Technology and digital are key to the domestic revolution of English cricket
“This is not cricket” is a common expression in England to describe behavior in everyday life which would be considered unfair or unsportsmanlike in the country’s national summer pastime.
Like other sports, cricket is played under codified rules, but players must also adhere to the “spirit” of the game – a set of unwritten conventions and expected conduct.
The influence of cricket on the national psyche can be attributed to the fact that it was once the most popular sport in England.
Many football clubs were initially formed as offshoots of cricket clubs, and the County Championship (the first national competition) could draw tens of thousands of paying spectators long after the war.
The bet of cricket
But the sport’s popularity declined in the second half of the 20e century. The England national cricket team still draws crowds and columns in the newspaper, and the invention of the shorter Twenty20 format may draw thousands of people to a match, but full participation in County Championship matches remained static for about 30 years. Meanwhile, the sport is disproportionately dependent on the income of the England national team, including its contract with television.
With participation levels declining, there were concerns in the halls of England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). The UK sports press has constantly debated the wisdom of the ECB’s decision to move all cricket to pay TV in 2006 – especially when free-to-air (FTA) coverage of the 2005 Ashes series brought the team to the fore. English. .
The argument at the time was that the extra revenue from this televised deal would help secure the future of the game. But it is widely accepted that going behind a pay wall has hurt awareness, made worse by changes in the media and sporting landscapes over the next decade and a half.
Restoring FTA coverage would no doubt help the cause of cricket, but it is no longer the silver bullet it could have been. Such a one-sided approach would ignore the advent of social media, smartphones, and increased competition from other forms of entertainment – not just sports.
When negotiating its latest televised deal, the ECB decided to broadcast English matches live on FTA TV on the BBC and ensure that highlights and clips were readily available on BBC digital platforms and on social networks.
But he also wanted to do something more radical. Not content with simply emulating the Twenty20 competitions based on hugely popular franchises like the Indian Premier League and the Australian Big Bash League (BBL), the ECB has created a whole new format designed to appeal to people with no interest in cricket. – The Hundred.
Cricket is traditionally played in six-ball “overs” (pitches, if you will). For example, Twenty20 matches consist of two 20-overs innings, which equals 120 balls in each period. The Hundred forgoes this structure and terminology and instead allows 100 balls per inning (hence the name).
The idea is to simplify cricket and ensure matches last two and a half hours – a length deemed more acceptable to viewers who won’t have to learn some of the more alienating parts of the cricket lexicon.
Eight new teams were created outside the county structure, with a player selection system. Unsurprisingly, this has led to some dissent among the cricket fan base, who might use the term “it’s not cricket” in an extremely literal sense.
Some have described the creation of The Hundred as a gamble that threatens to alienate the main cricket audience – the fans who have supported England and their counties to varying degrees over the past decades. Others consider it unnecessary to create an entirely new format, especially since it is not played at the international level, and deplore the impact on other national competitions which had to make way for the Cent in the calendar.
However, the ECB does not view The Hundred as a bet at all. He sees competition as an essential part of his plan to develop the game in England.
“We want to make sport grow so that it is not only seen as a men’s sport and to demystify it [for new fans]”ECB CEO Tom Harrison told me earlier this year.” The essence of cricket is the contest between bat and ball and [with The Hundred] we’re just adding a new chapter to something that’s natural for the game. Cricket can reinvent itself.
Naturally, digital is considered essential to reach this new audience. All of the Cent’s men’s and women’s matches will be broadcast live on television, with the BBC broadcasting up to 20 matches on its linear and online platforms. Meanwhile, Sky Sports will put 34 matches on its YouTube channel.
A mobile app will be made available, while social clips will be shared widely. Meanwhile, the layout of the broadcast will be quite different from what fans have become accustomed to. New graphics, match predictors and coverage that appeal to as wide an audience as possible will be seen.
Sky Sports has even worked on motion capture-based augmented reality (AR) graphics that use technology from the world of video games. Digital avatars that accurately recreate the bowling and batting actions of some of the tournament’s most famous players will be used on TV and in the The Hundred app.
The idea may sound fancy, but organizers insist it demonstrates the convergence of sports, technology and entertainment to bring gaming as close as possible to as many people as possible.
“We have partnered with The Hundred on a fan-driven approach which we believe will open the game to new audiences,” said Bryan Henderson, Cricket Director at Sky Sports.
“The Hundred will have a bespoke appearance on TV and avatars are a key part of what will make our coverage so vibrant. We’ve worked hard on every aspect of our presentation to make sure we have something for everyone, and I have every confidence that avatars will become one of the most popular aspects of our storytelling.
“Hyper-real avatars will bring fans and gamers together on an unprecedented level. Imagine having a virtual Heather Knight, Saqib Mahmood or Ben Stokes showcasing their skills in your home – it’s incredibly exciting, ”added Alison Crowe, Chief Digital and Data Officer at the ECB.
“We can’t wait for fans to try it out through The Hundred app, where they can also vote for the hero of the match in each game, vote for the music a player will release on, and test their knowledge with fun anecdotes – it there is something for the whole family to get involved. “
The Hundred will continue to divide even after the first ball tossed on Wednesday when The Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals kick off the women’s competition live on BBC TV and online. But even the fact that a women’s game has been selected to usher in the new dawn of English cricket is remarkable in itself.
The competition is only one, albeit very critical, part of the wider digitization of English cricket and the long-term implications will take months and years to emerge. But there is no doubt that the ECB has thrown in the kitchen sink to establish relevant, digital competition that ensures cricket remains a staple of the UK sporting landscape.
It’s still cricket, but not as we know it.