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Tom Harrison defends Hundred disruption, believes reluctant fans 'will find a place' for it

English cricket would be in a 'scary' place without reach of new competition, says ECB chief

George Dobell
George Dobell
The ECB hopes to attract a more diverse range of fans to the Hundred  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The ECB hopes to attract a more diverse range of fans to the Hundred  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Tom Harrison believes the traditional formats of the game in England and Wales would have been damaged more by the ECB failing to act than by any side-effects from the introduction of the Hundred.
While Harrison, the chief executive of the ECB, does not deny the new competition will create some issues - at least in the short term - he remains convinced that, in the longer term, it will help the game invest in all formats.
In particular, Harrison believes the Hundred can provide a new revenue stream for the ECB and decrease their reliance upon the international game.
With Covid contributing to the large-scale unavailability of players, there has been increased scrutiny on the impact of the Hundred on the pre-existing county game. Even before Covid, some counties were braced to lose up to 12 players to the competition.
But with Covid protocols - not least the requirement for players to self-isolate if they have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for the virus - resulting in more withdrawals, counties have expressed concern over their ability to field strong enough sides to retain the integrity of domestic competitions. Derbyshire are currently without 20 players (and have seen the ECB cancel their final two T20 Blast fixtures as a result) due to a combination of injury and Covid regulations, while Kent are without 17 players.
The Royal London One-Day Cup is due to be played at the same time as the Hundred, while the T20 Blast was played in a much shorter window and earlier in the season in order to accommodate the new competition. There is also very little LV= Insurance County Championship cricket in mid-summer due to the requirement for white-ball windows.
But Harrison remains adamant the risk of doing nothing was worse than the risk of implementing a new format. And he points to an increase in free-to-air coverage and the increased value of the most recent broadcast deal as key benefits that have been delivered, in part at least, due to the new competition.
"Before you assess what the Hundred has brought with it, you have got to assess what might have happened had we not had it," Harrison said. "You have to look at the flip side of it.
"That's a scary environment, actually. That's no free-to-air TV and that's a huge chunk of investment into the game which we would not be able to bring.
"If you look at this from a purely business perspective, we are very, very reliant on two things. One is international cricket in this country; more so than any other board in the world probably. And [the other] is pay TV as an underlying investor in our sport.
"We just need to make sure that, at the back of our mind always, is that the health of our sport is reliant on those two things in a very significant way.
"Anything we can do to balance out that huge reliance to keep us safe and secure as a sport, to keep us investing in the things we love - county cricket, Test cricket, international cricket, four-day Championship cricket, having 450 pros playing men's cricket, starting a women's professional environment, investing in youth programmes, All Stars and Dynamos, investing in urban cricket centres and an EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion] strategy, they take investment.
"They are absolutely critical to our long-term survival. The Hundred is absolutely immersed in that strategy to deliver on all of those things."
Harrison also remains confident that existing cricket lovers - some of whom are resistant to the Hundred - will "find a place" for the format.
"I think people will discover a love for cricket who currently don't get an opportunity to," Harrison said. "For cricket lovers, I think you will find a place, even if it is hugely reluctant. Because I genuinely believe this is there to enable all cricket lovers to continue to enjoy the elements of our special sport, which is very diverse and is very adaptive to new environments, and bring something for everybody to enjoy.
"And it will keep us safe as we go forward trying to invest in the things we all love."
Harrison's confidence in the new format was echoed by Beth Barrett-Wild, the head of the women's competition. Barrett-Wild believes that the Hundred has allowed the ECB to build partnerships with toy manufactures and broadcasters that the pre-existing formats of the game had been unable to deliver and therefore hopes it will bring the sport to a new audience.
"If you look at the partners the Hundred has brought on-board, in particular through Lego and Topps Cards and the Croods movie and all the other partnerships, those things wouldn't have likely happened through the Kia Super League [the women's domestic T20 competition which was discontinued by the ECB at the end of 2019]," she said.
"The big difference between The Hundred and the KSL is definitely around that scale, that visibility and that broadcast footprint. Having all 34 of those matches live on Sky is massive and I don't think that would have been achieved through a standalone women's competition at this stage of the evolution in the women's game. The Hundred is over-delivering in terms of profile before a ball has even been bowled from a women's game perspective."
Barrett-Wild also believes the competition has an important role to play in ensuring the game is seen as equally accessible and relevant to men and women; boys and girls.
"From equal prize money through to equal levels of broadcast coverage, and the introduction of gender neutral language, the Hundred gives us this really unique second chance to make a brilliant first impression about who cricket is for," she said.
"In every other area of the game when it comes to gender parity we're actually playing catch-up. We're playing catch-up on hundreds of years of history and we're trying to make cricket more relevant, more accessible and more inclusive for women and girls.
"This isn't the case for the Hundred. We've been able to design the whole thing from the very start to give equal levels of prominence and profile to our brilliant female players, alongside their male peers."
The first match in the tournament - a women's match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals - take place at The Kia Oval on July 21. The ECB are aiming for a crowd of 10,000 at the match and have revealed ticket sales to date of 2,400. A further 6,500 tickets have been given away.
Overall, around 350,000 tickets have been distributed for the entire competition. It is currently unclear how many of those are sales and how many are give-aways. The ECB have set a target of 60 percent ground capacity across the tournament.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo