20 cricket has been that it was introduced to fit in a three-hour period but in 2021, an average T20 game lasts for about 3 and a half or sometimes four hours.
But, why is that? If you want to tightly pack a game and sell it to the audience, you should have stricter laws to shorten the time which it takes to finish right? Well no. As administrators, you need the money as well. Money from the ads which play in between the over break. Apart from the Indian Premier League, none of the T20 leagues are hugely profitable. There are some key aspects to the IPL, which makes it the richest league, but we won’t get into that for now.
The ‘easier’ scorecards
Another key aspect of the whole broadcast experience is how to make scorecards easier. But, truly, with all due respect, the broadcasters of the Hundred don’t really make the scoreboard look easier to read. Nor does it try to make it subtle. Nor does it try to make it aesthetically pleasing. It tries to give you something different. Just that. And the more you watch it carefully, you would realize why the traditionalists of cricket will be upset.
For years, scoreboards on your television screen have looked like ‘100/3’ (3/100 if you are an Australian). But the Hundred doesn’t do that. The wickets column is large and shown on the right-hand side bottom corner of the screen. The runs are on the other side.
In the second innings of the game, there is no place where the number of balls being bowled is shown. They show only the number of balls left in the innings, which is another oddity. But by this time, I have stopped counting them because there are just so many. The whole scoreboard on my screen is many things, simple is not one of them.
What the tournament has done is just remove the concept of overs. The term overs is dead. At least for this new-age tournament by the ECB. And, the struggle the commentators are going through in order to find new terms to describe when an ‘over’ is completed is real. I now wait for every time five balls are done to hear what Nasser Hussain or Dinesh Karthik have come up with to explain that an over had been bowled.
Removing the concept of overs from cricket is the ECB’s answer to the question ‘how can scoreboards look simpler,’ but isn’t that problem essentially solved when you are making a cricket match of 100 balls. Think about it, during any given match, when the run chase has less than 16.4 overs (100 balls in cricket other than the Hundred), the scoreboard hardly ever reflects 16.3 overs. It switches to 99 balls because it is easier for the audience to understand.
And let us now think about the prospects which this new format brings. It gives women’s sport in England its due credit. It gets more and more audiences to the sport and any toddler watching cricket at the Hundred for the first time, won’t feel that cricket is only about men. This is a huge step and in the right direction. But, saying this could have been done only with a new format is bizarre. Australia has successfully managed to build the Women’s Big Bash League, which is a solid competition which gets a lot of eyeballs every year.
The larger question is once the Hundred 2021 ends, where does the format go from here? Does the ECB think this will be picked up by the IPL and eventually by the ICC? If this isn’t on their mind, where will the Hundred be in the next five years? Just a month-long tournament with a format that is just played in England? There are many questions that are prevalent. But the act of killing overs as a term in cricket requires the most attention.
The tournament is good, but the marketing is odd
Could the ECB not have flickered with the 20-overs cricket by making a tournament with five-ball overs? It would still be a T20 competition. Oh btw, there is a World Cup later this year of this very format. And considering the FTP announced by ICC for 2023-2031 cycle, the Hundred World Cup isn’t coming any time soon. So what is the point?
Well, the ECB knows it was late in capitalizing the T20 format. And this tournament is their attempt in redeeming themselves by pretending it is a different cricket. Nasser Hussain said in an interview, “the Hundred is for everyone.” Well, does it not apply to cricket in general? If you listen to the commentary of the Hundred’s broadcast, you will notice the hard attempt to sell the league by using what corporations call ‘woke capitalism.’
The Hundred is a good tournament. It is a good format. It is interesting, intriguing, and enjoyable to watch. But not because they added eight new teams in the English domestic structure. Not because the scorecards have been simplified (which I don’t believe has happened). Not because they have done away with all the technical stuff. It is interesting to watch because it is cricket.
It is essentially the same sport packaged in a new bottle. England deserved to have a good league of its own and there is nothing wrong in that. What is absurd and will stay for all cricket lovers, is that the tournament killed one of the basic concepts of cricket, overs. And what that has done to cricket and its analytics is a whole different chapter.
You can argue that they could have made a 20-overs game with five balls every over and it could have been fine. If MCC gets on board with the Hundred, they would also got on board with a T20 cricket match with five balls per over, instead of six. But the problem is ECB wants to serve us a new league, something which we have not seen.
But to tell the truth, killing overs in the name of redeeming cricket in England is absurd. Cricket is alive. Cricket will be alive. Selling a spectacle is easy in 2021, which the ECB has managed to do. But, before the Hundred takes over the world, I will still stand in the line, shouting to bring back, ‘Overs.’