Originally, the tournament was scheduled to be launched in 2020. However, owing to the pandemic, the ECB had to postpone it. With T20 franchise leagues spread across the world - almost one for each full-member men's team - it is not unreasonable to say that there is too much cricket happening, especially in the shortest format. Expectedly, somewhere, someone thought that it was time to innovate and bring some change to spice up the entertainment for the spectators, and boom - The Hundred was born.
Although cricket is a simple contest between an athlete with a ball and another with a bat, it involves too many variables. It is, sort of, hard to explain to someone who does not know the sport. The newest tournament from the ECB, The Hundred, comes with its own rule modifications - an attempt to make it simpler for the newer fans to understand.
From 120 balls per inning in the T20 format, The Hundred, as the name suggests, will have 100 balls per team. As always, the team that scores the most number of runs will be the winner. The measurement of the innings progression will be based on balls and not overs. Each bowler can bowl 20 balls per innings, five in general and a maximum of ten at a stretch.
After every set of five balls, the umpire will call 'five'. If the bowler is bowling two sets consecutively, the umpire will hold up a white card after the first. Unlike every over in T20s, the fielding team will change sides after every 10 balls, i.e. two sets. The first quarter of an innings - 25 balls - will be deemed as the powerplay, during which only two fielders are allowed outside the circle. If a batter gets caught out, the next batter will always take strike, even if the batters had crossed.
Each team will play eight matches and the table-topper will qualify for the final. The second and third placed teams will face each other in the eliminator and the winner will face the table topper in the final. In the group stages, the teams will share points if their scores are tied after 100 balls. In the eliminator and the final, the team will play a 'super-five' - similar to a super-over, except, here they will play five balls each - to decide the result of a tied match. If the teams are tied after the first 'super-five', they will play one more to find a winner. In a rare scenario where both the super-fives end in a tie, the team that finished higher in the group stage will be declared winners.
The bowling teams will also have the opportunity to take a two and half minute strategic time-out any time after the first 25 deliveries, i.e. the powerplay. The allotted time for a match is 150 minutes, and the over rate is critical to keep up with the time limits. If a team is behind the designated over-rate, they will be required to have one less fielder outside the circle from the point the penalty is applied.
The eight teams participating in the tournament are the Oval Invincibles, Manchester Originals, London Spirits, Trent Rockets, Southern Brave, Northern Supercharges, Welsh Fire and Birmingham Pheonix. Originally all teams contained several England and Australian stalwarts. However, a vast majority of the latter withdrew themselves from the competition, throwing up opportunities for the Indian, West Indies and South African superstars.
Much like the other T20 leagues, each team has three overseas players, who will play alongside the England international and domestic stars. While Indian players have not got a lot of opportunities in the Women's Big Bash League, five of them will be a part of The Hundred, including Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, Jemimah Rodrigues and the teenage sensation Shafali Verma.
As many Australian internationals are not participating, several WBBL domestic stars have got a chance to light up the stage in The Hundred. This tournament provides an opportunity for them and the England domestic cricketers to play alongside the international players. Almost all the teams are evenly balanced, and it is almost impossible to pick a favourite. You can read about the teams, their strengths and players to look out for and our predictions for the tournament in detail here.
What to expect?
Entertainment. The format, and the tournament, is built upon the idea of bringing bigger and more diverse crowds to the ground, especially new fans, by trying to make the sport more appealing and entertaining to them. Hence, entertainment is guaranteed for the spectators from the inaugural edition of The Hundred.
Intense contests and rivalries between the superstars of the game are likely to continue in the tournament. In a shortened, fast-paced format, the value for wicket preservation and anchoring could become much less than in the T20Is. It would also add more spice to the contests between the individual stars. Who would not want more of Katherine Brunt v Shafali Verma?
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A lot has been said and written about what The Hundred would mean to women's cricket. Though there are issues concerning the gender pay gap, from the outset, this tournament is expected to bring in revenue from the women's format - something several boards have given as a reason for not marketing and investing in the women's game. However, it all rides on the success of this tournament as a format.
Above all, it is always exciting to watch a new format. The T20 format was not very famous going into the first edition of the men's World Cup in 2007. There was a lot of criticism and scepticism about T20 leagues in the lead up to the first season of the men's Indian Premier League. The IPL is a format that would have become a success over time anyway. What made it an instant hit was Brendon Mccullum's breathtaking 78-ball 158 in the tournament opener. Shane Warne, Michael Hussey, Sohail Tanvir, and Shaun Marsh followed it up with scintillating performances. From thereon, there was no looking back.
The question is, when the Invincibles take on Originals on Wednesday (July 21), who's going to be The Hundred's McCullum? Or will the tournament take its time to find a place for itself in the cricket world?