Your starter for 10. The finals of the men’s and women’s Hundred competition were held at Lord’s last Saturday. Who won? Have to hurry you. Have you got it? Award yourself 10 points if you said the Oval Invincibles won the women’s crown and another 10 points if you knew Trent Rockets were the men’s winners. The Invincibles and the Rockets – not yet names that trip off the tongue like Man United and Arsenal, or, to take a US baseball analogy, the almost universally recognised Red Sox and Yankees.
The competition was supposed to revolutionise English and Welsh cricket, making it fit for the snazzy, dynamic sporting world of the 21st century, and for an audience with ever shortening attention spans. Yet, in its second year, it has been struggling to establish itself. Running alongside the start of the football season has not helped: Man United and Arsenal are global mega-brands; the Trent Rockets are … well, who knows what they are, other than a bunch of pretty good cricketers in a stripy yellow kit, who vaguely represent the cricketing traditions of the east Midlands? When the Hundred was launched, the heritage of 18 counties, which had in many cases been in operation for more than 100 years, was shoehorned into eight new “franchises”. The Rockets represent Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, but it is absurdly mechanistic to think that fans of those counties will obediently buy into the new brand. If Liverpool, Everton and Tranmere combined as the Merseyside Magnificos, how would supporters react?
Bashing the Hundred has, though, become a little tiresome and predictable. Yes, it is a horribly simplified version of a wonderfully complex game; yes, the commentators, with their endless bigging up of some very ordinary cricket are annoying; yes, the rise of short-form franchise cricket across the world threatens the traditional game. But at least it has got the sport back on to terrestrial TV, and at the same time given a boost to the women’s game. The Hundred was invented to address cricket’s increasing marginalisation, and the middle-aged accountants and retired colonels who adore the labyrinthine plot twists of a Test match have to recognise those challenges: struggling counties; an ageing demographic; the posh, public school image of cricket (many state schools have unfortunately given up on the game); the failure to bring players from south Asian backgrounds into the first-class game.
Cricket is not a perfect world being wrecked by the beastly Hundred; the Hundred is a garishly imperfect attempt to solve deep-seated problems in a sport which, ever since it made its Faustian pact with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky in 2006, has been losing its place in the national conversation. The accountants and retired colonels can afford a Sky subscription to watch England and South Africa play the final – and deciding – Test of their series at the Oval later this week. But what about the kid in the not-very-well-off household in Nottingham who might wonder what cricket is all about? How does he or she get to grips with the true glory of the game? The instant dazzle of Trent Rockets may not be the answer, but, if you are denied access to “real” cricket on TV, it might be better than nothing.