The language of cricket

The English language is a funny thing, especially when it comes to the persistence of terms. I still talk about "writing" this column even though I'm not using a pen. I'll occasionally talk of "taping" a TV show even though I haven't had a VHS recorder in over 20 years.

Cricket is no stranger to esoteric terms, some of which are beginning to drop out of use. Describing a left-arm wrist spinner as a "Chinaman" is thankfully becoming obsolete, and the use of "Mankad" to describe running out the non-striker whilst backing up is becoming less fashionable. Cricinfo this week announced a move to the gender-neutral term "batter" instead of batsman.

Language evolves of course, but there are always those who object to such changes, often vehemently so.

That was to the fore this past week when the Daily Telegraph reported that organisers of The Hundred - the new franchise competition in England that starts this summer - were requesting that commentators used the term "out" instead of "wicket" during the tournament.

Predictably apoplectic reactions followed. Most hilariously former England captain Michael Vaughan wondered if the next change was to rename cow-corner because "it offends vegans". An actual educated adult really though that and tweeted it for the whole world to see.

The use of the word "out" is hardly alien to cricket, and the use of the word "wicket" is used for multiple things in cricket. It's the stumps at each end (the only actual use of the term in the laws), a partnership, a dismissal and, to the bane of many, the pitch itself. Those of us in the cricket bubble often forget that the game's terminology can be confusing to those outside of it.

This renaming (though the term "wicket" isn't actually banned, not that it matters to those complaining) attracted wide comment, even being mentioned on commentary during a New York Mets baseball game, with that sport having long referred to dismissals as outs. It was almost as if it was an attempt to get some publicity.

There are many valid arguments against The Hundred, specifically the impact it may have on the existing county structure. But those valid arguments are often drowned out by the rather overblown reactions to things like this, and those making them become tarred with the same brush as those with the silly reactions. I'd almost think that the sillier things about The Hundred were done purposely for that reason if I was willing to give the ECB's marketing department any credit.

That English cricket needs a new audience shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watches England matches on Sky Sports and sees several adverts for "Just For Men" hair-dye, "Advanced Hair Studio" hair-loss treatment, and erectile dysfunction medication. That hardly suggests a young, hip and diverse audience.

If changing terminology can make cricket easier to understand for a new audience then it's hard to paint it as completely a bad thing. But most of the discussion around The Hundred seems to be between people who already like cricket. There's so far little evidence of this new audience they claim the league is for. If that new audience doesn't come then the language coming from the ECB may well be of the type that I definitely can't use in this column.

The Hundred's American predecessor

One of the many pieces about the use of the term "outs" had an interesting quote from former ECB Chairman Colin Graves, considered to be one of the main instigators of The Hundred. Speaking to the Telegraph he said "The Hundred is marketable elsewhere because it is a new simple format of cricket. It is easy to understand. There are so many cricket supporters from India in the US. There is a thirst for cricket in the United States, it is a market that could easily absorb the Hundred."

There's a bit to unpack there. First he seems to assume that Americans will only like "simple" sports, which will be news to anyone who watches baseball or American football. Second, if there's already cricket supporters in the US, do they need a new format to attract them?

What Graves - and many in the cricket world - is probably unaware of though is that The Hundred actually had an American predecessor. Allow me to take you back to a time when George W Bush was campaigning for a second term as US president. The year is 2004 and the Twenty20 Cup had been launched in England the previous year. Nobody knew just what an impact the format was to have on the sport.

Other than England, the only other country to have a T20 competition in those days was South Africa, which played a season involving its main domestic teams in April 2004. Into this environment came "American Pro Cricket LLC" who announced that they were to launch a T20 league in the US named Pro Cricket.

Notably one of the features of the league was that overs would consist of five balls, with a total of 100 balls per innings. One of the reasons for this change was because Americans would find this simpler - something which the quote of Graves above echos. Despite this apparent desire for a new audience, the games were to be broadcast on a PPV basis.

Eight teams in two conferences took part, mostly playing at minor league baseball venues and on matting pitches. The organisers initially announced that several big names would be involved, many of whom denied all knowledge of the league. As it wasn't sanctioned by USACA, players contracted by their boards wouldn't be able to play anyway, although some non-contracted players did take part, most notably Ajay Jadeja, Daren Ganga and Mervyn Dillon.

The winners of the inaugural season were the San Francisco Freedom, beating New Jersey Fire in the final. Although organisers claimed they had funding for three years, the league collapsed after that first season. It does, however, remain the only attempt to launch a franchise T20 league in the US to actually take the field.

It also serves as a warning - launching a new T20 league and trying to attract a new audience is fraught with danger. Will The Hundred go the same way as its American predecessor?

A chance of Olympic cricket

Surprising news came out of India after a BCCI meeting on Friday. The Indian board has agreed in principle to send both a men's and women's team to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles should cricket be included.

The BCCI have long been the last major obstacle to cricket's inclusion in the games due to their reluctance to come under the auspices of India's anti-doping authorities. They are now covered by those authorities though and it appears that the pathway to Olympic inclusion is open from the cricket side.

Cricket being in the Olympics has long been desired by many involved in global development as in many countries it opens up far more opportunities for government funding, which in some cases can be many times more than ICC funding. It would be transformative for a majority of ICC members, even if they never even get near what is likely to be a small Olympic tournament.

It's now over to the IOC, who have long coveted the Indian TV market and are thought to be very keen on cricket's inclusion. That it will be included in 2028 is by no means certain, with Olympic observers believing that the 2032 games - which will almost certainly be in Brisbane - are more likely. The IOC are unlikely to accept anything other than full strength teams either.

So a lot of water under the bridge to come, but Olympic status for cricket is closer than it's been since the Paris Olympics of 1900 when club sides from England and France contested the only previous Olympic match.