The Hundred forced to delay until 2021 because of ongoing coronavirus crisis

PROOF THAT the universe at least possesses a sense of irony appeared to arrive yesterday with confirmation that The Hundred – the much-vaunted new tournament designed to appeal to a notional, and quite probably imaginary audience – has been postponed until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday, 1st May 2020, 12:23 pm
HOME START: Emerald Headingley Stadium will be the home for the Northern Superchargers when The Hundred gets underway in 2021 after being postponed for 12 months.

Conspiracy theorists are no doubt already turning their attention from 5G masts to agitators for the 100-ball concept, of which there would be no shortage of suspects given that only the England and Wales Cricket Board, plus county administrators and drafted players sweetened to the tune of big bucks, appear to want a competition derided by an estimated 90 per cent of existing supporters.

There had been hopes among the dissenting majority that the coronavirus crisis might force the ECB into a U-turn, effectively giving the governing body a get-out-of-jail-free card to cancel the circus while almost saving face.

But those hopes were dashed last week when Tom Harrison, the chief executive, claimed that the crisis “absolutely accelerates” the need for a competition that is “a profit centre for the game in this country” and will “help us keep the lights on through the network”.

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It felt almost unkind at hearing such words, the cricketing equivalent of a declaration concerning the curative properties of disinfectant by Donald Trump, to point out that The Hundred was forecast to make a loss in each of its first five years, including £7m this year, before hopefully turning to profit like some Dettol-swigging patient brought back from the brink.

But a tournament passed off as a necessity by, oddly enough, those very people whose reputations rest on its success will, pandemic permitting, proceed as planned next year in its current format, with eight men’s and women’s franchises including the Northern Superchargers based at Emerald Headingley.

It is thought that £10m has already been lost through the ECB being forced to write off this year’s non-event, which had been due to run from July 17-August 15.

Harrison has previously warned that English cricket faces a £300m loss if the entire summer is wiped, with no cricket of any description until at least July 1, but yesterday he was sticking to his guns like a purblind American president parroting from a script that may or may not have been headed with the words “fake news”.

MATCH POSTPONED: Six of the eight coaches for The Hundred, including Northern Superchargers' Darren Lehmann, line up following The Hundred Draft in October last year. Picture: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Harrison’s script was this: “As we emerge from the fallout of COVID-19, there will be an even greater need for The Hundred.

“Our survival as a game, long-term, will be dependent on our ability to recover financially and continue our ambition to build on cricket’s growing fan base. That need has not gone anyway; if anything, it is now more critical.

“The Hundred will create millions in revenues for the game, through hosting fees, hospitality and ticket sales, as well as delivering £25m in annual financial distributions to all first-class counties and MCC. Its role in driving participation alongside supporting the development of the women’s game will be material in generating take-up of our game across country-wide communities.”

The ECB highlighted three key reasons why it was impossible to proceed this year:

WAITING GAME: Adil Rashid is one of a number of Yorkshire players chosen to star in The Hundred for the Northern Superchargers. Picture: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Operational challenges caused by social distancing, alongside ongoing global travel restrictions, making the competition’s ambition to feature world-class players and coaches unattainable in 2020.

A behind closed doors competition directly contradicts the competition’s goal to attract a broader audience through a unique event experience for viewers and spectators.

With significant furloughing across the partnership network of 20 venues, the logistics of delivering a brand-new sporting event, without a tried-and-tested delivery plan, would be incredibly challenging.

Editor’s note: First and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

POSTPONED: ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison. Picture: Yui Mok/PA.

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