In the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, the panel of Jo Harman, Phil Walker, Ben Gardner and Yas Rana talked about the effect Covid-19 can potentially have on the English season, and in particular, how The Hundred’s inaugural edition will be impacted.
With the English domestic season already put on hold, the ECB have plenty to worry about. But chief among their concerns will be the fate of The Hundred. They’ve invested plenty in the tournament and the effects of Covid-19 will be making a few in the ECB offices sweat through their shirts. In the podcast, the panel discussed all the possibilities of a reworked cricket season.
Here’s how it went:
Ben Gardner: Well, from a purely financial point of view, as Jo said, the ECB will be desperate for The Hundred to take place. The counties will be desperate for the T20 Blast to take place, and get the crowds in for that. That is their lifeblood, as well as the money they get from the ECB. They don’t get very much from the County Championship or the One-Day Cup. Those are sort of loss-making competitions, almost, for them. And if they have to be played behind closed doors, which is a possibility, that wouldn’t be a huge loss for them.
If they could only fit one competition in, the ECB would want it to The Hundred. You fancy the counties want it to be the Blast. And you wonder if that could potentially be another area of contention in the months ahead. I guess it’s conceivable we get just short-form cricket, and no first-class competition – just a couple of first-class games or trophies, maybe a couple of derbies. Or we could have nothing at all, we could just be discussing it for nothing really.
Yas Rana: Phil, as Ben says, there are good reasons why if the season starts very late, you basically just have The Hundred, the T20 Blast and a little bit more. There are good financial reasons for that, but that would feel odd from the perspective of cricket supporters.
Phil Walker: Yeah, but it’s unprecedented, isn’t it? I think we’ve to be pragmatic, as much as possible here, and recognise that while true cricket fans gravitate towards the four-day game more than anything else, we’re talking, dare I say, about the existential future of certain counties here. We just have to accept the best revenue generator for all counties is obviously the Blast, and that has to be protected at all costs. What Tim [Wigmore] wrote in the Daily Telegraph, I could understand a way that The Hundred could in effect be the pipe opener to the season, and then the Blast could potentially follow in the early autumn onwards. I think there would be an appetite for that.
I think also you’ve to also bear in mind the TV companies as well. Sky Sports have put an obscene amount of money into cricket, they bankroll the English game, as we know. They’re not going to be interested in putting the four-day cricket on, they’re going to be wanting to pack their schedules with what would have already be pre-planned scheduling for the Blast. I think quite rightly, those two tournaments, from a financial perspective, given a TV bums-on-seat perspective, those two have to be prioritised this year – and this year only.
BG: If we’re being completely hopelessly optimistic just for a second, I feel like there is a world where there’s a benefit to cricket from this whole thing, where we somehow get back onto the park by July 17th when The Hundred starts and when there’ll be a real appetite for live sport. Cricket will be pretty much the only thing on with the Euros being cancelled, who knows if the Olympics will be able to take place, there’s a potential for it be, with it being on free-to-air TV, possibly being a real life-affirming thing.
I once talked to Henry Blofeld about the 1947 first-class summer, after the war when everyone was still on rations. There wasn’t much fun to be had outside of cricket, but the County Championship that year had absolutely huge attendances.