I have a confession to make. The original title of this post was Introducing The Hundred Mercenaries rather than Introducing The Hundred Overseas Players. I decided the former was unfair. The definition of mercenary is ‘one who is primarily concerned with making money at the expense of ethics’ and I don’t think that’s quite true. Professional sportsmen have a short and high pressured career therefore they’re entitled to cash in while they can. They also have families to look after.

If someone offered me £125,000 to write about The Hundred for six weeks I’d probably do it. Scrap that. I’d definitely do it (let’s be honest). The ethical dubiousness of supporting a tawdry competition that might damage the first class game is balanced by the ethical responsibility to support one’s loved ones and secure their financial future. It’s a fine line.

However, now I’ve got the disclaimer out of the way – that it would be wrong to vilify players for taking the ECB’s cash – it’s time to reveal who The Hundred overseas players actually are. It’s not exactly a rogues’ gallery (although some will inevitably see the players as villains) but we had to discuss individual players at some point.

There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s an impressive list. It was always going to be thus. If you throw enough money at players they’re bound to be interested. The news that professional sportsmen like earning enormous amounts of money for doing, well, not very much (just 8 short games of 3 hours each) should surprise precisely nobody.

So here are The Hundred overseas players confirmed thus far: –

Kane Williamson – told you he was a baddie 😉

Steve Smith

Chris ‘rocket man’ Gayle

Eoin Morgan

Shahid Afridi

Shakib Al Hasan

AB de Villiers

Faf du Plessis

Kagiso Rabada

Mitchell Starc

David Warner

Aaron Finch

Quinton de Kock

Lasith Malinga

Babar Azam

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s great news that all these players will be coming to England next summer. I can see some pulses racing now. However, there are two contradictions we need to point out in order to stifle the pro-Hundred propaganda i.e. “look at all the famous names our shiny new tournament has attracted”.

Firstly – and this is the short and obvious point – how will attracting big names help to sell cricket to an entirely new audience? A new audience won’t know who these guys are anyway. It’s like trying to persuade me to watch opera on the promise of seeing Beniamino Gigli. I haven’t got a clue who this bloke is (I simply Googled ‘opera stars’) so his name has no meaning.

Secondly – and this is the real point I wanted to make – most of these huge names have already played county cricket. Therefore the idea that Hundred is needed to attract world class talent to these shores is nonsense. Let’s go through a few of them.

Kane Williamson (Yorkshire)

Steve Smith (Worcestershire)

Universe Boss (Somerset)

Shahid Afridi (Multiple counties)

Shakib Al Hasan (Worcestershire)

Aaron Finch (Surrey and Yorkshire)

AB de Villiers (Middlesex)

Faf du Plessis (Lancashire)

Michell Starc (Yorkshire)

David Warner (Durham)

Lasith Malinga (Kent)

Babar Azam (Somerset)

Kagiso Rabada (Kent)

Although some of these players only played county cricket when they were relative youngsters (Steve Smith falls into this category) most of them were already stars (if not huge ones) when they signed county contracts. Kane Williamson, example, played county cricket last summer, as did AB de Villiers and Aaron Finch.

The list goes on too. When Shakib played for Worcs he was already the No.1 ranked all rounder in the world rankings. Chris Gayle was already into his mid-30s and a huge IPL star when he turned out for Somerset. And although David Warner had yet to play test cricket when he signed for Durham, he’d already made waves as the first player to represent Australia who hadn’t played a Sheffield Shield match. He’d also torched South Africa at the MCG in a T20I fixture.

Although de Kock* hasn’t played county cricket before – this must make him the only South Africans in the world never to do so –  the idea that the Hundred format / concept has anything to do attracting these names is rubbish. Most of The Hundred overseas players have already appeared in all the T20 leagues around the world; therefore they surely would’ve come to England for a franchise T20 too.

Now at this point some I can hear Tom Harrison (of Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit fame) shouting “ahah, but these players have never appeared in county cricket in one block before  – and that’s the genius of the Hundred”.

I’m afraid this argument is erroneous. A few years ago the T20 Blast was played in a single block. It’s quite possible, if they really wanted to, for the ECB to go back to this schedule.

“Ah, but there are too many teams in county cricket, so the competition just wouldn’t resonate” some might say.

I hesitate to use the word ‘humbug’ in this political climate but I’m afraid I can’t resist. The ECB could have simply split The Blast into two divisions with the focus inevitably being on the top tier.

The good thing about two divisions is that the concept already works in the county championship and existing cricket fans are used to it. What’s more, the prospect of relegation would make the competition even more interesting with new teams appearing in every edition.

T20 would the perfect formula for such a competition because the smaller counties often do well in The Blast. Just look at Worcestershire, Essex, Leicestershire, and Northants etc. Consequently implementing two divisions would neither exclude nor damage the aspirations of the counties without test grounds. Promotion would never seem unreachable for any team. What’s more, the competition would still spread cricket around the shires rather than restricting it to privileged metropolitan centres.

So basically, if you hear all the hype about The Hundred overseas players coming to the UK next summer, and you’re tempted to believe that The Hundred is a great idea after all, just pause for thought …

This franchise project could easily be a T20 contest. It could easily involve all the counties. And it could’ve been played in a single block.

And had the ECB chosen this route (rather than being driven, as some allege, by a desire to make money from licensing) then the competition would’ve been less risky, less controversial, and it wouldn’t have alienated so many existing cricket fans.

Oh, and did I mention that the county fixture list wouldn’t be so congested either? There might even be room to play some more championship matches in midsummer if we weren’t trying to accommodate both The Blast and this new abomination.

James Morgan

*Quinton de Kock once signed for Notts but was asked to withdraw by the CSA.

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