INTERVIEW: Northants head coach David Ripley on The Hundred and the future of the county game
Northants head coach David Ripley has hailed The Hundred as a success following its inaugural season - and insists he believes the new competition is not a threat to county cricket.
The controversial new format has certainly split opinion across the cricketing world.
In one corner there are those that have welcomed the new 100-ball competition, which the England & Wales Cricket Board set up with very heavy investment to make the sport more accessible to those perhaps previously not interested in cricket.
There was more razzmatazz, a tinkered scoring system with six-ball overs being switched for five-ball ‘sets’, and DJs and performances of live music between innings at every match.
So, T20 cricket with a few more bells on if you like.
Every match was broadcast live on television, with many matches, in both the men’s and women’s tournament, going out on BBC2.
In the other corner there are what could be termed traditionalists, regular cricket fans and members and supporters of the 18 first-class counties in England and Wales.
Firstly, they see no point for a fourth format on top of the red ball games of Test and first-class cricket, and the white ball formats played out in 50 and 20 overs. They were not happy that this year’s Royal London One day Cup was effectively relegated to being a second-team competition.
And they are also against The Hundred franchise system that sees eight newly-named teams based at the Test playing grounds of the nation, fearful that this is the first step along the road of trimming back the number of first-class counties.
The fear is that the rich will inevitably get richer, and the smaller clubs such as Northants, Leicestershire and Derbyshire could at some point in the future be surplus to cricketing requirements.
Then you can throw in the issue of there being no red ball cricket at the height of summer, meaning England’s Test players went into their series against India seriously under-prepared.
And for some counties, such as Northants, who failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the T20 Blast and One Day Cup, there was no cricket at all for close to three weeks in August.
There is a lot going on, a lot to get your head around!
Ripley, a man who has given over his whole career to Northamptonshire CCC as a player and coach, was part of The Hundred as he was assistant to head coach Shane Warne at London Spirit.
He is a man rooted in county cricket, but also with a foot very much in both camps on this occasion.
And he believes there is room for the new competition to work alongside the other formats.
Ripley does accept fitting The Hundred into an already crowded scheduled ‘is not easy’, especially as he sees Test cricket as ‘the pinnacle’ of the sport, and he wants it to stay that way.
But he also won’t entertain the theory that the new competition is the beginning of the end for county cricket as we know it, which he believes is ‘in a pretty good spot’.
Asked how he felt the first staging of The Hundred had gone, Ripley said: “I think you would have to say it was a success, with the crowds and the interest it generated.
“We just have this age-old balance of can we fit everything in? And is this going to be the template?
“We are a country that still wants to be successful in Test match cricket, and how do we get our players to be ready for Test matches is the issue, and it’s not easy.
“We did have big crowds, we did have the financial boost from the television, and being on the BBC has got to help.
“It was very good for the women’s game, that was great, and hopefully that will really reap the benefits, and I am sure it will.
“It was all pretty positive for me.
“I love my traditional cricket, and I hope we can make it all work, but it is not easy that is for sure.”
Asked if he understands those who are fearful for county cricket and the 18-team first-class structure, Ripley said: “I can see it, but you have to weigh things up.
“We have low membership here at Northamptonshire.
“It is a very loyal membership, but you come to a four-day game at Northants and you aren’t struggling to get in are you?
“So it is all about how we balance it all.”
And he added: “Where does the power lie? And in the red ball game it is all about Test matches.
“There was one day when the London Spirit played at The Oval and there was 20,000 there for The Hundred game, but there had been 20,000 at the Test match (at Lord’s) as well.
“So there were 40,000 cricket people watching the sport in London, so I guess it can be done.
“There is something there for everybody, and I would hate to see Test match cricket not remain popular.
“I still want it to be the ultimate test for a cricketer, and I hope that always remains the case.
“So the challenge is to try to keep Test cricket at the top of the list, as well as bringing cash into the game and making cricket relevant to modern day living, and giving people what they want I guess.
“It is a tricky one.”
As mentioned earlier, Ripley is somebody steeped in traditional county cricket, having moved to Northamptonshire from his native Yorkshire as a teenager.
Now 54, Ripley is truly part of the fabric at the County Ground, an adopted son of the Tudor Rose, and there are few people, if any, who have put more into the club than he has.
He is aware of people’s fears for the county cricket structure as it stands, but insists he believes there is no hidden agenda, and that Northamptonshire CCC will always be here.
Certainly in the immediate future all 18 first-class counties will reap a financial benefit from The Hundred as they will all receive £1.3m per season for the next three years from the ECB.
And Ripley is confident all of the counties will continue to operate and be loved by many for years to come.
“The other thing where I see that people are against it (The Hundred), is there is still some fear about what the agenda might be in 15 years’ time,” said the County head coach.
“I haven’t heard anything from anybody that suggests there is any sort of agenda.
“I certainly hope that is the case, and that there will still be 18 first-class counties trying to produce cricketers for England.
“The message I am getting is still that 18 counties will be backed to help produce good cricketers.
“And as for those 18 counties, we all get our cash from the ECB and we have to strive to do that, and be contributing to English cricket with the players we produce and the cricket we play.
“That is important for our members and our supporters, and I think county cricket is in a pretty good spot.
“I have enjoyed the cricket we have played this summer, some crowds have been back, we had good crowds in the Blast, and I still feel very positive about the game in general.
"But it is just such a difficult balance to fit it all in.”