You’ve heard the hype. You can’t ignore it when it’s rammed down your throat 24/7. But will the Hundred really bring together the best cricketing talent ever assembled on these shores? Let’s have a look at the Hundred overseas players selected in the draft and work it out.

So who are the big names? We’ve got Rashid Khan, Dre Russell, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Steve Smith, Glen Maxwell, Mohammad Amir, and Kane Williamson. We’ll get to the other overseas players, who are good players but not quite top global superstars, in a mo.

It’s my contention, and I’m using my serious grown up voice here, that these big names aren’t particularly special.

WHAT? I hear you say. Has James finally gone mad? Not quite (not yet anyway). Let me explain …

I say they’re ‘not special’ in the sense that seeing these guys play in England isn’t particularly special. In other words English audiences are already very familiar with these players and have already had plenty of opportunity to see them in the past. Rashid Khan is the possible exception but he’s already played T20 for Sussex in both 2018 and 2019. So is it such a big deal that he’s coming back to play in The Hundred in 2020?

Let’s go through the other names one by one.

Mohammad Amir? He played for Essex last season and probably isn’t quite the bowler he used to be.

Kane Williamson? Fantastic batsman but his availability in The Hundred will be limited and he’s also played county cricket before.

Dre Russell? Name me a T20 circus that he hasn’t played in? Oh, and he’s also played county cricket in the past.

And then we come to the Aussies. Did you know that Australia are playing England in a needless ODI series immediately before The Hundred? The 3rd and final ODI is on July 16th. And the Hundred starts in mid-July. Therefore UK crowds, if they hadn’t seen enough of Steve Smith and Co this summer, will have plenty of opportunity to see these guys in action again before Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit even begins.

What’s more, we could probably argue (if we really wanted to) that Warner’s stock in this country is at an all time low after his awful Ashes performances, whilst Starc and Maxwell aren’t even automatic picks anymore. The latter are obviously much better in white ball cricket than test cricket, but they’re hardly exotic names that our domestic fanbase will be chomping at the bit to see. And besides, they’ve both played county cricket in the past too. Maxwell was at Lancs this year and Starc has played for Yorkshire.

So what about the other overseas players? Well, they’re all pretty good, nobody’s denying that, but does their inclusion in The Hundred really justify the hype? If you’re arguing that this is the most sensational collection of cricketers ever assembled on these shores then the bar is obviously set pretty high.

Here are the ‘big’ second tier names:

Darcy Short? He’s ok but I doubt casual cricket fans in England have heard of him.

Nathan Coulter-Nile? Getting on a bit and injury prone.

Aaron Finch? He’s already a county stalwart after playing for both Yorkshire and Surrey in recent times so there’s nothing particularly special to see here.

Sunil Narine? Not really the draw he once was.

Imran Tahir? Good bowler but he’s now over 40-years old and hardly a superstar.

Shaheen Afridi? Super prospect but still wet behind the ears.

Adam Zampa? Played in the Blast last year and wasn’t particularly in demand during the draft.

I put it to you, therefore, that the above Hundred overseas players aren’t actually raising the bar that much. They’re mostly very familiar cricketers, youngsters making their way, or players somewhat past their best.

Perhaps the most interesting names are the spinners – Pakistan’s excellent young all rounder Shadhab Khan, and Afghanistan’s Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi. However, they’re not exactly household names either. Not yet anyway. I don’t really see them as emblems for the so called greatest cricketing show on earth.

So what, at the end of the day, are we left with? Basically the other players not discussed thus far are the same old county cricketers we’ve seen every week in The Blast – minus AB de Villiers who played in The Blast this year but won’t be playing in The Hundred.

Is it any surprise, therefore, that the team rosters don’t look as strong as billed? A casual glance at Elton John’s Trent Rockets reveals quite an ordinary looking side when one considers that Joe Root will hardly play:

Rockets: Rashid Khan, Lewis Gregory, Alex Hales, Coulter Nile, Harry Gurney, Steven Mullaney, Luke Wood (how the hell did he get a contract?), Tom Moores, Dawid Malan, Ben Cox, Luke Fletcher, Luke Wright, Matt Carter.

I’d quite fancy the normal Notts side, which would contain the likes of Joe Clarke, Samit Patel, Ben Duckett, and Dan Christian, to upset this lot. I’d also fancy the regular Worcestershire side, which contains 7 players drafted in The Hundred to knock over the Birmingham Phoenix (especially if Moeen, Pat Brown, and Riki Wessels played for their county not for Birmingham):

Phoenix: Chris Woakes, Liam Livingstone, Kane Williamson (when available), Ravi Bopara, Benny Howell, Tom Helm, Shaheen Afridi , Adam Hose, Cameron Delport, Henry Brookes, Adam Zampa, Chris Cooke.

Although I don’t think that Trent & Birmingham are necessarily the strongest teams in the Hundred, the others don’t look particularly intimidating either. Welsh Fire and the Northern Superchargers look possibly strongest squads to me but I’d still fancy reigning champions Essex to knock them over if they added two quality overseas players (which they didn’t actually have on Finals Day).

And that, my pedigree chums, is the bottom line here. If you took a strong county T20 Blast side and added a quality overseas player or two (which many Blast sides have anyway), then the standard really isn’t that different. Remember that Sussex attack last year which boasted Rashid Khan, Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan, and Tymal Mills? In many ways the Hundred teams are just the same old domestic and Kolpak players mixed up and moved around.

So do the Hundred overseas players constitute the finest collection of talent every assembled on the shores? Probably yes. But not by much. Most of the big names have already played county cricket. What’s more, if one wrote down who the best county overseas players were last year, and then compared it to the list of the Hundred overseas players, you might find that the lists are quite similar and not too different in quality at all.

“Ah”! I hear you say. “But the overseas players in county cricket don’t come over for a short period of time in one block”. Yes that’s right. But they used to. The T20 Blast used to be in one block too a few years ago. And if it could be again if the ECB really wanted it to. But then that would spoil an important part of the argument they used to sell The Hundred.

The one thing that would have raised the bar significantly, of course, is if India players were available. But we all know that was never going to happen. It’s worth pointing out, however, that plenty of India players have played in county cricket and will continue to do so. Just not in tournaments that rival the IPL.

And what about the argument that the Hundred exposes the best young English talent to the best overseas players – which can only help the England ODI team? Well, here’s some food for thought. I read that just 77 England qualified players were picked in the draft. 43 players are either overseas or Kolpaks. And what’s more, these 77 English players will not play a single game of domestic 50-over cricket next season.

I’m not even sure, if I’m being honest, that the overseas coaches have even picked the best English talent in many cases. There seems to be a bias, as mentioned by Josh Cobb, towards players that did well in televised games. Some might even argue, although being a Worcs fan I’m not entirely convinced, that county players who play for bigger clubs received preferential treatment.

I sometimes wonder whether English cricket contains a lot of players of similar standard. Yes there’s some chaff that the Hundred has probably cut out, but a number of pretty average cricketers earned themselves nice pay days too. And in many instances these players are no better than players who missed out entirely.

So does the Hundred really raise the standard? Maybe a bit. Maybe a little bit more than a bit. But certainly not as much as advertised. Meanwhile, the consequences for the domestic game, particularly the continued marginalisation of the championship and the downgrading of domestic 50-over cricket, cannot be overstated.

James Morgan

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