The Hundred in limbo but 'even more important' now, says ECB

STEVE DOUGLAS (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press
In this Jan. 4, 2019, file photo, India's Rishabh Pant, left, plays a shot in front of Australia's Tim Paine on day 2 during their cricket test match in Sydney. Cricket Australia is considering an expanded five-test series against India next season and is still planning to host the Twenty20 World Cup later this year, even if it has to be staged in empty stadiums. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
In this Jan. 4, 2019, file photo, India's Rishabh Pant, left, plays a shot in front of Australia's Tim Paine on day 2 during their cricket test match in Sydney. Cricket Australia is considering an expanded five-test series against India next season and is still planning to host the Twenty20 World Cup later this year, even if it has to be staged in empty stadiums. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)

The Hundred, English cricket’s controversial new competition that was supposed to be the centerpiece of the domestic game, was left in limbo after the ban on professional play was extended on Friday to July 1.

As expected, England’s three-test series against the West Indies, which was to start on June 4, was postponed by the England and Wales Cricket Board because of the coronavirus pandemic. The expected new dates for the international season in England are now from July to the end of September.

The domestic cricket calendar is even more up in the air, with the ECB arranging a special meeting for Wednesday when a decision will be made about whether The Hundred - the 100-ball tournament launched to much fanfare last year with a U.S.-style draft - can make its debut.

The Hundred will feature eight invented, city-based teams - ripping up the traditional county system - and some of the world’s biggest cricket stars, and is costing a reported 58 million pounds ($71.5 million) to run in its first year. It was due to start on July 17, but Britain remains in lockdown and sports are expected to be closed to the public for months.

Factors such as launch costs, potential unavailability of overseas stars and the damaging effect of playing in empty stadiums mean there is almost no expectation the divisive competition will take place as planned this summer.

It was reported in British newspaper The Daily Mail that The Hundred may look drastically different if its inaugural season is pushed back to 2021, with organizers potentially reverting to 18 counties in two divisions. With it projected to lose money for its first five years, critics might have been hoping that any delay could eventually become a permanent one.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison takes the opposite view.

“If anything, this crisis and the implications - long term or medium term - mean the case for The Hundred is even more important,” said Harrison, a leading figure in the creation and development of the 100-ball concept.

“So I don’t think this in any way dilutes the case for The Hundred. It absolutely accelerates it and makes it something cricket needs to get behind."

Harrison said The Hundred was starting “from a position of strength," with 180,000 initial tickets having been sold - “the quickest sale of cricket other than World Cup cricket that we’ve seen.”

“The Hundred is a profit center for the game of cricket in this country. It will generate really important commercial value for the game.

“It will help us achieve one of of our priorities, which is keeping the lights on through the network - making sure county cricket is really healthy and strong long, long into the future. And it will help broaden the audience for the game. There will be a huge clamor for audience coming out of this crisis, for all sport. The competition goes up (in value).”

In pushing back the beginning of the English season for the second time, having given a tentative start date of May 28, the ECB left its options open and decided against scrapping any domestic competition in 2020.

The Blast, a Twenty20 competition, will be moved to as late in the season as possible to give it the best opportunity of being staged. Nine rounds of the County Championship, the four-day format, have been lost but the rest of the campaign could still be played.

“As much as we remain hopeful that we can deliver some cricket this summer,” Harrison said, “we are in the midst of a worldwide crisis and our priority - over and above the playing of professional sport - will be to protect the vulnerable, key workers and society as a whole.”

Harrison said attempts to rearrange the cricketing calendar had been “complex and sensitive.”

“There have clearly never been times like this and my colleagues at the ECB and across the game have been exemplary in this period," he said. "It has been refreshing, but not surprising, to see how cricket has come together.”

The women’s limited-overs series between England and India in June has also been postponed.

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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