The Hundred’s rock-and-a-hard-place: Match-day experience versus quality of cricket

I wasn’t in the ECB’s brainstorming meeting when they were plotting The Hundred, but I bet it started something like this: “How do you get new people into cricket?”.

The Hundred is not too dissimilar to T20, which is hugely popular and successful, but unfortunately, England didn’t master it. India did. And India has a very large captive audience.

The Hundred feels in some ways, like England’s attempt to ever-so-slightly reinvent the wheel, using a franchise-based, city/region-based model, instead of the old bloated county structure.

It’s in in its early days so I went to a game this week to see what it was like. I regularly go to T20s, and love watching any cricket at Lord’s. This visit was more curiosity than any affinity to the Hundred or ‘London Spirit’.

In truth, I was hugely cynical and skeptical before the tournament started, but I have really enjoyed it so far. Watching it on TV has been great.

It mustn’t be ignored, that the diversity and size of the crowd is impressive. As I waited outside St John’s Wood Station, there was an eclectic mix of red-trousered MCC tie-wearers, young kids, families, and your bog-standard cricket fan. To say Lord’s was a sell-out is an understatement. There was barely room to move.

Playing was the London Spirit against Trent Rockets, and on show were some incredible players: Rashid Khan, Marchant de Lange, Eoin Morgan, Alex Hales and D’Arcy Short. The problem was most certainly not the quality.

It very quickly became apparent, that however much I enjoyed watching the Hundred on the TV in the past few weeks, what I was going to get live, was a different product.

When I watch The Hundred on the TV, I have commentary, analysis, the odd statistic. The fact it’s 100 balls is immaterial if the quality is good.

When I watched it live, specifically the men’s form, I was flooded with gimmicks on the one hand, and starved of any cricketing context on the other.

Whilst before I was watching cricket, now I was ‘experiencing’ cricket.

All around me were kids trying to get onto the TV camera, asking the London Spirit production team if they can be picked for the big screen activity they were doing. This involved whacking a ball into the crowd, (which had a significant number of city workers, who were quite drunk), picking a card to start a chant or a Mexican wave, or other such trivialities to distract them from the actual game going on right in front of their faces.

They weren’t really watching the cricket at all.

They were there, and will remember it as they had a good time. But it wasn’t because of the cricket.

Maybe, hopefully, the next time cricket is on the front or back pages for the right reasons, they’ll remember the time they went to Lord’s and that cricket seed will grow.

Who knows.

But when I watch live cricket, as an actual fan, I want to engross myself in the game. It should go without saying, but I want to *watch the game*, and have something riding on it.

I also want to know who fielded the ball, who took the catch, what the batting order is, and most importantly, how fast Marchant de Lange is bowling.

The big screens at the Hundred don’t give you that. They just give the bare bones. God forbid the plebs can’t process more than two things at once. And there is a distinct lack of both replays and details. Even the use of the word ‘wicket’ has vanished.

Most disappointingly, the Hundred is set up to be a quick format which has wide appeal, but the pitches used at the moment are disappointing. There is a huge amount of spin being bowled across the competition, and plenty of low scores, which isn’t really what the doctor ordered.

Watching both the Rockets and Spirit scrape to 120-odd was quite painful at times, and it certainly won’t help inspire a generation of young cricketers, who had hoped to see some big hitting. Sure, the nail biting finish is fun, but 80 percent of the game was actually pretty crap.

The match-day experience of the Hundred is not something I’d want to go through again as a cricket fan.

I like the format, on the TV, when I don’t have to experience all the unnecessary gimmicks.

But let’s hope one day all the bells and whistles can be dropped – and fans can just appreciate the quality, when they are also fans of the game as a whole.

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