Gloucestershire’s chief executive Will Brown has admitted his frustrations about the fact Bristol will not host any matches – men’s or women’s – in the inaugural season of the Hundred, and expressed a strong desire to bring the tournament to the South West of England in future seasons.
Fixtures in the competition were initially planned to be played around the country, with men’s games staged at the eight major Test venues and women’s matches spread out around 20 venues, but the ECB announced in November that all men’s and women’s fixtures would be played back-to-back as double-headers – with the exception of the tournament’s two opening games – for reasons relating to logistics and exposure.
For the ten counties whose main ground will not host any Hundred fixtures, the move was a significant blow, leaving them on the periphery of the competition’s inaugural season. Every county is represented in the competition at board level, but without staging games, smaller clubs’ involvement will be limited.
That is particularly apparent in Gloucestershire’s case. The ECB deliberated over whether the team representing Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Somerset would be given the identity of ‘Western Fire’ or ‘Welsh Fire’, but opted for the latter and unveiled a bright-red kit and a crest featuring the Welsh translation Tân Cymreig in late 2019.
“We have frustrations locally that there is not a 100-ball team in this part of the world,” Brown said. “We’re incredibly supportive of the Hundred. We have been since day one and we think it’s a good vehicle for engaging new audiences, but it’s definitely a frustration that the women’s Hundred is not going to be as visible and as present as we’d like it to be at Bristol this year. We very much hope that it will return in 2022 and that the commitment to it going back to those venues will be what happens.
“[The team] is Welsh Fire. Myself and Gordon Hollins [Somerset’s chief executive] are part of the board of directors at Welsh Fire and we love having that role, and we’re 100% supportive of Welsh Fire. [But] there have to be honest and real conversations about how easy it’s going to be for us attract supporters from Taunton, Devon, Cornwall or even Bristol across the river to support a team that effectively represents another country.
“I think that’s going to be a challenge and I think we have to accept that and do our best to make Welsh Fire the success that Wales needs, rather than a success for Bristol and Taunton – we could spend a lot of money and time trying to promote something which probably doesn’t resonate over here.
“We’re frustrated. We understand the reasons this year but we hope we get it back in 2022, and more than that, that there’s a recognition around what the South West can do for cricket. My preference is still that you drop a ninth team in down here and we run it between us. We’ve certainly got the cricketing pedigree and the venues to do it, so I’d like to see it.”
Brown admitted that there would be some “practical considerations” as to how games would be split between Bristol and Taunton, and how such a team would be branded, but he emphasised Bristol’s status as a city with a young, diverse population, which he believes makes it an ideal venue to fit into the ECB’s wider vision for the Hundred.
“From the minute we didn’t get it, we’ve been lobbying for that,” Brown said. “In an ideal world you’d have 10 teams or whatever it might be, and it’s a funny debate about would it be Bristol or Taunton, or both – there would be some practical considerations. We’ve been lobbying, making comments – snide and optimistic – for the last three years about it. We’ll keep banging that drum.
“All we can do is make the best business case we can for Bristol, and we think the strategy we’ve got means that if you’re trying to engage with families, different audiences – if you look at our sales record around youth, the number of women coming to matches, young families, and even Bristol as a city, it’s disproportionately weighted to that young family audience.
“We’re trying to create a venue that people come up and they go ‘yeah, I recognise this, it feels like an extension of Gloucester Road or Stokes Croft or wherever I’ve come from. I’m a Bristolian and this represents me, and therefore this club represents me’. And then when we do get the Hundred or anything new and try and grow, people look at us locally and nationally and go: f***, they understand their communities, and want to be with them.
“I just want to take the excuses away when we come to things like the Hundred. I want people not to have a choice. I want the ECB to think ‘if we don’t give it to Bristol then we’ve done something wrong’.”
Hollins, Somerset’s chief executive, said that the club would continue to be “pragmatic” in its outlook to the Hundred, and downplayed the prospects of a ninth team being added to the competition soon.
“There’s been a lot of debate in these parts about the Hundred and I absolutely understand why that has been the case,” he said. “Whether it be more people wanting to watch cricket, more boys and girls wanting to pick up a bat and ball, more interest on social media, my job is to ensure that cricket in this part of the world benefits from that tournament, and at the same time as supporting colleagues over in Wales to help them grow cricket in Wales because that would be a good thing for everyone. We’re very pragmatic about it.
“In terms of the future, who knows? I think that the ECB’s focus will be on getting the tournament off and running, getting that off to a successful start, and then who knows what happens to the Hundred in the future. We’ll be open to discussions with ECB and any other parties on that at the right point in time, but that’s not our focus right now.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98