For the purist, cricket is, at heart, a traditional game, played in whites, with red cricket balls and wooden wickets. It’s a game that respects the decision of the umpire without question. A game that stops for afternoon tea. Or at least that’s how it used to be.
The nostalgic days of crisp whites and wooden wickets are long gone
These days, cricket is played in all kinds of colours, with white and even pink balls. The umpire is regularly disputed via DRS and even the stumps in the recent test series have turned white to advertise Specsavers opticians as the ‘test experts’. These days, there seems to be more styles of cricket than there are different variants of poker, and now the ECB are looking to shuffle the deck once again to try and find set of rules that will draw the crowds and bring in the cash. The game is changing rapidly before our well tested eyes, with constant tweaks and law changes, and nowhere more so than the new 100 Ball format proposed by the ECB.
What is the 100 ball game about?
The 100 Ball format has been proposed as a way to get more people, especially women and children, involved in watching cricket. The idea is that by simplifying the game, and dispensing with things like the ‘imperial measures’ of six ball overs, it will become easier to follow. City-based teams, rather than archaic county sides, will help fans to identify with the competition.
Unlike the T20 Blast, which stretches out across the summer, with this year’s final not happening until September 15th, the 36 games of the 100 Ball tournament will take place over just 38 days, with each team playing four home and four away games before a knock out finale.
How is it different from T20 cricket?
Apart from having 20 fewer balls, and a crowd-engaging 100 ball countdown, there have been several innovations associated with the new format. Some reports say that it will feature five ball overs, with two consecutive overs from each end. Individual bowlers would be allowed to bowl all ten balls if they choose. Other reports claim that teams will be allowed to use one or more players as a designated bowler or batter. This would remove the crazy situation where great bowlers who simply cannot bat, are forced to compete at the highest level.
Of course, the ‘supersub’ idea is nothing new and has already been tried by the ECB in 2005, before it was quietly dropped again after just ten months. Designated hitters are already used in Major League Baseball, and in the NFL, whole different teams are used at different times in the game, so this is perhaps not such a revolutionary idea after all.
Nothing has been decided yet
Of course, much of this is pure speculation. The telegraph claimed teams of 12, while the Times said the format would use teams of up to 15. The ECB, meanwhile, are not setting anything in stone until they have seen the results of several trial matches taking place this September.
“There are a number of ongoing discussions, including one with a high-performance group who are planning a series of pilot matches in September,” said an ECB spokesman. “Conversations with players, host venues and stakeholders across the game are vital to the competition’s development but ultimately, it is the board of the ECB which makes the final decision on the format and rules for the new competition and that is expected later this year.”
A controversial call
Whatever format it takes, the new 100 Ball competition is sure to cause controversy, both inside and outside the sport. Many, including Jonathan Agnew, are already questioning what impact a forth competition will have on the county game, and by association, the test side. With the T20 Blast retained alongside the new format, and a One Day, 50 over competition also clogging the schedules, some wonder if the time consuming four-day game will suffer. England’s test average has dropped to just 287 since the start of 2017, while their ODI average is above 300.
Stewart Broad ‘loves’ the idea of 100 Ball cricket
Others wonder if we even need a new format, with the Vitality Blast packing out stadia up and down the country for exciting evenings of explosive cricket. Yet many of the top players are all for it. Stuart Broad is on record as saying he “loves” the idea, while One Day Captain, Eoin Morgan, says it’s “great to see innovation growing the game”.
The upside of 100 Ball cricket
Despite the controversy, there are several things going for the 100 Ball idea, not least the guaranteed minimum £1.3m that each county has been promised from TV and other rights. The new game will also see top quality live cricket return to terrestrial, free-to-air tv for the first time in over a decade.
Players from the women’s game are even more enthusiastic than the men. Although it will mean the end of their successful Kia Super League, the new format will see men’s and women’s cricket taking place with the same teams, the same identity and the same tournament style. For Charlotte Edwards, this is a major step forward. “It is an incredible opportunity,” she says.
So will it work?
It is certainly ironic that the latest cricket format will be launched in 2020 – echoing the new game that was introduced to a similar mixed response in 2003. Yet today, Twenty20 is an established format, watched by 1.25bn people in India alone. And there is no doubt that T20 has revitalised the one-day game, even if its big-hitting style has been less helpful in the test arena. We all cringed at the coloured kit introduced in 1992, claiming it was pyjama cricket, yet today that too is just part of the game. Perhaps 100 Ball cricket will follow the same path, or maybe it will end up as short lived as the games themselves. Only time will tell.