The inaugural season of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) latest innovation, The Hundred, will have to wait at least 12 months after its postponement was confirmed on Thursday (April 30).
Initially set to begin in July, the city-based 100-ball franchise tournament – for all its critics – had attracted an all-star cast for both the men’s and women’s competitions.
But having been billed as a way of getting new supporters interested in cricket, the COVID-19 pandemic means postponing the initial tournament had become inevitable.
Social-distancing guidelines could mean no spectator sport in the United Kingdom for the duration of the cricket season, so there was no benefit to staging matches in 2020.
For a tournament criticised from the offset for poor decision-making – from the partnership with KP Snacks to the very radical tournament structure itself – it is perhaps the first universally-accepted decision made.
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison told BBC Sport the intention is to deliver the Hundred in the same format as planned this year – but that may be the biggest stumbling block.
Appetite for the tournament from cricket’s existing fanbase was questionable – while there were some high-profile supporters, others have been against the concept from the start.
Overseas player contracts may need re-writing, while the postponement of this year’s tournament has highlighted the short-sightedness of cancelling the Women’s Cricket Super League T20 competition to accommodate it.
Whatever form cricket returns in, there will now be no televised elite women’s cricket tournament in England in the year the sport’s popularity had been boosted enormously by the Women’s T20 World Cup.
Overseas players who have signed up for the Hundred, meanwhile, may now not be available leaving tournament organisers between a rock and a hard place.
Andre Russell, Rashid Khan, Steve Smith and David Warner were all among the big names signed up and any tournament would be poorer if some of them had to drop out.
Ripping up the original draft and starting again would be farcical given the marketing that has already gone on but proceeding as planned with what could now become severely mismatched teams is no better.
Furthermore, the England centrally-contracted players assigned to each team may see their availability impacted by a busy 2021 for English cricket.
Next year already has a T20 World Cup, a home test series with India, an Ashes tour of Australia and potentially the final of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship too.
Postponing the tournament is also problematic in that appetite for the Hundred may have diminished by 2021.
If the T20 Blast goes ahead in some format in 2020, behind closed doors or not, and with the T20 World Cup still scheduled for October, the 20-over game could receive another huge boost.
Realistically, The Hundred is pitched against the T20 Blast for popularity, given the likelihood of sharing star players and competing for a similar share of the market.
Depending on how other sports plot their post-pandemic return, it is not just other cricket against which The Hundred will be competing for airtime either.
It was already set to compete against UEFA Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games, and both of those tournaments have also moved to what could be a congested summer of sport in 2021.
For cricketing purists, The Hundred was already innovation where none was needed – the butchering of the accepted norms of the game dramatically splitting opinion.
Six-ball overs replaced by ten blocks of ten balls, bowled by one or two bowlers in sets of five, was one of the most eye-catching and criticised innovations planned.
But when cricket returns, and in 2021 when it is hoped a full season will be back on the cards, appetite for innovation may be reduced.
If crowds end up reduced at sporting events in 2021, as the long-term impact of the current pandemic begins to be felt, existing fans will surely look for the ‘normal’ cricket formats.
In months to come, there are big decisions that need to be made by cricket’s organisers and some tough calls must follow.
The death knell for the Hundred, which had already been beset by plenty of criticism, might have been sounded before the tournament even got chance to begin.
Regardless of your opinion of the Hundred, if organisers still manage to make a success of it after such a difficult start to life, they will deserve great praise.
Either way, cancelling the tournament in 2020 was a sensible decision – that is surely something everybody is agreed on.