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Wisden compares The Hundred to Brexit and labels new format’s launch ‘shambolic’

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English cricket’s controversial new 100-ball competition has been compared unfavourably to Brexit in the latest edition of Wisden, which claims the innovation has “hung over the game like the Sword of Damocles” since its announcement.

The 156th edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, published on Thursday, offers a highly sceptical take on The Hundred, the brand new format due to debut on the domestic circuit next year.

Editor Lawrence Booth addresses the subject in the prestigious front-of-book notes and has little succour for advocates at the England and Wales Cricket Board.

After briefly detailing some of the high points of the domestic season, Booth continues: “All the while The Hundred hung over the English game like the Sword of Damocles, suspended only by the conviction of a suited few.

“Some preferred a modern analogy: this was cricket’s Brexit, an unnecessary gamble that had overshadowed all else, gone over budget and would end in tears. But the analogy was imperfect: where Brexit had plenty of advocates, it was difficult to find anyone beyond a small group within the ECB’s offices who believed that cricket – its fixture list already unfathomable – needed a fourth format.”

The editorial fulminates at the “shambolic launch” of the competition, arguing that early soundbites made the sport’s existing fan-base “feel like outcasts” while attempting to attract a new core. That primarily meant women and children, but Booth upbraids the execution as patronising to that target audience.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, arguably The Hundred’s most passionate supporter, is also scrutinised in a passage that concludes: “When he denies the game is taking an almighty punt, you wonder whether ambition has clouded his judgement.”

Wisden, which tops 1,500 pages in its fully indexed form, also offers its first official take on the Australian cricket team’s sandpaper scandal, which occurred over a year ago but too late for inclusion in the 2018 release.

Cricket Australia’s inquiry, which uncovered no systemic culture of ball-tampering and no complicity beyond those already banned – Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – is deemed “a whitewash” while the act itself “confirmed a widely held suspicion: Australia believed they were above the law”.

The matter is taken up in greater length, and in damning detail, in a separate essay by Australian journalist Gideon Haigh in the comment section.

Likewise, Sir Alastair Cook’s fairytale retirement – with a century in his final Test innings – is toasted in the editor’s notes but also warrants an elegy by Booth’s predecessor Scyld Berry. While praising his record-breaking career, as both batsman and captain, Berry takes care to shine a light on Cook’s human qualities too.

“Decency, good manners, straightforwardness: when politicians and other public figures seemed to have forgotten their worth, Cook preserved these anachronisms,” he writes.

Amid the usual exhaustively compiled selection of scorecards and statistics, obituaries and occurrences there are dozens of other worthwhile reads.

Arguably the most important is Tanya Aldred’s assessment on cricket’s relationship with climate change, chronicling the insufficient baby steps being taken by a sport which is unusually reliant on the environment, while Robert Winder discusses the decline in English players of Caribbean heritage through the prism of the Windrush scandal.

:: Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2019, the 156th edition, is published on April 11.

PA

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