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'I'll give it a B+'

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In his latest Words from Wallis column, Steven Wallis puts The Hundred cricket format under the microscope.

What did you make of The Hundred, English cricket’s new competition? A dud, a glowing success or somewhere in between. The tournament provoked plenty of reactions inside and outside the cricket community.

Generally, opinions seemed to vary depending on your age. Many of the older entrenched county supporters, the traditionalists, loathed the competition whilst the young liked the razzmatazz of match day, packed into less than two and a half hours.

The 2021 Men's Final (51303621)
The 2021 Men's Final (51303621)

I attended Finals Day at Lords and the opening double header at Trent Bridge, Nottingham to get a better idea of what it was all about, but I also wanted to get the views of local cricketers, ex-players, and youngsters.

All sports today, football apart, face the same problems regarding their audience or should I say future audience. The younger generation want and demand more immediate action. Will they in the future want to see five hour tennis matches, five day Test matches which end in a draw, or golfers who take over five hours for a round. Perhaps they will as they themselves grow older and possibly become traditionalist in their thinking.

Some cricketing fans argue that we already have the counties playing T20 but I wanted to find out what people thought of the hundred.

Sebastian and Harry Lefevre with Roger English (51303614)
Sebastian and Harry Lefevre with Roger English (51303614)

My cousin Kate Lefevre’s nine-year-old son Sebastian had a fantastic time when he went to see the Trent Rockets. “A brilliant lifetime experience,” enthused Sebastian. Edward Lefevre’s son Harry (12), who has played for his county age group side, liked the attacking shots and brilliant fielding. “It was good to see KP, Freddie, Nasser and Keysie on the ground,” said Harry. I doubt whether some of the older generation would say the same about all the quartet!

“A great atmosphere with exciting cricket giving a thoroughly enjoyable evening for all the family,” said Edward. These comments were echoed by former March Town Cricket Club captain Roger English, who liked the family atmosphere which was a key ECB driver for the competition. Reasonably priced tickets – a family could attend a group match double header at Trent Bridge for £64 – certainly help attract the family. Long may those prices continue.

March Town CC players Jim Chapman, Sam Mason and Harry Gowler all had similar views.

“I really like the fast-paced format, so you’re always engaged, and every ball really does count,” said Jim, picking up on the ECB marketing buzz words. All balls count in every cricket match in my opinion, but Jim is right about the intensity of a 100 ball match.

Sebastian and Harry Lefevre (51303616)
Sebastian and Harry Lefevre (51303616)

“You can definitely relate to the teams with a lot of the best players in the county set up playing plus some exciting overseas stars, which the younger fans can relate to more as they know who they are,” said Sam.

While Harry Gowler thought the tournament had done a tremendous amount for the women’s game. He is certainly right, the concentration of many of the best players in women’s cricket playing together at Test grounds and live on TV will only improve the game more and more. Over 17,000 people watched the Women’s Final at Lord’s.

“I thought the Hundred was brilliant! It was great to see stadiums full, some fantastic cricket and to see a new generation of people interested in the sport,” said Wisbech Town CC captain James Williams. This is backed up by the fact that 55% of people buying tickets had not done so before in this country. Furthermore, 21% of ticket buyers were women.

The Hundred crowd (51303618)
The Hundred crowd (51303618)

James did add a cautionary note about the county cricket programme: “I don’t agree how the 50 over competition has been downgraded. I know the summer is short and a lot of cricket has to be fulfilled, but the 50 over competition should still be a high priority to the ECB. Local businessman and avid cricket fan Ed Gowler had a similar view of the tournament: “I think it’s a brilliant idea and will be great for the game via the funding it will create for all levels of cricket, however careful consideration will have to be given for scheduling all of the other formats,” said Gowler.

The format is set to continue in 2022 with probably better overseas players – Covid had its effect on the availability of several leading Aussies. Fans will get more association with the teams and players. Do young fans associate with counties? It seems anathema to me, but do they care?That may alarm the traditionalist and I for one would not want to see the demise of the county clubs and their structure. The younger generation in sporting terms are only interested in the here and now. History does not seem to be on their radar.

Whatever happens, I think The Hundred is here to stay in its current school holiday window. However, in an action-packed English summer, the ECB, like James has mentioned, will need to alter the county structure. Good luck with the person responsible with that task but some changes need to be made. The worry is if the hundred becomes more successful the board will consider more teams and therefore more matches. Don’t do it.

I can’t say I loved some of the music, the over hyped commentators, but the standard of cricket was of a high standard, not exceptional, and better players in 2022 will raise the bar. One potential area of major concern is some drunken behaviour at grounds which needs to be stamped on and measures were taken at Lord’s and Trent Bridge.

Overall, a B+ from me in the first year.

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