The corridors of the ECB will not be surprised by the general response to The Hundred, its proposed 100-ball competition. People hate letting go of what they both know and like, and most have hardly got to know T20 - the first of the modern lowest common denominators - never mind like it. This inevitable next stage of this perceived dumbing down - 100 balls per team, including a wildcard ten-ball over - is nothing short of a choker for the game's core audience in the United Kingdom: white, middle-class, and over 45 years of age. In fact, those ECB corridors may well be relieved that their new toy has received some hints of encouraging support, muted by uncertainty as they might be.
Let's be clear, the ECB is not doing this for money. That, for better or worse, was the television deal. The gross mistake of 13 years ago is now writ large across the skyline of the land that, hundreds of years ago, invented a game of stone, stick and wicket gate that has now become at once state-of-the-art commercial monster and dinosaur. Only cricket can do that, which, of course, is part of the fascination. It is a game of extremes, always has been - a game of gamblers, fixers and tamperers, every bit as much as of gentlemen. We should not be surprised that rules, aka laws, are constantly tinkered with, and that formats change. It is cricket's way of saying, I will not lie down.
Without relevant free-to-air television coverage, cricket is seriously marginalised. It's just a fact. The ECB knows it but is so financially over-geared that the journey back has become more unlikely than the one taken by Dorothy down the yellow brick road. Only the other day, Australia went some of the way towards that same road too. Cricket is buried in the confusion of its own long-term sustainability.
The research and resultant figures in the UK are crystal clear. A shocking majority of very young people cannot even name the cricketers who represent their country, never mind imagine watching them play in the flesh or on TV. After years on the primary-school run with Chance to Shine, I can confirm this as the truth. We are keeping cricket alive in the minds of schoolchildren but each breath is an increasing effort. Cricket is still seen as elitist, unfashionable and out of reach. Wrap the English version of T20 in that parcel of doom too. So either the governing body does nothing, and allows cricket to take its course - maybe to oblivion - or it kicks arse.
The Hundred is the arse-kick.
And, remarkably, given my demographic, I quite like it.
It was recently the 20th anniversary of Martin Crowe's revolutionary concept Cricket Max. In it, the teams played two innings of ten overs each, resetting each time, as in the accepted versions of two-innings cricket. There were "max" zones behind the bowler for double runs, protected areas in which batsmen could not be out, free hits for no-balls, and a number of other bits and pieces to exercise the minds of both player and spectator.
"Make The Hundred a seven-wicket game. This makes the preservation of a batsman's wicket more important than at present, and gives succour to bowlers"
My view was that 30 overs provided the perfect distance for one-day cricket but not over two innings. Though Martin didn't disagree, he encouraged me to look deeper into the future. The germ of his idea was to fit cricket into a tighter time frame, while retaining the opportunity for spectators who were not able to watch all four innings to at least get a glimpse of the best batsmen and bowlers in action. From that panacea came his determination to reset the innings at the halfway stage. During our conversation I had an idea that might have traction, and surely further kick arse, now - while, at the same time, help to make The Hundred really original and perhaps even rather exciting.
For all cricket's tinkering and change, the immediate close of an innings by the loss of ten wickets has remained untouched since the introduction of 11 players per team. There is no obvious reason for that. For sure, it cannot be a desire to watch Nos. 9, 10 and 11 at the wicket, for that would be a dark humour.
No, the essence of cricket's appeal lies in the balance between bat and ball. Once the loss of a batsman's wicket becomes almost irrelevant, that balance exponentially changes.
Make The Hundred a seven-wicket game. Keep the 11 players per team but bat only eight of them, as desired at any moment during the 100 balls. This makes the preservation of a batsman's wicket more important than at present, and gives succour to bowlers. While doing that, further stretch batsmen by allowing any one bowler 28 balls and three more 24 of the 100 available (incidentally, without the ten-ball over wildcard, each of four bowlers could deliver a maximum of 25 balls).
The balance of a modern-day Test team is usually six specialist batsmen, a wicketkeeper who can score hundreds, ideally at pace, and four specialist bowlers. The balance of a team for The Hundred would be pretty much the same. No bad thing. Neither will it be anything but a good thing to replicate the need to preserve and take wickets, thus bringing the two most distant forms of the game a little closer together, and guess what, pushing them further apart too. That way, everyone from primary school age to those into their dotage can find something to know and like. Or not, but at least there is a game there that both can dial into.
Welcome folks, to The Hundred - cricket's new City Super League.