It was not so much for the Women in the Grand Finale but Southern Brave Men reserved some delight for their fans by winning the inaugural men’s competition. Birmingham Phoenix fell short by 32 runs in the final at Lord's, thanks to scintillating batting efforts from Paul Stirling and Ross Whiteley. A painstakingly controversial tournament, due to their excessive gimmick and unnecessary rule changes, the Hundred could have gone haywire but from the perspective of a world-class competition, it has achieved some sort of relevance.
Where does it stand in the franchise world?
The Indian Premier League is the showstopper. The Pakistan Super League has provided some breathtakingly good bowling performances. The Caribbean Premier League has talents galore. And the Big Bash League is just going on in the Southern hemisphere. There have been 10s and 10s of other league tournaments going on in different parts of the world, only for England to stay behind. A competition was needed but how much did the Hundred add to England and Wales Cricket’s future?
Well, many overseas pull-outs and the lack of top-class English players meant the tournament lost its sheen even before it started. While Moeen Ali showed his batting prowess midway through the tournament, he was soon called back to the Test side, leaving Birmingham Phoenix in a state of disarray. For the financial powerhouse that England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has become, probably adding a fresh window to it would do a world of good. Is it viable? No one is quite sure but this is definitely worth a try.
A bet that has to pay dividends
The Royal London Cup, which is the primary domestic 50-over competition in England, has been downgraded to a second-string event to create a space for the Hundred. That itself makes The Hundred not only a bet that has to succeed but also a compulsive feeder system for the national ODI side. With the kind of authoritative dominance that the England cricket team have shown in recent years, the country can ill-afford to lose out on any momentum.
The ECB will be wary of that aspect while treating The Hundred as a cash cow that might have earned them a £10m surplus on £50m of revenue in the first year. Of course, a few counties have been railroaded into accepting the competition and they would hope for a pie of that money to make up for the lack of international events at their venues during the Covid time. As the first edition is done and dusted, it is now the time for the ECB to sit down and assess. The reflection can give them a clearer picture of the project ahead.
Much needed stage for sidekicks
One of the problems traditionalists have with the Hundred is the tournament threatens to marginalize the County Championship to the edge of the season while destroying the existing domestic structure. That’s probably fair but it is also no secret that the counties are themselves responsible for this - with their own inadequacies being exposed in the process. However, it came as a blessing for a lot of county pros. The likes of Tymal Mills and Will Smeed, who could only showcase their talent in the Blast, found a perfect ground to stake a claim for international selection.
Jofra Archer being ruled out of the entire 2021 means England have their major powerplay enforcer absent from their ranks but their agony can end with Mills’ The Hundred performances. After taking 11 wickets for Sussex in 9 Vitality Blast games, Mills was economical - 6.67 per cluster - to go with eight wickets for Southern Brave. 36.8% of his deliveries were above 140+ plus speed and he only bowled 17 deliveries at a lesser speed than 130 kph.
Smeed’s success has also added a dimension to Birmingham Phoenix. With Finn Allen partnering him at the top, they have a successful pair which, last week, gave senior partners Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone enough runs to cash in on in the middle and death overs. Would it have been possible if not for the Hundred? I am not quite sure.
Rise and Rise of Liam Livingstone
When seven men's teams in the competition opted to use their first picks of the draft to sign overseas players in 2019, Birmingham Phoenix drafted Liam Livingstone. No one was quite sure of his impact then, but it turned out to be a dividend-yielding investment. Coming to the tournament with a rich vein of form, Livingstone ended up as the highest run-scorer in the Men’s Hundred competition with 348 runs at an average of 58.00 and an SR of 178.46.
If you need to further picture his class, then factor this. The next highest run-scorer in the tournament, Ben Duckett, with 232 runs, has 116 runs less than the Lancashire batter. If the Pakistan series, in which he scored a record-breaking 42-ball hundred in the first T20I, gave the indication of his bright future, the Hundred ensured the cult of Livingstone would last longer. In a World T20 year, England would love the impetus.