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100 ball cricket deserves a chance


100 Ball CricketIndian captain Virat Kohli has raised some concerns over the new 100-ball competition proposed by the ECB earlier this year.

In a recent interview, Kohli said, “Obviously for the people involved in the whole process [of the 100-ball competition] and the set-up it will be really exciting but I cannot think of one more format, to be honest," Kohli was quoted as saying to Wisden Cricket Monthly. "I'm already very... I wouldn't say frustrated, but sometimes it can get very demanding of you when you have to play so much cricket regularly. I feel somewhere the commercial aspect is taking over the real quality of cricket and that hurts me.”

The concerns raised by Kohli have reopened the debate that witnessed a raging discussion when the 100-ball format was announced.

In April this year, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had proposed a plan for a new city-based competition in 2020 that would be a 100-balls-a-side affair. ‘The Hundred’, as it is being called at present, would involve two eight-team competitions - for both men's and women's teams - consisting of 15 traditional six-ball overs, and a final 10-ball over. 

The idea for the format is to get a new audience for the game, and with it more crowds for their domestic competition. As one game of the ‘The Hundred’ should probably be wrapped up inside three hours this should help with that. The broadcasters apparently loved the idea too and are keen to go all out for it.

However, the moment this news was made public, hordes of cricket fans and experts everywhere went up in arms and began mocking this move and expressing their fears that this would destroy the game’s future.

At first glance, this idea might sound a little too radical and hard to accept. However, one must remember it was the ECB that brought the limited-overs tournament in 1963 and T20s in 2003. Even then, similar concerns had been raised. The game has flourished since and all the three formats have their own set of fans. Wouldn’t it be a tad imprudent to shut down this idea even before learning about it in a little more detail? Would it be that bad to give ‘The Hundred’ a chance before dismissing it completely?

England’s limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan, unlike Virat Kohli, believes that this innovation is the need of the hour and can help the game of cricket survive longer. "Cricket participation levels have been going down for quite a while, and we need to do something different to change the reputation of the sport, or the perceived barriers that need to be broken down in order to play the sport. Because if we continue to stay rigid and don't change anything for a long period of time, the sport will die.”

While an overwhelming majority, like Kohli, has been against this move, Morgan’s words do make some sense. Ignoring a new idea and being cynical just because it makes one feel uncomfortable isn’t very prudent.

‘The Hundred’ might well have some benefits and it would do cricket good to explore them first.


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Why ‘The Hundred’ might be a feasible idea 

Let us first get one thing straight – the 100-ball cricket format will not be the death of Test cricket. It is here to get in new fans for the game. 

The competition, or the format, rather, is targeted at a new audience and that is a good thing. Cricket cannot survive with the limited fans it has at present and is in dire need of attracting new audiences, especially the youth, towards it. 100-ball cricket, in theory at least, should cater to a young audience. If packaged and promoted well, ‘The Hundred’ does have that potential.

At the moment, T20 games last over four hours in general. With the attention span of youth today getting shorter than ever, something like a 100-ball cricket tournament might be just what they need. The matches can begin at 6.30 PM and finish at around 9 PM – enabling more families to come to the ground or watch it on television without the concern of late bedtimes.

A 100-ball game is still long enough to feel like a cricket match and will have enough contests of skills and entertainment in it to make it a worthwhile experience both for the players and the fans alike. So there is no real reason to dislike it at present.

While many are looking at the 10-ball over with skepticism, it could in fact be one of the biggest innovations in the game. For now, it has been decided that the 10-ball over will be the last one of each innings. But if ‘when to use it’ can be a choice given to the bowling captain, it can add immense excitement to the game. A bowler who is bowling well can be used to bowl the 10-ball over at the death or in the middle when the opposition is going well. Ten balls can turn the game on its head and will give a lot more freedom for a good bowler to explore his variations and outfox the batsman. 

No game in ‘The Hundred’ can ever be over until the last 10-ball over has been bowled and using it as a surprise weapon has dramatic potential. If used well, this could be a game changer.

The batting team too will need to plan their innings keeping the 10-ball over in mind. This will add a fresh tactical dimension to the format. 

Sure, this format will give statisticians a lot of headaches. But it is something different. It is something unique. And whether you accept it or not, it is still cricket. 


Tread with caution 

There is still some time before ‘The Hundred’ sees light of the day and the ECB would need to tread with caution to make sure that the fans are not put off by it completely. The idea is right. The execution now needs to be flawless. 

First, it is important that the ECB promotes the 100-ball cricket format well and ensures that the best players play in the tournament. If your best cricketers play, crowds will automatically come in. Second, there should be transparency about the rules and the fans should be well aware of what they are getting into before the tournament officially begins. 

Another important issue that needs to be addressed is to not put ‘The Hundred’ in competition with Test matches. Test cricket is the pinnacle form of the game and should not be hurt in any way. The window for playing both formats thus should be separate. In fact, the ‘100-ball’ tournament can also be used as a vehicle to promote Test cricket if it gains popularity. For example, tickets for some big ticket future Test series can be given at great discounts to those fans who attend the ‘100-ball’ tournament. That way, both the formats will be promoted.

For now, there are about two years remaining before ‘The Hundred’ sees light of the day. That is enough time to fine tune little issues and get it just right for its target audience. 

There is no guarantee that ‘The Hundred’ will succeed. It may fizzle out quickly. And even if it does, people may still look down on it. But that doesn’t matter. Hordes of people still ridicule T20 cricket and snobbishly claim that it is just ‘fast food cricket’. You can be certain that the new 100-ball cricket will get much more derision. If a modern great like Virat Kohli is uncertain, you can expect many more to follow. However, we must give it a chance. If it brings in new audiences to the game, nothing like it.

Cricket is a game that has evolved over the decades but it is suffocating a bit at present. The world is changing fast and cricket needs to change with it as well. It needs to spread all over the world and for that, at times, something drastic and unique will be needed. If ‘The Hundred’ can serve its purpose in that regard, then let’s embrace it rather than going overboard in condemning it.

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