Cricket has always been a complicated game. We have had overs of four, five and eight balls at various points in time before six-ball overs became the standard from 1979-80. And now we have The Hundred, with sets of five balls that can be stretched to 10, with 20 balls the maximum quota of each bowler. The average runtime of a Hundred game is about 150 minutes, the length of a standard Bollywood movie, with similar drama to boot.
At a time when cricket ought to have been simplifying itself to find more global appeal, The Hundred is further messing with minds. Talk of how this might revolutionise cricket the way T20 or one day did is already gaining traction. But instead of jumping to conclusions, let's discuss the main talking points of the new league as it completes its first week.
To kick off a new format with a women's game – a thriller between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals at the Oval – was a brilliant move. With equal prize money and the same branding reserved for both the men's and women's teams, The Hundred is already setting new goals for the Women's Big Bash and especially the Indian Premier League.
The quality of cricket too has been top-class. If South African Dane van Niekerk bossed it with her all-round skills in the inaugural game (only 16 runs conceded from 15 balls followed by a 42-ball 56), there has been a deluge of fine performances, especially in spin bowling. Birmingham Phoenix's slow left-armer Kirstie Gordon was a revelation with her 3/14 against Originals, while Scottish Abtaha Maqsood promised more after taking 2/14 in the same match. Harmanpreet Kaur (Originals) too has got off to an encouraging start but it's Northern Superchargers' Jemimah Rodrigues who is hitting the right notes with scores of 92 (against Welsh Fire) and 60 (against Trent Rockets).
Here's the thing about T20 cricket: if shifted from a featherbed to a turner, the format can be quite exhilarating. Ask Matt Parkinson, who took 4/19 to set up Originals' six-wicket win at home against Birmingham Phoenix. There was this ball, a leg-break that pitched outside Chris Cooke's leg stump and spun square to hit the top of his off, that has become a rage in the English press. But there has also been considerable criticism of the Old Trafford pitch as aftermath, Ben Stokes leading the charge with this tweet: "What a horrific wicket at Old Trafford".
Cut to Monday, where on a dry but better Nottingham pitch, Stokes skies a ball from off-spinner Matthew Carter while trying to clear extra cover. With very little pace offered off the hand or the pitch, spinners make stroke-making very difficult. But this is the Hundred, with a shorter Powerplay (25 balls) and a rider that five balls can easily stretch to 10 if the captain wants to keep pressure. And with the ends changing every 10 balls (or two sets of fives), the only way a batsman can get off strike is to take a run.
Bowlers, as a result, have a distinct edge. Now consider the reverse, where a bowler has been spanked for two consecutive boundaries and is struggling to find his length. One ball fewer than the conventional set here and the bowler knows he has a better chance of getting out of it with minimal damage.
Interestingly, both the one-day (Gillette Cup) and T20 formats (T20 blast) originated in England, triggered by the need to keep the game relevant to the masses as well as sponsors. Both were born out of necessity, shunned at first before becoming money-spinners for the International Cricket Council (ICC) and cricket boards like India and Australia.
There wasn't perhaps a need to overcomplicate a well-received format like Twenty20, which has already been the vehicle of promotion for many lower-tier cricket nations. Especially as the T10 has been around for some time as well. If T10 eventually finds acceptance, cricket's viewing time can be slashed to 75 minutes, less than that of football, making it a competitive alternative in the global market.
The Hundred, on the other hand, is somewhere between T20 and T10, a slightly different version with the tagline of "Every Ball Counts" that will take some time for audiences to warm up to it. The ECB are heavily banking on it. Having never rivalled the success of the IPL or the Big Bash, this seems another attempt by the English board to play catch-up.