"It's not all about banter – it's a terrible word 'banter' isn't it? – it's just annoying if you're listening to that all the time. We've got to get the cricket right."


Freddie Flintoff is gearing up for the launch of The Hundred, a brand new cricket competition with a brand new 100-ball format that has whipped up a storm since it was conceived.

Aimed at younger fans, newcomers, casual audiences and basically anyone who couldn't tell their leg stump from a googly, The Hundred concept hasn't been received with absolute unity. Far from it.

However, Flintoff – who will be at the heart of Sky Sports' coverage of the tournament – believes that conditions are perfect for it to overcome the doubters and flourish. It will live and die by one metric: the product, the cricket.

RadioTimes.com caught up with Flintoff ahead of the opening games for his take on how The Hundred can win over the masses and succeed.

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"Everyone now is wanting to get back and wanting to be around people and watch live sport. There's an appetite for it. Maybe The Hundred is coming around at exactly the right time.

"It's a chance to get out the house, go and watch some cricket, go and have some fun with all the entertainment going on around it and see some of the best players around the world. It could be the perfect summer for this competition.

Freddie Flintoff at Sky Up Next
Freddie Flintoff at Sky Up Next David M. Benett/Getty Images for Sky

"Ultimately, it's cricket. The cricket and the product has got to be right. For me, that's the way the tournament succeeds.

"You can push it, you can promote it, you can do all this stuff but ultimately the product has got to be right and looking at the players that are playing from around the world, you can't really do any better, they're all there."

Flintoff was happy to acknowledge the scepticism. He's seen it all before.

"I think everyone's natural reaction to it, especially with it being cricket, was scepticism," he admitted.

"We had it with T20. I remember sitting in a room with all the county players and they were presenting the T20 to us. I don't remember who I sat next to but I said: 'You reckon we're going to travel down to Brighton for three hours – really?!'

"Then when it started, it was so much fun. Year on year, from being a bit of a laugh, it got more competitive and then that was a tournament every team wanted to win.

"There's a bit of that with The Hundred. I don't know if it's being 'English' but your default position is sceptical, especially in cricket with the traditionalists, but you see it now, all the members watching T20 in their ties. They're loving it, aren't they? The Hundred can do that as well.

"They love it now, but initially everyone was scratching their heads. Then it started and everyone got better. Personal pride took over as a bowler and you thought you just didn't want to be there to get belted around by some kid I'd never heard of."

The Hundred faces a battle for its place on the cricketing scene. In order to appeal to the masses, traditional cricket jargon has been sanitised, simplified, stripped back.

'Wickets' are 'outs', an 'over' is gone, to be replaced with simply '10 balls' and 'batsmen' have become 'batters' as part of a campaign to draw in newbies to the sport.

Indeed, cricket is a minefield for those yet to be immersed in it, but grumblings from the seasoned regulars have proven to be a thorn in the competition's side before a ball has even been bowled.

Flintoff believes whatever people make of the terminology, glitz, glam and sideshows surrounding The Hundred, it will simply live or die by the quality of the action on the field.

And he believes one massive performance could be enough to set The Hundred on its merry way.

He said: "I remember when the IPL started all them years ago. I was playing against Surrey in a four-dayer when I was playing for Lancashire, and the first IPL game was on the telly in the dressing room. Everyone was a bit sceptical and everyone was thinking: 'how is this gonna pan out?'

"Brendon McCullum got 140-odd off about 60-70 balls. That, for me, launched the tournament. Everyone was talking about it. Nobody had seen anybody do this before. If I was the IPL, I'd send a thank you card to Brendan McCullum every day of his life because I think he launched that tournament. What a way to start!

"And I think that's going to be the same for The Hundred. It's going to be made by the players and their performances and them buying into it – on and off the field. As players, I know I did, you can become a bit guarded and cagey. We don't necessarily get to see people's personalities but I think this is a real opportunity to what the lads are like, to see a little bit more of them. And our job is to bring that out, I suppose, and to call out some amazing action in the middle.

"Everyone will have their opinions on it but ultimately it's cricket. We've how the game's developed in recent times where players are more skilful, they play more shots, they have a different attitude hitting the cricket ball and they can hit it further and we want to celebrate what's going on."

Will players invest in the new format? Flintoff believes so, and recalled his own experience of going through an auction process akin to The Hundred Draft.

Paddy McGuinness, Chris Harris and Freddie Flintoff on Top Gear (BBC)

"They'll all be talking about their price tags in the dressing room. I remember, I went in one, me and Kev [Pietersen] and a few of the lads were playing in the West Indies, on the morning of a Test.

"It was hard not to stay up and find out what you went for. Me and Kev went for exactly the same. We down for breakfast and you saw some of the other lads having breakfast on their own, they'd not been picked up or they'd been bought for fish eggs and it changed the dynamic of the dressing room! It was quite awkward actually, it's not a nice feeling being auctioned.

"But for a county cricketer, who plays in front of a few hundred people at best on some days to then play in front of 25,000 people – that's a treat.

"I went and played in South Africa, and played in the IPL, which didn't go well, played three games. I ended up playing in Brisbane. I don't know how that happened, to be honest! My biggest contribution to the Big Bash was singing 'Elvis – In the Ghetto' on the boundary at Brisbane, that's how well my tournament went but it was so much fun."

The Hundred presents a big opportunity for the sport and those who already sail within her, as well as offering a place onboard for newcomers. The question: will it float or sink?

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