Hundred gets the ball rolling with sparkly draft for new-born franchises | Barney Ronay
Roll up. Roll up for the mystery tour. On a night of fevered transactional tension at the Sky TV studio complex English cricket rolled out its latest vision of the future. “We’re on the clock and we’re under way,” Ian Ward announced into the camera just before 7pm, firing the starter’s pistol on the inaugural men’s Hundred Draft.
Behind him the lighted plinths, the sheer black underway, the thrillingly smooth surfaces of the new crickertainment future stretched out. This was the look of The Draft from the start, a mix of sporting theatre, election night glam and high-end gameshow. The model here isn’t Peter West in his high-backed chair or Tony Lewis waggling his eyebrows. It’s light entertainment, with a nod to those Sunday night, sequin-spangled, dance-off segments.
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“Trent Rockets, you are on the clock now…NOW!!” Isa Guha announced as the cameras cut to the franchise coaches hunched behind their rostrums. Even this was a power play, a lineup of unarguable A-listers, including the great Shane himself, perched at the London Spirit desk and looking, as ever, both gorgeously ravaged and gorgeously primped and styled.
Warne had been an early voice of derision about the Hundred, now miraculously persuaded to become the head coach of one its franchises. To be fair, he did a pretty good job here of looking engaged and excited and – crucially – as though he knew what was going on, although the cameras did at one stage seem to show he had his phone on the desk in front of him (“Siri, who the bloody hell is Daryn Smit?”).
To their credit both the ECB and Sky were all-in here. An hour before the start the main posse of England players could be seen rolling into town, consciously dressed down in hoodies and high tops, looking like the slightly grizzled end scene from a Blazin’ Squad reunion documentary.
Inside a raft of global A-listers basked on white leather sofas. There was Jofra in a pair of impressively huge trainers and Moeen Ali kicking back with all the live TV élan of a man about to be fed to the castle crocodiles.
It made for an engaging piece of contrived TV theatre, albeit based largely around reading out the names of cricketers. The Rockets picked Rashid Kahn. The Northern Superchargers went for Aaron Finch, the Welsh Fire Steve Smith. The Southern Braves picked Andre Russell, to the delight of Jofra, and no doubt the TV schedulers in search of some early firepower.
In between there was an announcement of some key women’s Hundred players. Meg Lanning went to the Fire, Alyssa Healy to the Superchargers, England duo and recently married couple Nat Sciver and Katherine Brunt will play for the Rockets.
As the draft played out it became clear one side-effect would be a degree of wastage at the top end. The player list had promised us Chris Gayle, Kagiso Rabada and Lasith Malinga in the top price bracket. In the event we didn’t get any of them.
Instead Liam Livingstone went to the Birmingham Phoenix for double his reserve price. There were major deals for Phil Salt and Tom Abell. Sam Billings, the most Kentish man in Kent, will play for the Oval Invincibles. Ravi Bopara, star of the Blast, went to Birmingham Phoenix. Shakib Al-Hasan, the world’s top T20 all-rounder over the last few years, went unsold to any of the eight franchises.
And so it rolled on, opening gambit in either the stupidest event ever staged in the history of English sport, or a refreshingly bold reimagining, depending on your point of view. Both sides of the Hundred culture wars have something to commend them at this stage.
For now these are shell company teams in a non-existent format, fuelled by the imagined excitement of an as-yet invisible audience. They laughed at T20, the neo-philes will tell you. They laughed at the IPL. Which is probably true. But then, they also laughed at El Dorado, the Titanic and the Hindenburg airship. Which one will this be?
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For now just scanning the draft list was slightly dizzying, a roster of 570 professional cricketers, 239 overseas and 331 domestic, an entire generation compressed into a flat white sales brochure. Blake and Blatherwick, Bohannon and Ball. Crook and Coughlin, Warner and Wagg.
There was also a reminder here of what this process means for most of these cricketers. By the end of the Men’s Draft 112 contracts had been handed out, 90 of those to domestic cricketers. The ECB has talked about making this an “aspirational” industry. It is also a stratification. The vast majority of English professional cricketers will spend those months playing a shadow game, beyond the lighted stage.
It worked, though, for now. The new world is under way. The sense of a machine rumbling into action will be reassuring to all concerned. We have eight box-fresh teams. We have a cast list of players. All the ECB needs now is someone to watch it.