@jonathanliew 4 minute read
It’s 2029, and Wisden Cricket Monthly’s award-winning, twice-convicted columnist Jonathan Liew reports on a new venture to revive the flailing domestic scene.
London, November 2029.
The England Cricket Board today unveiled its blueprint for a new competition that it hopes will revive the stagnating domestic game. Standing in the Long Room at the Bank of China Stadium (formerly Lord’s), chief executive Andrew Strauss announced the first details of the new tournament, which subject to title sponsorship is provisionally being described as The One.
“This is a historic day for English cricket,” Strauss declared to a room of key stakeholders and government-approved media representatives. “An entirely new competition, entirely new teams, and a fresh, relevant format. One ball each, winner takes all. The world is changing, and unless cricket changes with it, we’re going to be left behind.”
“Pressure? Misbah eats pressure for breakfast, albeit only in strictly circumscribed portions, and as part of a balanced, high protein, low pressure diet.”@jonathanliew on Pakistan’s new head coach and chief selector. https://t.co/Fcgxwb8moW
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) October 10, 2019
Under the rules of the new competition, teams will consist of just a single batter (“the hunter”) and a single bowler (“the prey”), with the winner being the team who hits the ball furthest. Strauss rejected the frequently-voiced criticism that the format was a made-for-social-media gimmick: “It’s still absolutely cricket. We’re just trying to take it to a new audience. Customers these days don’t have the time to sit and watch something for two-and-a-half hours. They still want to see world-class performers like Tom Banton hitting it out of the park. But they only want to do it once.”
The ECB claims that the concept has been inspired by extensive market research, both via traditional digital channels and through state-of-the-art neural chip technology, allowing them to canvass the opinions of young people without them even knowing it. “Don’t get me wrong, 100-ball cricket will always be the ultimate for me,” said tournament director Harry Gurney. “But our research is clear. Old-fashioned concepts like ‘wickets’ and ‘runs’ simply don’t resonate with the younger generation. When was the last time you sat down and counted all the way to 100? It’s a palaver. Kids want simplicity. What could be more simple than the number one?”
The format is not the only element being streamlined. Whereas The Hundred was initially contested by eight franchises (later seven, after Wales voted for independence in 2025), The One will feature the same two teams playing each other for eternity, a format that Strauss said would generate “a natural rivalry” and “perpetual war”. Instead of a draft, squads will be assembled on the whim of the two celebrity team owners, who will fish their chosen players out of a literal player pool filled with mechanical piranhas. For the lucky few, a life-changing contract and guaranteed stardom. For the rest, certain death. Gurney described it as “the television event of the year”.
But the new tournament has already attracted fierce criticism from existing fans, who argue that with The Hundred already drawing record crowds and the schedule already packed, smaller franchises will be put out of business. “You’re always going to get a certain negativity from the traditionalists when something new comes along,” said an ECB spokesman. “It was the same with The Hundred, it was the same with Brexit, it was the same with the mass deportations and ethnic internment camps. People fear change.”
Meanwhile, the ECB insists that there is space in the calendar for all five formats, arguing that there is more room to play with now the County Championship has been shifted out of the margins of the summer and into the winter. “Good old climate change, eh?” Gurney chuckled. “Of course, the flash floods at Worcester and the disappearance of Hove are no laughing matter, and our thoughts remain with those affected.”
Yet with the ECB determined to press ahead, attention has now turned to how the new tournament will work in practice. Analysts predicted that the one-ball format would bring a “whole new tactical dimension” to the sport, and that one possible trend might be the emergence of ultra-slow bowlers, who deliver the ball so slowly it barely reaches the batter. Aside from building tension, it would allow broadcasters to schedule valuable commercial breaks mid-delivery.
And ultimately, the finances are impossible to argue with. In an attempt to assuage the traditional seven franchises, each will receive an annual solidarity payment of 10 million New Pounds (N£), funded from a lucrative, multi-billion-new-pound rights deal with Amazon and TikTok. Strauss even suggested that some of the windfall from the new competition could be reinvested in the ailing England Test team, which at the time of writing is still fifth in the world and struggling to win series away from home.