As Sam Billings began his post-match interview wearing a white baseball cap with ‘Match Hero’ emblazoned onto the front, you could almost hear the collective whimper of cricketing conservatives up and down the country. They had no doubt been chuckling half an hour previously when poor Phil Tufnell fell silent, coughed, and checked his notes to see what the team playing in neon green were called.
There has, of course, been a somewhat varied response from fans to the opening matches of the Hundred. Many took the opportunity to mourn this reduction of their beloved game, the death knell for the institution of county cricket marketed by someone with a couple of highlighters to hand and a 1990s video game for inspiration.
Right, I’ve watched 15 balls of the Hundred and decided it’s terrible #TheHundred
— Samuel Margo (@SamuelMargo) July 21, 2021
So that was #TheHundred. If you were on whichever committee came up with that idea I hope you’re thoroughly ashamed of yourselves. I cannot think of a positive thing to say about it other than the fact that it’s over quite quickly. Simply awful.
— bob evans (@thebobevans) July 22, 2021
It is, of course, easy to be cynical about the tournament. As a cricket fan who wants more people to get into the game, I found myself in a difficult position trying to explain certain key elements of the match. Deciphering the score from the graphics became a tricky task, particularly when distracted by the flashing words ‘Oh Yeah!’ greeting a Carlos Brathwaite six, and in-game interviews of children so efficiently enthusiastic you found yourself looking for the ECB director mouthing the words along with them.
If this is a stepping stone to the undiluted, unfluorescent forms of the game we may encounter some problems. How do I claim that Dom Sibley scratching his way to a 156-ball fifty is equally awesome, fun, exciting and new? Indeed, how do I explain what an over is? Does Shane Warne now boast 708 Test Outs? Where, the newcomers will ask, has the cricketing staple of a DJ in a tent gone?
And yet, I enjoyed it. The atmosphere at the games has been excellent, albeit rammed down our throats by commentators resembling a best man on a stag-do, desperate that their mate enjoys themselves. Watching Dane van Niekerk hit 56 not out or Jos Buttler reverse sweep Sunil Narine for four, the fact remained that good cricket is good cricket. It’s bat against ball, and given the overarching goals of the competition, that’s enough for me.
I, and those already enamored with the sport, are not of any concern to the Hundred. The ECB will not worry about the negativity from fans of County Cricket or the facetious cringing from the likes of this author. It has so far been a success, with many reacting favourably to the games, impressed by the relative speed and light-heartedness of it all.
Watching the hundred last night with the kids, what a great job cricket has done with innovating from within, the women’s game and marketing.
We all enjoyed it, great experience , good product and relevant to the wider / modern sports entertainment customer. Leave this there…
— David Buttress (@davidjusteat) July 23, 2021
Not a fan of cricket usually but have to say I’m enjoying what I’ve watched so far from #TheHundred. ðŸ
Simple format, easy to follow, short matches. It’s all working for me. ðŸ¤·ðŸ»â™‚ï¸
— Matt Jones (@MattJSport) July 22, 2021
The fact is that people, both young and old, who haven’t watched much cricket in the past are tuning in and enjoying it. It is, so far, doing its job effectively. Even the fact that many fans set in their ways are reacting so actively against it suggests that the format is sufficiently different to make a change. The low level of participation amongst young children in cricket will not improve without something drastic, and it seems the Hundred is just that.
High viewing numbers and vehement debate are making cricket relevant again. For every mournful critic there is an optimistic, positive response from a relative novice. The only gap to be filled is the fans’ transition from cricket’s colourful periphery to its unblended core. If the Hundred can help in Test Cricket’s survival, I for one will leave my scepticism at the phosphorescent door.