George DobellSenior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has admitted he can provide no guarantees that players from India or West Indies will be available to appear in The Hundred.
Despite claiming “overwhelming support” for the new competition, Harrison also said that scheduling it at the same time as the ECB’s domestic 50-over tournament would not provide players with the same opportunity to prepare for ODI cricket as currently exists.
While there have been more India players involved in English domestic cricket in recent times – Virat Kohli only missed out on a spell with Surrey last year due to injury – it has usually been with a view to gaining experience of conditions. With the BCCI keen to protect the value of the IPL as the premier short-form league and, perhaps, reluctant to support a new format of the game that could, potentially, weaken the T20 brand, it seems unlikely players will be released to take part in The Hundred.
The BCCI also knows that, if it agreed to allow Indian players to take part in one such league, there will be requests from many other nations for involvement in their own tournaments.
“I can’t commit to the involvement of India players,” Harrison said. “It’s a political conversation as much as anything.
“It’s a difficult conversation. It’s not just the ECB and The Hundred that will be keen to get Indian players involved. Clearly that’s a wider discussion.”
The Hundred also looks likely to clash, at least in part, with the CPL and several international fixtures. Indeed, a glance at the Future Tours Programme suggests that every international side has commitments during July and August 2020, when The Hundred is to be launched. West Indies, for example, host New Zealand for ODI and T20 series in July and T20s against South Africa a few weeks later. With a T20 World Cup to follow later in the year, it seems unlikely the best players would want to skip such games.
As a result, there seems every chance The Hundred may feature retired or dropped international players, or some on very short stints.
“The Hundred won’t necessarily clash with the CPL,” Harrison said. “We have ongoing discussions with the CPL and will work together on that. But we do have to make sure the Blast fits in the right way leading into The Hundred and that our Test summer is scheduled correctly.
“I think players will want to play in The Hundred. We’ll demonstrate an ambition behind this that is very pure and can enhance players’ skills under pressure. Hundred-ball cricket will deliver more of those key moments when players have to deliver under serious pressure. We’ll make it attractive to players to come and play.”
The ECB does, at least, now expect some limited involvement in The Hundred from the top England players. But that involvement is likely to be limited to one or two games at the start of the tournament and, perhaps, an appearance in the final.
Harrison also admitted for the first time that the best white-ball players in England would probably no longer appear in 50-over cricket at domestic level, but insisted that “it won’t impact our success at 50-over level at an international level”.
With The Hundred scheduled to be played at the same time as the 50-over competition, the ECB knows that the best 100 or so white-ball players will not be available for the latter. Instead the competition will feature younger players and, with the major grounds in use by The Hundred, be largely played at outgrounds. As a consequence, the standard of the competition is highly likely to decline. The gap between domestic and international 50-over cricket, meanwhile, is likely to grow.
“It is definitely a challenge,” Harrison said. “From 2020 onwards, the 50-over tournament will be played during The Hundred window.
“Counties will want the bulk of the T20 Blast to be played in the heart of summer. The new tournament has to feature in that space, and we have Test cricket, too. We cannot achieve everything and there’s always going to have to be compromise.
“I’m not suggesting it will give players exactly the same opportunity to play as much 50-over cricket – particular for the top-tier players – but I’m confident it won’t impact our success at 50-over level at an international level.”
Meanwhile Harrison said he would be interested to hear the views of Chris Gayle over ways the ECB could make The Hundred a success. Earlier this week, Gayle had suggested that if he was not invited to take part “it won’t be a tournament”.
“We’d love to have Chris involved,” Harrison said. “I’m keen to have a conversation and see what he thinks and to hear his views.
“He’s played in all the major tournaments around the world. His view is very much worth listening to see how we can make this even more exciting.”