The Hundred's future on the line as English cricket chiefs meet
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The future of the controversial Hundred tournament was on the agenda at an England and Wales Cricket Board teleconference on Thursday as officials grappled with the ongoing impact of the coronavirus on the season.
The inaugural edition of The Hundred, a new 100 balls per side format to played by eight franchises rather than English cricket's established 18 first-class counties, is meant to start in July.
ECB officials have long insisted it will attract a new audience vital to safeguarding cricket's future in its homeland.
But with the outbreak of the coronavirus having pushed back the start of the English season until May 28 at the earliest and further delays now likely, The Hundred may be put back until 2021.
Even if Britain's current lockdown restrictions are eased ahead of July, prohibitions against mass gatherings, including crowds at sporting events, could remain in place.
If spectators cannot attend, that would appear to defeat the purpose of The Hundred.
There are also concerns that health and travel restrictions may mean high-profile and crowd-pleasing overseas stars won't be able to take part if The Hundred goes ahead this year.
Even before the pandemic, the ECB had itself forecast the competition would make a loss in its first five seasons.
Costs in the first year, including the £1.3 million paid to each county, were estimated at £58 million ($72 million) against an income of £51m ($63m).
Not playing The Hundred could potentially save the ECB millions at a time when it has launched a £61m virus aid package for the domestic game.
- 'Unprecedented times' -
England are meant to play the West Indies at The Oval in the first of a three-Test series starting on June 4.
But this has long appeared an unrealistic start date and the ECB could announce a delay on Friday as they try to salvage as much as they can of an international season that includes another three Tests against Pakistan, as well as limited overs internationals with both Australia and Ireland.
Meanwhile the financial problems facing the English game were underlined Thursday when Middlesex became the latest county to announce they had laid off their players, and other staff, so they can benefit from the British government's coronavirus job retention scheme.
In addition, all employees earning more than £27,500 have agreed a 17 percent pay cut for the next two months, with senior management taking a 20 percent reduction.
"We are operating in unprecedented times," said chief executive Richard Goatley.
"For all staff to agree voluntarily to a significant salary reduction for the next two months is testament to how invested they are in Middlesex cricket and committed to helping the club through this crisis."
© 2020 AFP