ECB catches a break with Hundred set to profit from live sport void

In Christopher Nolan’s first full length movie, Following, Cobb, the anti-hero, explains the ethics of thievery to his acolyte: “That’s what it’s all about – interrupting someone’s life, making them see what they took for granted. Like when they go back and buy all this stuff with the insurance money, they’ll have to think (for the first time in a long time) why they wanted all the stuff, what it’s for. You take it away – you show them what they had.”

Live sport has been taken away from fans for a year or so now, but the ground staff are spiking the outfield (with vaccines rather the pitchforks), the umpires are looking at the data (infection graphs not weather charts) and there are inspections scheduled, so we set to get some play (with spectators) when the epidemiological equivalent of Dickie Bird says so. Bits are very much being champed at in anticipation.

Which brings me to The Hundred. It’s not even close to Easter yet, but the barrage of ECB hype is already underway, the gamble of casting all its eggs into the basket of an innovative/bastardised formula not going short of the marketing it requires. That said, many fans of county cricket will suck on a thoughtful tooth (not for the first time) and suggest: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Like a university advertising on the sides of buses, if it was that good, would it need to shout so loudly?

As we know – because the ECB never stops telling us – this vast PR operation (which will either be its Overlord or its Barbarossa in the battle for attention in the overcrowded sports calendar of 2021) is not aimed at diehard cricket fans, nor even casual cricket followers, but at shiny new proto-fans.

The mums and kids whose attention will seamlessly slide from The One Show to The [One] Hundred Show, as the BBC lines up more exposition than you’ll find in a Famous Five story and Twitter polls for you to select the next bowler from the Kevin Pietersen “Hula Hoops” End. Free-To-Air TV, the Pfizer-BionTech-Astra-Zeneca-Moderna cricketing cure-all, will soon be within the ECB’s popcorn-smeared sticky fingers!

But just maybe – may… be…. the ECB have lucked out. We’ve all been staring at screens for so long that the prospect of watching to see which sprinter will lose his gold medal five years hence after a positive drugs test and a Jarndyce v Jarndyce case in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, may pall a little, and a chance to sit in the open air for a bit of hit and giggle (or even hit and grimace) may tempt the longstanding member to pitch up in order to suck it and see.

After all, as this celebrated scene from Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell shows, desperate times calls for desperate measures. Whether The Hundred is as short-lived as the denizens of The Coach and Horses’ cat racing proved, remains to be seen. But, as another day dawns without a pint in hand nor a blue sky above, company still Zoomed, square-shaped and often inaudible, The Hundred is already looking a hundred times better than the alternative.

Broadcast Schedule

England v Pakistan 2024 T20 series
1st T20, ENG v PAK, Headingley
22nd May
Start time: 6:30 pm BST