Cricket’s new The Hundred tournament is “not a threat” to the traditions of the game, says England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison.
The Hundred features eight teams, representing seven cities from around the UK, and will be played from 17 July-16 August.
Matches feature 100 balls bowled in blocks of five or 10.
“It’s about getting more kids to play without taking anything away from our county environment,” Harrison said.
Addressing the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee at Portcullis House in Westminster on the future of English cricket, Harrison, who began his role in January 2015, said: “The Hundred is all about growing the game in this country and protecting the things we value the most.
“It is a really good way of protecting Test and four-day cricket. This is engaging at a different level, that is something we should embrace and it is not a threat. It is a much greater threat to say everything is fine as we are.”
Last weekend the Hundred saw an American-style draft system to determine which players would represent each new team, the first such draft in British sport.
Players such as West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell, Australian opener David Warner and Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan will feature alongside England stars including Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes.
“We have 1.1m who regularly attend cricket and 10.1m who are followers, we have got to bridge that gap,” Harrison added. “It’s to encapsulate the new audience but keep the existing audience happy.”
“We had 3.15m into grounds in this country, the most successful summer we have had for domestic cricket,” Harrison said. “We have an enormous pocket of fans who are not embracing the opportunities as they exist at the moment. An average English cricket fan is 50 years old, with a 77% male bias, 82% towards white British. We have got an awfully big opportunity if we get it right to get a diverse and multi-cultural audience.”
‘They could have voted it down – they didn’t’
ECB chairman Colin Graves added: “We are changing cricket, you get resistance because nobody likes change. I played cricket for 40 years in Yorkshire and I understand where they are coming from but the game has got to move on.
“Everything we have done has been in consultation with our members and counties. We have 80,000 members who have been talked to. Nothing has been imposed. They could have voted it down – they didn’t.”
Asked what was wrong with T20 cricket for a new event to be launched, Harrison said: “Absolutely nothing, it has been a phenomenal format which has an amazing role. It’s a fantastic format with eight consecutive years of growth and we are continuing to invest.”
The competition will be on free-to-air television, with the BBC screening 10 men’s matches from The Hundred and up to eight live matches from the women’s competition, including both finals.
“If we hadn’t had the new tournament terrestrial broadcasters would not have been back at the table,” Harrison added. “We believe there is a market there for a new tournament.
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“We want to bring down the barriers, make cricket more accessible. It’s not just about linear channels, it’s about the One Show, CBeebies, Asian Network, the enormous digital engagement the BBC brings us. If the men’s World Cup taught us anything it is that the game is enormous in this country.”