The draft for the ECB’s new tournament, The Hundred, took place at Sky Sports’ state of the art studio on Sunday night, and considering that any process of filling in a load of squad lists will never be action packed, it was as good as it could be. Sky have been at the forefront of cricket coverage for more than a decade and they certainly threw a lot at making this look great. The Hundred has very clear “brand guidelines” that will make it’s look very distinctive, and the set and the presenting talent was shining bright.
Having both local and overseas players at the draft also added to it, seeing their reactions to the picks was almost more interesting that the picks themselves. The production team were also very clever in how they used interviews. During the latter half of the draft they let the picks carry on with the names flashing up on the screen while they had an in depth chat with players Kathrine Brunt (Southern Brave) and Kate Cross (Manchester Originals) and coach Lydia Greenway (Oval Invincibles) about the women’s version of the Hundred tournament. It kept the show moving and meant that the women’s event was giving a good amount of coverage during the men’s draft.
The selections when they started were not all that surprising. The two best T20 cricketers in the world – Rashid Khan (Trent Rockets) and Andre Russell (Southern Brave) – were the first two names who got picked, earning themselves £125,000 each. Most of the other players to go at the top salary spot weren’t all that surprising either, Aaron Finch (Northern Superchargers), Mitchell Starc (Welsh Fire), David Warner (Southern Brave), Glenn Maxwell (London Spirit) and Sunil Narine (Oval Invincibles) are the kind of names you would expect for this level of tournament.
The first pick that will have raised a few eyebrows was Liam Livingstone. The Lancashire batsman went into the draft with a £60,000 reserve but got picked up by Birmingham Phoenix as their first selection at the £125,000 bracket. The potential for Livingstone to be a world-class T20 player is clear, but with just two T20 Internationals and a handful of appearances at the IPL and PSL he isn’t quite there yet. This a big chance for him to show a domestic and global audience what he can do as a big money signing.
Perhaps more surprising pick than Livingstone was Dane Villas. The Lancashire captain was picked by his “home” franchise, Manchester Originals, as one of their £125,000 picks. When asked about this decision the Originals coach. Simon Katich said they wanted to make sure they did not lose him.
“He's obviously highly experienced, and he's had a very good season with [Lancashire],” Katich said, making it clear that Vilas would be leading the new franchise. “We really wanted to lock that in so you don't take any risk with the leadership. We know he's got a really good respect to the group already in terms of the players that he played with last year.”
With the smallest salary any player gets for The Hundred being £30,000 everyone will be well compensated, but there were a number of local players who got picked up early and secured themselves a big pay day. Seam bowling all-rounder Lewis Gregory went to Trent Rockets for £100,000. Tom Abell, the Somerset batting all-rounder, also went in that price bracket, as did the hugely experienced Ravi Bopara (Brimingham Phoenix). Also going in that price bracket is Tom Banton (Welsh Fire), another Somerset player who had a breakout season in 2019 and has been selected in England’s T20 squad this winter.
It is always interesting to look at the players who didn’t get a gig. Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo both missed out having set a very high reserve price, a risk which didn’t that work out. However, this tournament is nine months away and each team are allowed a wildcard pick closer to when it starts. It will be interesting to see how that is used.
Lasith Malinga, Shakib al Hasan and Babar Azam didn’t get picked, but with limited availability with their international commitments this isn’t that surprising.
The standout side is Southern Brave who will have Jofra Archer in the team when his England commitments allow it. He will be joined by Andre Russell, David Warner, Liam Dawson, James Vince, Chris Jordan and Shadab Khan. The local talent further down the list is also very strong. With the likes of Tymal Mills, George Garton and Craig Overton joining Archer and Russell they certainly won’t be short on pace.
Oval Invincibles are probably the second best balanced side, with Sunil Narine and Sandeep Lamichhane adding some mystery spin to a squad with pace and powerful batting. And the prospect of Narine opening the batting with Jason Roy is mouth-watering.
Perhaps the weakest squad “on paper” is London Spirit who will be coached by Shane Warne and captained by England’s Eoin Morgan. It was interesting to see how involved Morgan was in the draft process, regularly going over to his team’s station and giving his input. He says he is pleased with who they have, and they have a number of options to choose from.
“It’s about covering our squad with a balance of replacements,” Morgan said. ‘So, when you figured out what direction you wanted to go in you go to a player and then go and commit to it and cover it. A lot of the chats in the lead into this is based around having that balanced side and having options throughout the whole tournament regardless of conditions. I think [the selection panel] have nailed some fantastic seam bowlers with great experience, a lot of spin options and attacking batsmen.”
With the wages on offer, and the window where this tournament sits in the middle of the English summer, the quality of players who would take part was never in doubt. The issue for the ECB and those marketing the tournament is to get existing cricket fans onboard with these new teams rather than the counties they currently follow.
With top quality cricket on show, and with it getting coverage on both free to air and subscription TV this shouldn’t be too difficult. While there will be vocal critics of anything new, franchise T20 tournaments, and this is what The Hundred is even though it has 40 fewer balls per match, has proved successful the world over. There is no reason why the UK will be any different.