The Hundred: Is England’s limited-overs tournament one competition too many?

As the summer approaches, the question must be asked: are there too many cricket fixtures to fit in to one year?

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English cricket fans may well be mourning the ending of the ICC Women’s World Cup, as it signalled a pause in the domestic cricket calendar.

Avid followers of the game may find solace in The Indian Premier League and the County Championship, but international cricket is having a well-earned break.

England’s first Test against New Zealand in June kick-starts a few months of what appears to be wall-to-wall cricket, including the highly anticipated The Hundred tournament.

The Hundred burst onto the scenes last year and caused quite the stir. While many ardent fans of the ‘pure’ Test format were incredibly sceptical about a new competition that uses 5-ball overs, ‘strategic time-outs’ and a reliance on gimmicks like between game music performances, the competition brought a new fan base to the sport and accentuated the need for cricket to be brought up-to-date.

However, one question many raised was how on earth players were going to manage to fit this in as well as their domestic and international duties?

Despite the obvious triumphs of tournaments such as The Hundred, the IPL and the Australian Big Bash League, it may be time to admit that there is too much to successfully fit into a 12-month period.

Organisers of The Hundred tournament advertised their new competition as a place for ‘world-class cricket’ and ‘brilliant overseas players’, but as the month-long competition clashes with both the Asia Cup and Caribbean Premier League - as well as bilateral Test series - it raises questions over whether these star players will be actually be available for the whole tournament.

Babar Azam at the T20 World Cup 2021Babar Azam at the T20 World Cup 2021
Babar Azam at the T20 World Cup 2021

Australia’s David Warner and Pakistan’s Babar Azam were two players who appeared to be spurned in The Hundred draft.

Warner has a T20 average of 32.7 and IPL average of 41.6, meanwhile Azam is sitting on a phenomenal T20 average of 45.2.

There can be no doubt that any franchise would be desperate for cricketers of Warner and Azam’s calibre, so why not pick them?

London Spirit captain, Eoin Morgan spoke to ESPNcricinfo and has said: “I think you can go through every team and who they selected and there are actually very few overseas that are available throughout the whole tournament.”

Ahead of the Draft, The Hundred organisers advocated a ‘Buy British’ campaign. With it being a British tournament, there would be an obvious lean towards homegrown talent, but the omission of Azam, Warner and West Indies’ Nicholas Pooran highlights just how stretched their calendars are that franchises are opting out of the chance to utilise their talents in favour of more reliable (and far cheaper) British options.

The Hundred tournament may also have a lot to answer for in terms of injuries. While it may not be fair to pinpoint certain Englishmen’s injuries solely on this competition, the additional pressure of playing an intensely rapid format of the game in a particularly concentrated period of time cannot have helped.

Now, I may contradict myself slightly as Liam Livingstone’s heroics as The Hundred were most definitely a significant reason for his recall into the England squad, however the Birmingham Phoenix all-rounder injured his finger in one of England’s warm-up matches ahead of the T20 World Cup.

Jason Roy suffered a much more severe injury later into the tournament after he tore his calf, leaving him out of the World Cup altogether.

Jason Roy for Oval Invincibles in 2021Jason Roy for Oval Invincibles in 2021
Jason Roy for Oval Invincibles in 2021

Southern Brave’s Tymal Mills was yet another who suffered a thigh strain during the World Cup, omitting him from the final matches.

It cannot definitively be said that these injuries would not have occurred had their calendars been slightly less occupied, but it is no great secret that the more tired a body is, the more susceptible it is to tears, snares and (what I’m sure is a medical term…) niggles.

Jason Roy has now taken a short, but indefinite, break from cricket. The Surrey-man pulled out of the cash-rich IPL saying: “Everything going on in the world over the last three years, it’s added up and taken its toll on me. I feel it’s only right that I spend some quality time with my family.”

Roy is now the second in under a year to have announced an indefinite break from the game.

Ben Stokes famously took time away from the sport in 2021 citing mental health reasons for his hiatus. Stokes was England’s main man in 2019 and was playing in every possible IT20, ODI and Test series his country asked of him.

As Roy stated in his announcement, the last three years have not been a normal time for anyone and the installation of ‘bubble’ environments have added to the extended periods of time cricketers have spent away from their families.

Many players in their late 20s and early 30s, Roy and Stokes included, have young families at home and with the calendar being as full as it is, there is little time to enjoy being with them.

As a long-term cricket fan myself, it hurts to admit that we may have to concede to having fewer opportunities to watch it, but fans want to watch the very best play the highest-standard of cricket at all times, and this is not possible when players are drowning in commitments.

While there is no doubt that The Hundred is sure to be yet another month filled with gravity-defying catches, stumps flying and out-of-the-ground sixes, the time may come soon after to rethink the cricket calendar in order for high class cricket to remain a durable possibility.