English cricket's controversial new Hundred competition has been delayed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, cricket chiefs announced on Thursday.
The new 100-balls-per-side format, to be played by eight franchises rather than the established 18 first-class counties, had been due to start in July.
But with the English season delayed until at least July 1, with any matches after that likely to be played behind closed doors, the England and Wales Cricket Board has decided to hold the Hundred over until next year.
“The situation we find ourselves in as a country means that delivery of the Hundred will not be possible this summer,” ECB chief executive Tom Harrison in a statement.
“Whilst we are naturally disappointed that we won't get to realise our ambitions this year, the Hundred will go ahead in 2021 when we are safely able to deliver everything we intended to help grow the game.”
The ECB's statement stressed that an event with no fans “directly contradicts the competition's goal to attract a broader audience.”
Global travel restrictions also mean it is not possible for star players from other countries to take part.
The ECB has long insisted the Hundred, which it hoped to launch off the back of England's success in winning last year's World Cup on home soil, would attract a new audience vital to safeguarding cricket's future.
But many voices within English cricket have been opposed to the competition from the outset, arguing there is no space for a new format in an already congested calendar.
They say many of the ECB's aims could be achieved with better support for the existing Twenty20 Blast.
Even before the pandemic, the ECB had itself forecast the Hundred would make a loss in its first five seasons.
Costs in the first year, including the £1.3 million ($1.6 million) paid to each county, were estimated at £58 million, against an income of £51 million.
But Harrison, one of the prime movers behind the Hundred, said Thursday: “As we emerge from the fallout of COVID-19, there will be an even greater need for the Hundred.
“Our survival as a game, long-term, will be dependent on our ability to recover financially and continue our ambition to build on cricket's growing fan base.
“That need has not gone anyway, if anything, it is now more critical.”