ECB unveils plans for tournament with 100-ball format and 10-ball special over

• New format proposed for eight-team city-based competition
• ECB hoping to attract a younger family audience to cricket

The England and Wales Cricket Board sprung a surprise on Thursday by announcing it has dispensed with Twenty20 for the new eight-team city tournament and will instead adopt a format of 100 balls per innings.

This new competition, which begins in 2020 and is understood to have a working title of “The Hundred”, will offer faster matches, with 15 traditional six-ball overs and a single 10-ball over to complete each innings. A women’s tournament, run along the same lines, will also be launched.

With each match 40 balls shorter than a T20, the action will be cut to around two and a half hours. It is hoped families with younger children will be attracted to attend evening games, while the BBC, which will show 10 of the 36 matches, should have had any concerns over scheduling eased.

Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive officer, said: “This is a fresh and exciting idea which will appeal to a younger audience and attract new fans to the game. Our game has a history of innovation and we have a duty to look for future growth for the health and sustainability of the whole game.”

The shock news came out after the ECB put the concept to the 18 first-class counties and found little pushback. They will not be taking part, of course, with the five-week competition played by new teams based at Lord’s, the Oval, Old Trafford, Edgbaston, Headingley, Trent Bridge, Cardiff and Southampton. But the counties, who as partners will earn a guaranteed £1.3m each per year from the competition’s revenues, are understood to have welcomed this differentiation from the existing Blast, which will remain the sole domestic T20 competition in the men’s game and run earlier in the season.

The existing Kia Women’s Super League is to be disbanded, though, with new teams formed in line with those of the eight city-based men’s sides. There will be eight double‑headers – matches played before men’s fixtures at the main grounds – with the rest of the women’s competition played at other venues.

Clare Connor, the ECB’s director of women’s cricket, said: “To build the women’s and men’s competitions and identities together, side by side, is a prospect that few sports ever have and will give us greater reach, scale and prominence. It will attract more women and girls to the game.”

It is unquestionably a bold move by the ECB, which pioneered the T20 format in 2003 but has since seen the Blast fall behind the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League in terms of international recognition and prestige, even if crowds have grown significantly year on year.

While the new tournament will use a draft system to select 13 players per squad, with a further two added as wildcard picks from the Blast tournament that comes before, it was felt a significant point of difference was still needed, as well as a reduction in time in order to entice a family audience.

Recent matches in the IPL, such as Mumbai Indians against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Tuesday night, have swelled to four hours in length following the introduction of reviews on top of the existing strategic timeouts. The ECB plans to start day games in “The Hundred” at 2.30pm and night games at 6.30pm, allowing families with young children to get home in good time afterwards.

Though the primary broadcaster Sky Sports faces less time pressure than the BBC, which had feared matches running into the 10 o’clock news should there be significant rain interruptions or slow play, it is understood to be equally enthusiastic about the concept at this stage.

In terms of the precise playing conditions, the ECB’s appointed committee will now work over the coming weeks to put flesh on the bones of the new 100-ball format before presenting the final form to the ECB board in June. The 10-ball over, for example, could end up finishing off an innings or be offered to either the batting or bowling side to be taken when they deem it tactically best.

Marylebone Cricket Club has been part of the consultation and will likely sign off in terms of the laws of the game – not least since Lord’s is a host venue – while the International Cricket Council is also expected to give its approval.

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Ali Martin

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