A recap of the significant milestones in the competition’s five-year gestation
From widely ridiculed concept to one of the ECB’s central planks in its strategy for growing the game in England and Wales, the Hundred has been a long time coming. Here we look back at the significant milestones along the way.
It was almost five years ago that the seeds for the Hundred were sown – little did we know it at the time. Late in the 2016 summer, the first-class counties finally voted in favour of the ECB’s idea for a new city-based competition, initially conceived as a T20 vehicle. Colin Graves, the ECB chairman, said: “We’ve all been looking at how we can use domestic T20 for an even bigger purpose, especially getting more young people to play. This format was invented here and is successful worldwide. It can excite new fans, attract the best players and fuel the future of the game, on and off the pitch.”
On a winter scouting trip to the Desert Springs resort in Spain, the ECB’s chief commercial director, Sanjay Patel, first put forward the idea of 100-ball cricket. Patel gave a presentation to Graves, ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison, and England director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, which pitched a shorter, simpler game than T20. “Don’t prejudge it,” he said, “just go away and have a think.” With a new broadcast deal banked, ensuring cricket’s return to BBC TV, the board was considering a radical move.
The 2018 season had barely begun when the ECB went public with its new plan. Instead of a T20 tournament, eight city-based sides would compete in a completely untested format – innings of 100 balls, broken down into 15 six-ball overs and a 10-ball finale. No, it was not an April fool. “This is a fresh and exciting idea which will appeal to a younger audience and attract new fans to the game,” Harrison said. Strauss later came in for criticism after suggesting a simplified game would be aimed at “mums and kids”.
With the ECB establishing a working group to fine tune the concept, now known as “The Hundred”, various ideas were put forward – including the abolition of the lbw law. Opposition from the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) led to the abandonment of the 10-ball final over; instead, a switch to five-ball overs bowled in blocks of ten won favour, the reduction in end changes helping to save time. The option to retain a bowler for 10 consecutive deliveries, if a captain chose to, was also mooted.
Pilots of the new format were held at Trent Bridge and Loughborough, allowing players to finally see what they were getting into. Various different tweaks to the rules were introduced across the trial days – ranging from substitute fielders, tactical timeouts, and Powerplays of differing lengths. The reception from those involved was broadly positive. “I think the emphasis on the ball is really interesting and really important,” Kevin Shine, the ECB’s lead bowling coach, said. “We’re not thinking of overs, we’re not thinking of an innings. It’s that old cliché: every ball is an event.”
Work continued behind the scenes during an Ashes and World Cup summer, with a planned launch in 2020. The eight team names – Birmingham Phoenix, London Spirit, Manchester Originals, Northern Superchargers, Oval Invincibles, Southern Brave, Trent Rockets and Welsh Fire – were confirmed, and Test players allocated. Later the same month, the first sporting draft held in the UK took place at Sky’s studios in west London; Rashid Khan was the first player picked, followed by Andre Russell and Aaron Finch, as the teams set about selecting 96 players from a starting list of 571.
Playing conditions were announced for the Hundred, including confirmation of a 25-ball Powerplay, one strategic timeout per innings, and the provision for a new batter to always be on strike, even if the two in the middle crossed before the dismissal was completed.
The Covid-19 pandemic threw the entire 2020 season into disarray. With the prospect of any cricket being pushed back, and the likelihood of it having to be played behind closed doors, the ECB quickly took the decision to postpone the Hundred entirely. Commitment to the idea had not wavered, however, with Harrison describing the case for the tournament as being “much greater than it was”.
With the player draft having taken place a year earlier, the ECB had to rethink how teams for the 2021 tournament would be put together. Initial plans had been to allow 10 players to be retained from year to year – but in the event, men’s teams were allowed to retain as many as they wanted, with a period for negotiating new deals ahead of a mini-draft in early 2021. Players in the women’s teams were all given the option to roll-over their contracts.
Fixtures for the competition are announced, headlined by the decision to begin with a standalone women’s fixture at The Oval. The second draft was held behind closed doors this time, with Kieron Pollard and Nicholas Pooran among the overseas players picked up; while the advent of Brexit meant several of those expecting to be involved using their Kolpak status in 2020 missed out.
There was still time for new innovations to be floated, with a controversial suggestion that wickets could become ‘outs’, in order to make the game’s language more accessible. The idea was shelved soon after.
Amid uncertainty about travel restrictions due to Covid-19, and the requirements for players to quarantine, a number of overseas players started to withdraw from their deals. The women’s competition was particularly affected, with all 11 Australia internationals who had originally signed up eventually pulling out – including major drawcard Ellyse Perry. Wildcard selections, based on form in the T20 Blast, were also announced.
Despite concerns around rising Covid-19 infection rates, with requirements for self-isolating causing cancellations in the Blast and County Championship, Harrison says there will be no return to biosecure bubbles for the Hundred. Availability of England men’s Test players, initially planned for the first three matches, is reduced to two on the eve of the tournament. Playing conditions are finalised, with umpires to hold up a white card between sets of “five” (the term “over” will largely be dropped) from the same end; an amended version of Duckworth-Lewis-Stern will be used for rain-affected matches.