Come all ye cricket fans and await the start of a new tournament that promises you entertainment galore, given the little time you have to spare to watch a game of cricket. The lush greens of England, the mother country of the noble game, will now see a shorter and fulfilling version, designed by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) which is proposed to be played in the summer of 2020 as a five-week tournament.
The country that is struggling under the Brexit fiasco, of trying to get rid of those who aren’t theirs, is (almost) set to welcome a new disruptive format which promises to get more footfalls to the turnstiles and make the Brits switch from melodramas and kids channels to the sports TV channel that covers it. ECB will now play host to ‘The Hundred’ (TH) — as the format has been named. It’s an inter-city cricket tournament that shortens and cuts the T20 by 40 balls.
For the uninitiated, TH was conceived by the ECB and the format has each innings of 15 traditional six-ball overs and a single 10-ball over. The brains trust behind this ultra-short format has also decided to do away with the leg before wicket (lbw) law. TH was announced by the ECB in 2017 when 38 members approved the proposal of an eight-city tournament, guaranteeing the Counties a minimum of 1.3 million pound sterling per year.
Cricket’s newest baby is aimed at getting family audiences to the ground — mums and kids — to be precise. England skipper Joe Root has stamped his approval on the tournament, pacer Stuart Board has praised the “unique selling point” of the concept while Indian skipper Virat Kohli feels that the “commercial aspect is taking over the real quality of cricket.”
TH, the fourth format of the game after ODIs and T20s were introduced, respectively, in 1971 after rain had truncated the first three days of a Test match at Melbourne, and in 2003, will further break the format when it rears its head next year. One imagines this move is to counter England’s obsession with football and the monies pouring into the English Premier League and the plateauing of the fabled County league.
To compound matters, the IPL along with other leagues is taking the limelight (and much needed revenue) away from the former Empire.
Where does it leave Test cricket, the purest of format of the game? Post 2020, the ICC will probably have migraines in trying to figure our Future Tours Programmes (FTP), if the shorter than the shortest format spreads across cricket playing nations. Will Test cricket survive the onslaught of three formats that promise to attract eyeballs and get in the much needed revenue?
While broadcasters are busy chasing TRPs, and cricket boards, across nations, are happy looking at balance sheets, rather than developing the game, Test cricket got unlikely heroes whose superlative performances made one stand up and take notice.
By a strange turn of karma, Jason Holder, captain of the West Indies and Kusal Perera, the Sri Lankan batsman have infused life into this format with their stupendous performances, turning the tables against England and South Africa respectively, in the recently concluded Test series.
Getting Test cricket back to its exalted status is something the ICC and member boards will have to think hard about. The ICC’s independent chairman Shashank Manohar recently rued that Test cricket was dying. Apart from England and Australia, the format does not get enough footfalls, and battles are fought in empty stadiums.
Shorter formats are now breeding mercenaries where once, soldiers served nations with loyalty and innate pride. The ‘connect’ with the audience, so important in brand building, is missing in propagating the purest form of the game. For the West Indies and Sri Lanka, both former World champions in ODIs, series wins against storied opponents were something their die-hard fans would not have imagined. Both teams have struggled with internal issues that have plagued their cricket boards for many years and have risen beyond expectations. These two unbelievable series wins will go a long way in resurrecting cricket in their respective countries and repose the faith that Test cricket will remain the ultimate and truest form of the game....