What the heck is The Hundred?
Should IPL be worried? It is all cricket to me. 😉
With the New York Yankees being a $210 million disappointment this summer, I have shifted my gaze to that other ball-and-stick game: cricket.
I have been watching The Hundred, a new tournament created to push the newest format of cricket invented by the English Cricket Board (ECB.) Most of my readers are American, so they honestly don’t give a damn about cricket. But take it from celebrated English novelist John Fowles:
Baseball and cricket are beautiful and highly stylized medieval war substitutes, chess made flesh, a mixture of proud chivalry and base — in both senses — greed.
Like baseball, cricket is a game that confounds. It is in parts exciting, frustrating, and inexplicable. Even those who play the game will have a tough time conveying its ins-and-outs to the uninitiated. So, I am not even going to try — but if you do want to learn about cricket, Vox made a great little explainer. You can watch that and be satisfied (Though I assure you, by the end, you will be as glassy-eyed as a young’un after a night out at a Las Vegas nightclub.)
From this point on, I would appreciate it if you could just humor me and pretend that you know the game. I’ll adjust some of my language to make it easier to follow. For example, “pitcher” instead of “bowler.” But of course, there remains the issue of which game it is that you are pretending to know., Up until recently, cricket has primarily been played in three formats:
- Test Cricket: The traditional form of the game, it takes place — more often than not — over five days. Teams play with a red leather ball while wearing the whites. Watching this format is akin to listening to classical music.
- One Day International (ODI) Cricket: This version has been around since the early 1970s, when it emerged as the byproduct of an Australian TV magnate’s naked ambition. As the name suggests, these games take place over a single day. Many of them are played as day/night games under floodlights. This format is akin to alt-rock.
- T20 Cricket: The youngest form of the game, this format involves 120 pitches per side and is usually over in 4 hours. Think of T20 as rap/hip-hop.
As I wrote in a previous piece, T20 cricket is a game that combines the intensity of a basketball game, the nuance of baseball, the art of cricket, and the spectacle of American football. This is a game Americans can love. That is why guys like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are investing in Major League Cricket. And it is a game whose heart is in India.
T20 cricket may have been “invented” in England, but in 2008, India won the World Cup of Cricket (I know, it is almost as ludicrous as the World Series of Baseball). The win made the game a huge hit in India and opened up the large Indian market to this type of fast-paced game. The country’s large cricket-loving population has allowed the sport to become a major powerhouse: a large audience means big television money, which leads to a very rich league made up of teams that attract the biggest and the best players from around the world. This league is called the Indian Premier League.
From next to nothing in 2007, the IPL is now valued at over $7 billion. Its value is only going up as the television viewership increases. The money from the IPL has made Indian Cricket a big power broker in the world of cricket, and it has helped to unearth talent from across the country.
The English and the Australians who have historically dominated the game both on the field and in the corridors of cricket power find themselves on the back foot. They see them becoming dependent on the largesse of the Indian cricket lords. Games involving India usually come with large audiences and thus big television rights deals.
Australian domestic sports market is big enough for cricket to make money. In 2011, they created their T20 league — the Big Bash League — which is the number two league and is growing both in revenues and audience. The English have their own league, The Vitality Blast, which started a while ago but has found itself trailing behind the other two tournaments.
The English Cricket Board, despite their early start in T20, has not been able to cash in on the T20 boom. So, it has created a new narrative: the T20 game is too slow. Four hours is just too long. They also want to introduce the game to newer audiences, and boost interest among new demographics. So it has come up with a new faster, shorter format of the game called: The Hundred.
As the name suggests, The Hundred is a game of two sides (typically, city-based teams with ridiculous names and outfits) where each side gets just 100 pitches. To continue the music comparison, think of this as some new dance craze on TikTok. Naturally, there are numerous new rules to basically get the game finished in three hours. (Here is a very good article that explains the difference between T20 and The Hundred.) The Hundred is now available for viewing on paid television and free-to-air television in the UK. You can watch 34 games on Sky Sports’ YouTube channel. And if that is not enough, a lot of technology is being used in the new tournament. For instance, Sky’s mobile apps use motion capture technology to create highly accurate avatars of cricket players involved in the games.
Just like they were up in arms about the T20, the English media is up in arms about the new tournament. Of course, this is to be expected of the English media: they love to hate on anything new, any change, and any innovation to the tradition or traditional power structures. The Guardian, which is being open-minded to the extent that it can, put it best in its preview of the tournament: “This has drawn comparisons with New Coke, the cautionary tale from 1985 about rebranding a well-loved product in pursuit of new customers.”
As I have written in the past, the sport has to evolve with the society at large. Our idea of time, especially leisure time, and how we spend it is in constant flux as we become untethered from an analog clock and love the rhythms of the network.
There is a reason why Americans find themselves plugged into the NBA and not baseball. American society is more accurately reflected in basketball than in either baseball or football. Cricket, too, has to evolve. Whether it is T20 or The Hundred, cricket needs a format that makes it relevant to a generation that has more demands on its time than ever before.
“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”— Steve Jobs, via Triumph of the Nerds
After a week of watching The Hundred, I found myself liking it more than I expected. It is an excellent made-for-television spectacle, though I found very little time in the games for “commercials” that would eventually bring in the big bucks. But that is beyond my pay grade. I am, after all, merely an amateur fan living in America. Still, I found it to be a great novelty act with some very good ideas. On television, even with the faux excitement and bonhomie of the commentators, the game feels fast-paced. A simple change of focus of the game from runs per over to runs versus balls makes the game seem more exciting. A constantly changing on-screen win-predictor adds more urgency to the game. The video game-like graphics make the actual cricket feel more, well, like a video game. And that’s the point: building a game for a new generation of viewers and cricket fans.
I might get some stick for it, but The Hundred makes T20 (and even the IPL) look a bit dowdy. A week in, despite the silly names and teams that are marginal at best, I know, I will be keeping an eye on The Hundred in 2022 at the very least. That might be music to the English cricket administrators’ ears, but it should worry the likes of those running professional T20 leagues.
If I was running a T20 league — specifically, the IPL — I would take note and almost instantly make some changes to improve on my core offering. It would be keeping in character. Indian cricket administrators aren’t really innovators — at best they can be described as fast followers. Remember, the English came up with the idea of T20. A rebel Indian Cricket League decided to commercialize T20 for the Indian market. Only when the experiments started to work, the official IPL was born. In other words, copying good ideas is part of the Indian cricket administration modus operandi, so why not take a “cue” from The Hundred.
CAN SOMEONE WARM UP THE XEROX MACHINE?
The graphics are a no-brainer. It won’t cost any real money, and most importantly, it allows more revenue opportunities.
The Hundred has a single 2.5-minute strategic timeout. Copy that. The T20 has two strategic timeouts. Why? They do nothing but to basically break the rhythm and excitement of the game. We don’t need more than one.
The Hundred forces new hitters to face the pitchers even if the batsman crosses over to the other end when being caught out (I recognize that I may be losing some of you here). It is a smart idea that balances the odds between pitching and hitting sides. IPL, go ahead and steal this idea.
And here is another no-brainer: The Hundred has a shot-clock. If you miss the cutoff time, you are penalized by being forced to bring an additional player closer to the pitch. This is smart, and T20 should enforce this rule.
A Hundred game is supposed to last 2.5 hours — 150 minutes in total. The IPL should go to a 3.5-hour limit — a total of 210 minutes. I would love to see a hard 105-minutes per side limit in the IPL T20 games. That should make the game pulsating and, thus, obviate the need for a new format and the 100-ball tourney.
Apart from the above-mentioned changes, I see no need to tinker with the IPL version of the T20 game. The older cricket rules make perfect sense and maintain continuity with the past.
The best part of The Hundred has been the women’s games. I have loved them more than the men’s games because they are more closely matched and have genuine joy. I watched the US women’s soccer team win, and it inspired a nation of girls to become soccer players. The Hundred will have that kind of an impact, just as the Women’s Big Bash League has had in Australia.
It is a damn shame that IPL is twiddling its thumbs over the women’s version of the tournament. We have so many great stars waiting to find their deserved place in the pantheon of cricket. An Indian hitter — Jemimah Rodrigues is the highest scorer in the tournament thus far, including the men. Can we get on with it?
How IPL can dominate (even more)
The Hundred format (if not the tournament itself) has some potential, and this should present a clear and present danger for the IPL. They need to ensure that the money gusher keeps flowing. They need to nip this threat in the bud. IPL organizers at present should be thinking about how to make it the “only relevant” tournament in the world. In case it wasn’t already clear: I have a handful of suggestions.
Start by adding four new teams, raising the total to 12 teams. (IPL is expanding to ten teams in 2021.) Then increase the window for the tournament to four months. Make sure games are four hours and include multiple doubleheaders.
IPL should use the increased television rights revenues to allow teams to sign their players on permanent contracts, much like NBA or MLB teams sign their free-agents and draft picks. If you are an Australian player, you can play for Australia or in your domestic tournament or domestic T20 leagues. But since you are under contract, you don’t play in other T20 or The Hundred. The additional money (and security) should give the player enough time to recover, and also not increase the risk of injury for the sake of additional payouts. This would elevate the IPL into even greater must-see TV status.
Additionally, the IPL should try and make it mandatory for every one of its teams to draft a player from lesser cricket nations, like Ireland, the Netherlands, Zimbabwe, or Hong Kong. I mean, look at what T20 has done for Afghanistan. Why not help other countries? Every kid who dribbles wants to be in the NBA, no matter what language they speak. Why not IPL?
In exchange for these tweaks, the International Cricket Council (ICC), the official body running the world of cricket gets a percentage of the TV rights that can be used to keep the purest form of the game — test cricket — alive in countries where it is getting difficult for the game to continue. Alternatively, the ICC could work on a streaming platform that can sell access to cricket games globally for games outside the domestic viewing area — much like how MLB does. Two million people paying somewhere close to $100 a year should be a good additional revenue base for the ICC.
The only way to save that long-form cricket is to make some important edits to the global game. It is time to kill the one-day format. It is no longer relevant in the world we live in. As I’ve previously written, in the post-Internet society, time and attention are all fractionalized. We live in a world of 60-second TikToks.
Most people are going to hate my suggestions — after all, the BCCI has too much influence, and it is a bully. Damn, they are so bad that even Netflix did an episode on the whole thing. Nevertheless, the fact remains that, whether people like it or not, the traditional structure of cricket has started to crumble. That’s the reality.
A cricket podcast jokingly coined the phrase “the start of the Asian century” after an Indian B-side beat Australia at home. It isn’t a joke. Neither is The Hundred. And if you can get over the fact that it’s not exactly the same game your grandfather may have watched, it has some ideas worth copying.
Published on July 25, 2021. San Francisco.