Blast stars left frustrated by Hundred draft as smaller counties struggle for attention
Leading county players have been left frustrated after missing out in Sunday's inaugural draft for the Hundred, amid concerns that their case for selection may have been weakened because they do not play for a county based at one of the host venues for the new competition.
Josh Cobb, one of the T20 Blast's more consistent performers over the past few seasons, told ESPNcricinfo that the draft was "a tough watch" and "very disappointing", but said he remained hopeful of finding a route into the tournament before it starts in July next year.
Each of the eight teams will pick a 'wildcard' player after the conclusion of the Blast group stages next summer, while players can also put themselves forward to be replacement players in the event of an injury or an international call-up.
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Other high-profile omissions at the draft included Jordan Clark, Samit Patel, Steven Finn, Olly Stone and Steven Croft, while several players with limited T20 experience were picked up based on potential as much as due to consistency of performance.
Eyebrows were raised by the dominance of particular counties in the squads of new teams, with Trent Rockets' 15-man player list containing seven players who had appeared for Nottinghamshire this season.
Cobb, who was Man of the Match in both the 2011 and 2016 Blast finals, said that he feared players at smaller counties would start to think they had to leave in order to get picked up by a team in the Hundred.
"When they brought out the new competition, it was something that the ECB and everyone else was desperate not to happen," Cobb said, "but I think naturally you'll see people assessing their options and looking at counties they could play for that might help them in terms of playing franchise cricket.
"I spoke to an older bloke who is still playing [after the draft], and he said if he was a young guy now he'd be looking to play at a Test match ground. It's one of those things."
Only one Northants player - Adam Rossington - was picked up in the draft, while no players from Cobb's former county Leicestershire were selected.
"Each coach and each team is going to have their own way of going about it," Cobb said. "The fact that Northants, being a northern team, were associated with a southern team [London Spirit] might not have helped massively, but there's still time to have another strong comp and put my name back in the hat, and I'm sure the Hundred will be a great tournament."
The lack of players picked up from certain teams appeared to fly in the face of comments made in February by Daryl Mitchell, the chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Association, who said that it was "imperative" that the best 96 domestic players were selected in the draft.
"What you don't want is to have bias, or even the perception of bias, from people picking their own men, shall we say," Mitchell said. "This competition, to be a success, needs to have the best 96 players and everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity of being in that, by performances in the T20 Blast or the previous two-three years."
But in a statement to ESPNcricinfo after the draft, Mitchell said: "We were very strong on our stance regarding independent selectors. This has resulted in all eight head coaches not being affiliated with the host venues. The multi-county structure of the boards also helps make the draft a fairer process.
"All selections are subjective and coaches had their own strategies for them to pick what they believe is their best squad. [The draft contains] a high percentage of the Blast's top performers from 2019."
Cobb had tweeted immediately after the draft asking "when's Brexit happening again?" - a reference to the high number of Kolpak players that were signed on Sunday, given the UK's impending departure from the European Union will likely spell the end of the loophole that allows non-British players to qualify as locals.
"There are players that have played international cricket and deserved to be picked up," he said. "It was just a tongue-in-cheek tweet, but if they weren't available it would obviously open up more doors, from a selfish point of view."
Despite the setback of his non-selection, Cobb retains hopes of getting picked up in other global leagues over the winter.
"You look at someone like Harry Gurney," he said, "who I used to live with and played with at Leicester - he's obviously played very well in the Blast, then had a couple of franchise opportunities, and he's showed everyone how good he is. For me it was mainly about trying to get an opportunity somewhere to showcase the talent I believe I've got any try to kick on.
"It's obviously a bit of a setback - if you don't get in your own domestic competition, there's not going to be too many teams looking at you around the world."
Another star of recent Blast seasons, Jack Taylor, said it was "disappointing" that only three of the Gloucestershire squad had been selected in the draft given the club's success in T20 over the past four seasons - no team in the South Group has a higher win percentage since 2016.
"With how I've done in the last three or four years in the T20 Blast," Taylor said, "I feel like I've been one of the better players in my role, and that's backed up by my record. To not have a team interested was a real disappointment.
"It's disappointing that only three of us have been picked up - you'd like to have thought that myself and a couple of others would have been. I'm over the moon for Benny [Howell], Payney [David Payne] and Higgo [Ryan Higgins] getting selected, and it's fully deserved. It's just frustrating that only three of such a talented squad have been picked up."
Taylor, who starred in the Blast in 2018 with an eye-catching strike rate of 199.19, also suggested that performances in televised games had influenced selection. "It plays a part - the guys that did well on TV seem to have got a crack. That's a frustration, but I guess when that times comes around, performing in front of the cameras does count for more."
Like Cobb, Taylor is hoping that he can break into the franchise circuit this winter after entering his name into various drafts around the world.
"I just need to get that opportunity," he said. "I know that if I can crack it I can perform at that level, so it's just a case of playing well and having someone that takes a punt on me.
"My numbers stack up with players not just in this country but worldwide playing in the role that I do, it's about having that one opportunity and then it snowballs from there. The position that I bat, there's a perception that you need to bowl as well, but I think players that score at a high strike rate in their first ten balls should be like gold dust."
Taylor also remains hopeful of being picked up as a wildcard or a replacement, and stressed his credentials in the shortest format. "I know teams look for how a player fares when he contributes in games resulting in a win and more often than not when I contribute it results in a win. That's something I rank highly in."