Rashid Khan tops the Hundred draft as franchises get down to business
I’m from England cricket,” said Jofra Archer, as he pulled his car into security at Sky studios. “And I’m here for the draft.”
So began the first Hundred draft: the first ever draft of its ilk in British sport, with each selection made against a clock ticking down, naturally, from 100. And at 7.15pm in Isleworth, the Trent Rockets were entrusted with first pick in their pod. They plumped for Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, a brilliant leg-spinner who thus acquired the honour of the inaugural draft pick in the history of the Hundred.
This was the night that each Hundred side went from being merely a concept to a normal sports team, with a fully-fledged squad and their own player signings to be celebrated and denigrated. This made-for-TV spectacle, that was in keeping with the competition that will arrive next year: a controversial and much-castigated attempt by English cricket to expand its footprint in a cut-throat sporting landscape.
Rashid’s selection embodied one of the themes of the night. Spinners - especially overseas ones brimming with mystery - were among the most in-demand players of the draft, unsurprising given their great success in the Twenty20 game. Sunil Narine, Imran Tahir and Rashid’s compatriot Mujeeb Ur Rahman were also picked up for the maximum £125,000; indeed, four Afghan spinners were signed. Nepal’s leg spinner Sandeep Lamichhane, who has played in a plethora of T20 leagues around the world, was also drafted for £100,000 by the Oval Invincibles.
The demand for glitzy overseas players in the opening rounds was as expected: Andre Russell, Aaron Finch, Mitchell Starc, Glenn Maxwell and Australia’s Ashes hero Steve Smith, who is likely to captain Welsh Fire, were among those also drafted for £125,000. Less envisaged were a number of domestic players fetching six figures.
Lancashire’s captain Dane Vilas was the most curious selection in the £125,000 round, being picked up by the Manchester Originals. Vilas grew up in South Africa and played a solitary T20 international in 2012 before signing a Kolpak contract with Lancashire.Credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images for ECB
Yet in many ways the draft was defined as much by who was not selected as who was. Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga both went undrafted: both had a £125,000 reserve price, which - not entirely surprisingly - no one was prepared to pay.
“I think they priced themselves wrong,” said Shane Warne, head coach of London Spirit. “If they'd gone in at £100,000 and not £125,000 I think they'd have been picked up.”
In its own curious way, these non-drafts were a quiet victory for the new tournament, an indication of their seriousness in building the best team, not merely recruiting the biggest stars. For all their pedigree, both Gayle and Malinga are considered to have their finest years behind them. They may well have only been available for a solitary season - Gayle has just turned 40 - and teams chose to build for multiple years instead.
Simon Katich, the head coach of Manchester Originals, picked the young English pair Phil Salt and Tom Abell, to go with their pre-draft selections of Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson.
“I really like the fact that the teams are planning for the future a lot. You look at our side you’ve got a lot of guys that are in their young 20s,” said Jos Buttler, who was allocated to Manchester Originals before the draft. “It’s fantastic to see all the coaches and staff look at it in that way rather than just the here and now.
“You look at Saqib and Parkinson they could be Manchester Originals players for the next 10 years.”
Given the opposition of vast swathes of traditional English fans to the new competition, perhaps it was instructive that teams prioritised recruiting local domestic players. The Trent Rockets, who will play at Trent Bridge, recruited Nottinghamshire players Steven Mullaney, Tom Moores, Luke Fletcher and Matt Carter, as well as the recently released Luke Wood, to go with their pre-draft selections of local icons Alex Hales and Harry Gurney.
Yet while such a local core might help to entice more supporters to the competition, teams believe that their local experience will also help their teams win. Tom Moody, head coach of the Oval Invincibles, said that local players would not need time to adjust to playing their home games at The Oval - crucial given how short the tournament is, with eight group games per side. Ironically, given that they will not host a team in the competition, Sussex had 11 players selected; poor old Leicestershire had none at all.
For those who have gambled in creating the new competition, the hope is that, as well as increasing interest in the sport in England, the Hundred could also improve the English national team, by granting the best young players more exposure to the best players in the world. “It’s great for us that we now have that platform for England,” Buttler said.
While the men’s teams assembled their squads - the Oval Invincibles, with prowess in spin bowling and death hitting perhaps looked the strongest - the night also saw work continue on the squads being assembled for the women’s Hundred competition. Teams in the women’s tournament negotiate contracts with players, rather than use a draft. The eight women’s teams each announced a marquee signing, with the Welsh Fire announcing that they had signed Australia captain Meg Lanning and Southern Brave unveiling New Zealand’s Suzie Bates, the No1 ranked player in the women’s T20 game.