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Shiny, new, and a load of balls - your handy guide to the Hundred

In the words of Ron Burgundy, today is kind of a big deal

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
So, I was watching the football the other night on the BBC, and they started advertising this thing called "the Hundred". It looked kind of like cricket, so here I am…
Yes ma'am, you've come to the right place. The Hundred is the rootin'-est tootin'-est thing to happen to the game since they added a third stump. Or at least since T20 started in 2003.
Why does it feel like this is something that's been buzzing away in the back of my head for some time?
Well, the Hundred is coming in off one of the longest runs imaginable. It was first announced in 2018, to the sound of loud guffaws, and was supposed to be launched last year - only for Covid-19 to force a postponement. Now we're hours away from the start of the competition, and nobody is laughing any more.
What's it all about then?
It is the Alpha and Omega of the English game. It is the ECB betting the farm and crossing its fingers. It's about inspiring generations and making up for all those lost years behind the paywall on Sk…
[Glazing over] Sorry, you're losing me
Dang, got to keep this simple. In the words of Ron Burgundy, it's kind of a big deal.
Well that much I had worked out. It's cricket with pop music and jazzy kits. But how does it differ from, say, T20?
Well, it's shorter, for a start - 100 balls (hence the name, geddit?) compared to 120. And to speed things up they will bowl 10 balls in a row from each end, meaning a game should take less than two-and-a-half hours.
That doesn't seem significantly shorter than T20…
We live in an entertainment-rich, time-poor era. And being able to squeeze in a televised game between 6.30-9pm - primetime on the BBC - was supposedly one of the big selling points. It's also SHINY and NEW, which might help when being dangled in front of the flighty young channel-surfers the ECB is hoping to attract to the sport.
The ECB thinks kids still watch linear TV?
Look there'll also be clips on Twitter. Please don't make this any harder than it has to be.
[Returns to scrolling on smartphone] Okay, you've got my attention. Give me the hard sell
For the next four weeks, over the course of 34 men's and 34 women's games, the cream of English cricket - plus a generous dollop of overseas talent - will be bouncing around on a nightly basis in front of (hopefully) packed stands. All of the games will be broadcast on Sky's cricket channel, with a selection also showing on the BBC (if you're following in India, it will be on FanCode). There will be in-house DJs to add to the atmosphere in the grounds, and rule tweaks to try to makes things simpler for casual followers. As in T20, fours and sixes will be the order of the day; unlike T20, it won't drag on until beyond the kids' bedtime (probably, depending on when your kids go to bed). In short, every ball matters.
Doesn't every ball matter in the other formats then?
Very good, clever clogs. But they do actually matter more in the Hundred, since they are now the unit of bowling currency - rather than dowdy old "overs". Plus, if you've invested several million quid into getting this off the ground, as the ECB has, then it all matters a great deal.
So it's a load of balls, got it. What have they spent all the moolah on?
Well, creating eight teams from scratch, for a start. And paying the players extra wedge, particularly the overseas ones - even if a lot of them have pulled out at the last minute due to Covid-related restrictions on travel. Despite all that, the ECB still hopes that the tournament can be profitable (if you discount the annual payments of £1.3m to each of the counties in order to get the whole thing signed off - but we won't bore you further with that here).
As always, it's about bums on seats, eyeballs on screens and selling as much Butterkist as you can…
The usual globalised capitalist schtick. The revolution will be televised - and the opening night will actually be quite revolutionary, with a standalone women's fixture between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals at the Kia Oval to kick off the whole shebang. The men's and women's teams share the same branding and are promoted in the same way, while the two competitions will also share equal prize money.
Breaking down gender barriers, eh? I like the sound of that!
Yes, although it's probably also worth noting that the highest salary band for the women is £15,000, compared to £100,000 for the men; the lowest-paid male players will receive £24,000. There has also been a bit of a row on the eve of the tournament about extending financial support to some of the part-time female players who have had to give up work in order to satisfy biosecurity requirements.
Ugh, more bio-bubble life for the players to contend with?
Not exactly - the ECB has opted against putting in place too many restrictions, with most of the rest of society in the UK opening up. But given contact tracing and the requirements to self-isolate have led to a number of cancellations in domestic cricket over recent weeks, there is a chance the Hundred could fall foul of the pandemic once again.
I'll keep my fingers crossed (and my mask on). If there's one thing we need after the last 18 months, it's a bit of joy in our lives again…
Yep, the ECB is banking on that. Probably while hoping the good weather holds. With restrictions on crowd capacity in England ending this week, it could potentially be a feel-good moment for the game, helping to finally neutralise some of the rancour around the concept.
You mean not everyone's pleased with developments?
That would be putting it mildly. Traditional fans don't see it as cricket, established formats have been marginalised (including the successful women's T20 Super League), and some fear it could be the beginning of the end of the county game. But whatever your view, it's here and it's happening. And they do say there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Go on then, I'm sold. Give me a quick rundown of the rule changes and things I should look out for
Balls will be delivered in sets of five, with an option for captains to keep a bowler on for ten balls in a row if they're feeling in the groove (and they can bowl their quota of 20 balls in two sets of ten each, but not consecutive sets). There will be a 25-ball Powerplay, with fielding restrictions in place, and the fielding side can call a two-minute strategic timeout thereafter. Unlike other forms of the game, if a catch is taken after the batters have crossed, the next batter in will still be on strike. For one, ahem, lucky player per side, fans will get to vote for their walk-on music. There'll probably be a fair bit of working it all out on the hoof, but the spectacle by and large should look recognisably crickety.
Sounds like something the mums and kids should be able to follow. And is it too much to ask about the musical acts involved?
Yes. Yes, it is. But you'll give it a try?
How does that song go? "I don't like the Hundred, no…"
You love it?
Steady on. I was thinking, "…but I'm not implacably opposed."
It's a start. We'll take it.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick