Launch of the Hundred may be delayed to 2021 if cricket season is cut short

Ali Martin
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images for ECB</span>
Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images for ECB

The Hundred faces the prospect of being pushed back to a 2021 launch date should the coronavirus pandemic reduce this year’s English cricket season to two months or fewer.

This cut-off point has been revealed by Tim Bostock, Durham’s chief executive, following talks between the counties and the England and Wales Cricket Board last week that resulted in matches being suspended until 28 May at the earliest.

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Amid the uncertainty the ECB finds itself working through numerous scenarios for possible starts in June, July and August, with international cricket, the T20 Blast and the Hundred given priority in order to maximise revenues for the sport.

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Should the August scenario come to pass then Bostock believes the ECB’s new eight-team 100-ball tournament may have to make way, while the prospect of any County Championship cricket being staged would also be slim.

Bostock told The Cricket Collective on TalkSport 2: “It’s pretty clear international cricket comes first, then after that it’s the Blast and the Hundred. That’s where the revenue is.

“Protecting the Hundred is important, although in the conversations I’ve had with the ECB, if it ends up getting squeezed and a two-month season – which is possible – a view will be taken about whether this is really the right time to launch the Hundred.

“[The ECB chief executive] Tom Harrison has been really pragmatic about this. I certainly get the impression if we get a two-month season the pragmatic view would be what’s the point of launching this competition now? Let’s launch it properly next year.

“If it’s a four-month season, there’s a lot of county cricket in the schedule I’ve seen. Three months as well. Only if we get to a two-month season will [the County Championship] be a problem – ie there won’t be any.”

Once clarity emerges regarding the length of the season, the decision will then be heavily influenced by the cricket deemed most desirable by Sky Sports and the BBC, the two broadcast partners who have just begun a rights deal with the ECB that is theoretically worth £1.1bn over the next five years.

Consideration will also be given to whether unveiling a new flagship event in 2020 will give it the best chance to thrive amid the prospect of withdrawals of overseas stars and crowds still being potentially limited unless there is a full relaxation of the government’s social distancing measures.

As well as modelling various scenarios, the ECB is trying to establish the projected economic damage of Covid-19 to the sport. But the message from the Professional Cricketers’ Association is that any talk of a return to the negotiating table to discuss player wage cuts is hugely premature.

The PCA announced new terms with the ECB last September under which the salary cap will rise to £2.5m and the minimum spend on squad salaries will be doubled from £750,000 to £1.5m by 2024, as well as the introduction of a £27,500 minimum wage for full-time professional men, and new rookie contracts.

And so while professional rugby, for example, has seen a number of clubs cut their salaries by 25% in the past week, the PCA is seemingly reluctant to discuss reducing its hard-earned gains until a resumption date – and thus the financial impact on the revenue-driving formats – is known.

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Tony Irish, the PCA chief executive, said: “We will represent the players strongly and collectively. Player contracts are in place and we don’t think it’s appropriate to start talking about reductions or lay-offs at this point in time.

“Different sports are dealing with this in different ways but we need to play the ball that is in front of us, and that is that there is no cricket until 28 May. Naturally we want to make sure the game survives and remains in as good health as possible.”

Durham, meanwhile, have announced the closure of their Riverside Ground to the public, with the facilities now offered to the local council and the NHS should they be of use in the coming weeks.

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