Whatever one’s criticism of The Hundred, it includes innovations which have shifted the balance towards the ball – and this could help energise recreational cricket – especially for younger players.
Now before you leave the page and have a massive go at me, I am not suggesting all club cricket is reduced to 100 balls. Even if sometimes my Sunday side plays that format by accident.
The fact is however, participation in club cricket – especially for young people – is declining.
And no young person is encouraged to play by standing at fine leg, not bowling and batting at number eleven – as was the case when I was younger. I almost quit numerous times.
From my own experience of being on a club’s committee more recently however, I find it’s a weekly nightmare to get 22 players out across two teams.
People don’t want to give up their weekend unless it’s going to be worth it for them – or perhaps more significantly – unless they’re playing with their mates.
While The Hundred has its many faults – not least that it’s plonked in the middle of the Test summer and poses a possible existential threat to other forms – it clearly has its benefits too.
First and foremost, it has engaged communities, families and individuals who probably otherwise wouldn’t have got involved in cricket.
When I went to the Hundred, there were some city w******s in the stands – who came to the women’s game for pre-drinks before making beer snakes during the men’s fixture – but there were also a huge number of young people, including significantly from south Asian and Caribbean backgrounds.
And that’s important.
In club cricket, participation is generally low, but there is a large contingent from south Asian communities. The problem has aways been that it doesn’t filter through to the domestic game. Given this large pool of untapped talent, there has always been a risk that participation from south Asian communities – especially among younger people – might decline as they move away from the sport their parents and grandparents played, and move to football or other activities. After all, why would people play a sport in which they cannot progress, if they are good enough? The decline in the participation for those of Caribbean heritage is a case-in-point for this problem.
The Hundred has undoubtably brought in more young people to the game, who might well now want to play cricket, with their friends. And implementing a similar format in recreational cricket – could be the best way to do it. Replicating what they saw on TV, or live, to get them in the door, especially in age-group cricket, might be a good way to re-energise club cricket.
More significantly, the actual game lends itself to the fielding side more than Twenty 20 does. I’ve played a few T20s at club level – and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a single one. They are shoved into midweek evenings, and rarely does a bowler get their full allocation of overs.
For many recreational cricketers, Twenty 20 is played not because it’s a format conducive for big-hitting, but because it’s the shortest form.
Well, the Hundred is shorter – and unlike Twenty 20, and even other limited overs cricket, The Hundred’s format has offered a lifeline to fielding teams- which might be of benefit to club cricketers.
First and foremost, players can bowl 10 balls in a row, which means if someone is bowling well, pressure can be applied for longer. Indeed, it means there can be multiple ‘sets’ of 10 balls.
This has an obvious benefit for the fielding side, if they’re on top, they can stay on top. That’s significant, because many club cricketers will be put off from playing if they’re standing around in the field for hours on end not touching the ball. The Hundred’s format keeps them in the game and involved, more regularly.
The other plus of the Hundred, is the fact that when a player gets out caught, even if the batsmen cross, the new batsman has to face.
This offers the fielding side a chance to keep a set batsman off strike, thereby tipping the balance to the bowers again.
The result of this, has been extremes doing very well.
The leading wicket takers in the Hundred this year so far have been mystery spin, in Adil Rashid, Rashid Khan, and high pace, in Marchant de Lange and Adam Milne.
In other words, the Hundred allows the fielding side to stay on top, and when the fielding side is on top, it’s harder to play against either mystery spin, where a batsman has to create the pace, or extreme pace, where reaction time is lower and it’s harder to dominate.
The Hundred offers a bit more balance between bat and ball than T20 in this respect – and that could be of benefit for club cricket.
Especially for age group cricket – meaning Under 15s and down – the Hundred’s format could be ideal.
It gives bowlers an extended spell when they’re doing well – thereby rewarding them, and it ensures their games do not become centred around stage-managed big-hitting, which isn’t commonplace in low-level or age group club cricket.
I don’t have all the answers, but it might be an interesting experiment for clubs to play a Hundred-style format, to see if it can be more fulfilling than regular 35 over or 20 over games.