A Hundred Project Falls Flat, But A Calibre Of Player To Shine Through > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Hundred draft falls flat but calibre of players shine through
As the ECB kept reminding everybody in the lead-up, history was going to be made on Sunday evening. The draft for The Hundred, the new eight-team competition beginning next year, would be the first draft ever in British sport. The ECB did have a point, then. In itself, that is historic. And by large it worked as intended. It produced some excellent squads which should lead to some first-rate cricket. But the draft itself? Making history it may have done but that doesn't mean it was actually any good.
The Hundred is, we are told, not just about the cricket. It's about attracting a new, younger, more diverse audience. It's about creating more of a buzz around the game. It's about sharpening things up and getting the cool kids interested. The draft was one of the opening salvos in the ECB's grand plan and, whilst it is important not to simply criticise for criticisms sake, it all felt a bit, well, meh.
Exciting and energetic? More like a slow burning sort of ambivalence no matter how many times players or coaches said they were "really excited" about the tournament. The draft may have been fun for a cricket nut but as a spectacle, it couldn't even lace the boots of the IPL auction or the NFL Draft. The audience members standing round the studio looked bored senseless by the end which, in itself, probably made those watching at home on TV even more bored.
A three hour show, longer than the actual games will last, could have had 60 minutes shaved off. The decision not to announce the names of the players chosen during each round, having them appear on the screen instead, made it harder to follow than it might have been otherwise and failed to give the show a punchy rhythm. Instead, there were too many periods of silence.
Ian Ward did a decent job presenting as ever and Nasser Hussain, Isa Guha and Rob Key did their best to keep things informative but the format didn't help them. Too often they were in a conversation and then boom, another player flashed up on the screen, and they had to change course. Then, when they weren't speaking, nothing was happening, silence befell the studio and they had to say something. The conversations in "the cafe" with some of the high profile players were uninspiring too. Most of them looked like they would rather have been anywhere else.
There was too little structure, too little information on each player picked. A casual observer watching the draft might not have known who any of the players were yet there were no bios on screen when each was selected, informing the viewers of playing roles, ages, county and the like. Then there was the strange round where interviews were conducted while players were being picked. The names just flashed up on the screen, ignored by Guha and guests as they chatted about other things.
Does it matter? Probably not in the grand scheme of things, and particularly not if the tournament itself takes off. And once the tournament has started, the following drafts will have more context, the teams will have identities and there will be greater subplots to who gets picked where. There will also undoubtedly be lessons learnt by Sky Sports.
One thing the draft did confirm was that next year's tournament will be packed with high-class cricketers which should lead to a high-class tournament. The quality of those who missed out, including West Indies' Chris Gayle, attest to that. With the eight 15-man squads selected, to be augmented by a wildcard pick after next season's Vitality T20 Blast, the cricket is set to be of the highest standard which is what the ECB wanted. And as this summer proved, if the cricket is high octane, people will watch.
Whatever your view of The Hundred, the prospect of Somerset's Tom Banton, for instance, playing with Australia's Steve Smith at Welsh Fire is enticing. As is Liam Livingstone taking notes from New Zealander Kane Williamson at Birmingham Phoenix. At London Spirit, Dan Lawrence, Mason Crane and Zak Crawley, three of the best young talents in the English game, will be able to draw on the collective knowledge of Shane Warne, as coach, and Eoin Morgan, as captain. Wherever you turn, there will be stories to tell, themes to explore, things to learn.
Which teams will be pleased with their work? Southern Braves, who will play in Southampton, had a good evening by securing the services of David Warner, Andre Russell, Shadab Khan as their three overseas players. They will be complemented by Jofra Archer, James Vince and Ollie Pope as local players. Birmingham Phoenix did well too with Williamson, Shaheen Afridi and Adam Zampa taking their three overseas spots alongside the likes of Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali and Ravi Bopara of the locals.
With each team allowed just three overseas players in their 15-man squad, there were some decent paydays for domestic cricketers. Livingstone picked up GBP 125,000 while Somerset's Lewis Gregory and Tom Abell and Sussex's Phil Salt, all highly rated but uncapped at present, picked up GBP 100,000 deals while Middlesex's Tom Helm was signed for GBP 75,000 by the Phoenix. Plenty of lesser names also got deals, including Derbyshire's Luis Reece, Warwickshire's Ed Pollock and Gloucestershire's David Payne.
It would be unsurprising, however, if some county coaches weren't watching on through gritted teeth no matter how much they might have been pleased for their charges to get an extra pay day. Sussex, for example, will lose eleven players to The Hundred, decimating their squad for the 50-over competition to be played at the same time. Nottinghamshire will lose nine of their players to the tournament, although six of them will be playing for Trent Rockets, based at Trent Bridge. Of the 18 counties, only Leicestershire will be unaffected.
And that is a reminder of what many critics of The Hundred fear. It is not so much that the quality of cricket is in doubt. The tournament will clearly be a cut above the other domestic competitions. Instead, those who fear The Hundred fear the impact it will have on the 18 counties and the wider domestic structure. The fear the effect of shoehorning a fourth competition into an already packed calendar. Despite the ECB's assurances, what that impact is remains to be seen. And make no mistake there will be an impact.
For now though, the draft is done and it was a success insofar as it has delivered some high calibre squads. Did it resonate outside those who are already interested in the game? Maybe through the power of social media but otherwise it has hardly entered the national consciousness given other more pressing, Brexit related matters. But as a pure spectacle, the draft fell flat. And flat is not what the ECB promised for The Hundred.
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