It has been a pretty divisive year when it comes to cricket in the UK - and that has been largely due to The Hundred.
The ECB’s shiny new format of the game was finally launched in 2021, having been delayed by 12 months because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The competition does have its fans and was something of a success, but it has not received a universal welcome by any stretch of the imagination. It has been particularly opposed by many of the the people who are the lifeblood of the game - the members, season ticket holder and supporters of county cricket.
Northants chairman Gavin Warren is on the board of The Hundred and is a driving force behind it, but he believes the new 100-ball format is going to be great for the game, and does NOT signal the beginning of the end for the 18 first-class counties.
In part two of our exclusive Q&A, Chron sports editor Jeremy Casey sat down with Warren to chat about The Hundred, how it is going to affect Northants and also the game in general.
Warren also spoke about the finances of the club after a tough 18 months, and what he believes the future holds at Wantage Road...
Jeremy Casey: The recent AGM was obviously dominated by the news of David Ripley stepping down as head coach, but it was also revealed the club had reported a loss of £26,519 before tax in the 16-month financial period leading up to January 31, 2021. This compared to a profit of of £131,137 in the 12 months previous to that. With the Covid-19 pandemic and all that has happened because of it over the past 18 months, are you pleased with those results?
Gavin Warren: “I am very pleased with that, considering we were £1.2m down on revenue.
“The key thing is, that because of depreciation, it is actually a positive. There is £400,000 worth of depreciation in that, so you take out that and you have a positive cash position.
“So the cash inflow for the club, which is the key thing, was positive last year, albeit there was a slight loss because of depreciation.
“We are really pleased with that, and moreover we have now paid off the debt to the council, so we don’t owe anybody a penny which is great.
“We sit on an asset we own fully (the County Ground), and the pub (The County Tavern) as well, so financially we are in very good shape.
“The £1.3m we receive from the ECB for The Hundred is guaranteed until 2024, and the money gradually goes up each year, so we are making our plans beyond that.
“Financially, considering there is about £220m debt in the game at the present time, we are in good shape.
“But we are not complacent about that.
“We are moving forward, and in my opinion I don’t think the ground has ever looked so good, it looks a picture.”
JC: Now, on to The Hundred... the counties have backed it, with Northants supporting it from the start. You are a director on the board of the new competition, so do you think this summer’s first tournament, which was delayed for 12 months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, was a success?
GW: “It was absolutely phenomenal. As a board we sat and built this competition three years ago, and have progressed it, and it was all about best versus best and full houses, but Covid put an end to that.
“But I think what it has done for cricket and reaching a different audience has been really good, while still respecting the existing audience.
“As far we as a club are concerned, it is always difficult because we are a non-host.
“The club we were associated with was London Spirit, where Rips (David Ripley) was a coach and where Rosso (Adam Rossington) and Nabi played.
“Viewing figures wise, it was phenomenal, and I think the best thing we did was to get free-to-air TV on the BBC.
“That was just brilliant, because if you want to bring a new competition in, you have to give people the opportunity to see it.
“But The Hundred will only be a success if it grows all forms of the game, hence I want to link it to the Blast, because it needs a link to us (Northants).
“We, the 19 counties (the 18 first-class counties and MCC), own The Hundred, and we own the data for that as well.
“So I want to see all the people in this area that went to The Hundred, and say to them ‘you should be coming here to the County Ground as well’.
“Come to Northants and watch a Blast match, or a 50-over game, the Championship.
“Overall, I think it was beyond belief how big a success The Hundred was, which is good for cricket.”
“There are 10 million people who follow cricket, and 10 million follow rugby as well.
“Two million attend rugby matches, one million attend cricket, so we have got to get that number closer.
“It was brilliant for the women’s game, to have 17,500 people there for the final, a world record, was just great.
“If we are serious about developing that then we need to be putting on good shows, and what the teams achived, and the skill-set was great, and I think it shows how much the women’s game has come on.”
JC: The women’s teams were originally going to play around the country, with London Spirit pencilled in to play matches at Northampton, but due to Covid the decision was made to make the matches all double-headers, with the women playing before the men. It certainly worked well, so are we likely to see The Hundred women’s teams at the County Ground in future?
GW: “The double-headers were a pure fluke, and we were meant to host games here but in all honesty we probably won’t now, which is a real shame.
“What we will now look at is hosting more of The Sunrisers games, because it is absolutely key we host women’s cricket here in Northampton if we are serious about developing it and moving it on professionally.
“The Sunrisers train here, and they move around Middlesex and Essex, but it is pretty nomadic, and I want to try to give them a home.”
JC: The creation of The Hundred was certainly a controversial move by the ECB, and it has received a lot of flak and criticism from plenty of cricket supporters and lovers who are totally against it, and won’t accept it. Can you understand their position?
GW: “I can understand it, but I walk around the ground here and there are members who don’t go to Blast games.
“I always give the analogy that when you got to a supermarket for bread, some people like white bread, some like brown, some like granary some like wholemeal.
“So people are paying to watch cricket, and you put on a format they are going to watch, then let’s embrace them.
“You don’t want to exclude anybody, you want to give everybody the chance to go and watch a game, and I think the difference between rugby and football and cricket is the time.
“Football lasts 90 minutes, rugby 80, and in cricket we now have four formats, so I do get people’s concerns.
“Next year is the 20th anniversary of The Blast, and apparently at the time that competition only got through on one vote, and now look at it.
“It is the Holy Grail of limited overs cricket.
“So it could be that people don’t like The Hundred at the moment, but then two or three years down the line they may say ‘I actually quite like it’.”
JC: It has been said by many critics of The Hundred, why wasn’t the investment just made into the T20 Blast? Also, do you always see the competitions working alongside each other? The Blast and The Hundred? Or will the former be eaten up?
GW: “I think it’s absolutely key. It is key the Blast sits alongside The Hundred, otherwise the Blast will become irrelevant, and then it is hopeless and would be a failure for me.
“I am on a new Project group that is charged with that, along with the Surrey chairman and Warwickshire chairman, and I have made it pretty clear, and in the heads of terms it says, the Blast must work closely with The Hundred.
“Because if it doesn’t, it will fail all the counties and it will fail the general public, because we love the Blast.
“We love it on a Friday night here at the County Ground, we love it on a Sunday, it is brilliant.”
JC: Financially for the club, the Blast must still be the main event?
GW: “The Blast pays to put the Champo cricket on, it pays to put the 50-over cricket on, so it is absolutely vital and is the lifeblood of this club.
“That is why I am absolutely adamant it is going nowhere, and if anything the Blast will get better.
“It will be nice to get wildcard overseas players in there, that can get into The Hundred as well, so I think the Blast will go up a couple of notches because everybody will want to play in The Hundred. It could get tasty”
JC: Presumably also, if the Blast is going to run into The Hundred, you are going to get players coming over here early to play in the Blast to get warmed up?
GW: “That is the idea, and is exactly what I want.
“If we get overseas players over here playing in the Blast, and they aspire to play in The Hundred and can be wildcards appointed on an MVP basis, then they will think ‘I want to play in that, so I need to play in the Blast to get into it’.”
JC: Returning to the schedule, with the four formats in the English summer, it is more than a bit of a squeeze and it is going to be a headache for those in charge of the fixtures trying to get everything in. Can you genuinely see that working long-term?
GW: “I can see it working, and I think what we need to do is just be a bit more innovative.
“It might come to pass that we have double-headers in the Blast, two games would be 80 overs in a day.
“If we go to Warwickshire, I don’t see why Warwickshire couldn’t host Northants and Worcestershire, as their home games and our away games.
“So we could have some double-headers like that which would ease the schedule.
“With the idea of knockout cricket in the 50-over format, well that might improve the schedule as well.
“We have to play red ball cricket because it is the feeder for the Test team, and we have to play it at the highest competitive level we can as well.”
JC: Finally, with what has happened with birth of The Hundred, people are fearing this is all the first step along the way to regionalising cricket, and the Test match grounds developing franchises. There is serious concern in some quarters for the future of county cricket. So, are you confident that Northants and the other 17 counties will still all be around in 20 years’ time, or 30 years’ time?
GW: “What I can tell you is, I hosted Ian Watmore the new ECB chairman a few weeks ago for lunch, and he is adamant that it is all about 18 counties (Watmore resigned from the role for personal reasons this week).
“I think what we have to do is bring the National Counties with us a little bit more as well, and get them closer to us, which is what we are doing and is part of our new strategic direction.
“In 20 or 25 years I honestly don’t know the answer as to what will happen, and I don’t think anybody can, because we don’t know where sport is going do we?
“Will the Cobblers be playing professional football? Nobody knows.
“You look at rugby, and there is Bedford who have had all of their funding cut, so you wonder what will happen to the Championship in rugby?
“What about the breakaway super league in football? Who really knows what is going to happen?
“All I can do is while I am chairman of this club is, number one, make sure we look after ourselves and are in good shape, which we are at the minute.
“But then to also move strategically forward as well, to make us relevant.
“We sit in the middle of the country, the closest south is Middlesex at Lord’s, but they don’t really play there now and are nomadic, and then you have Edgbaston and Trent Bridge north.
“So we sit in the middle of the country and I think we have a big part to play.”
JC: So it is your intention, and the intention of all the other chairman, to keep the status quo of an 18 first-class county set-up? And for Northants to prosper in that set-up?
GW: “Yes, and don’t forget we vote. We would have to vote on these things, and it is our vote that counts when it comes to changing the structure.
“I certainly don’t plan on voting for anybody to leave.
“As for Northants, the past five years have been about survival, the next five, 10 or 15 years are about relevance and sustainability.
“I believe there are exciting times ahead.”