English cricket treads new waters for the next month when county are replaced by city franchises and a completely new format comes into play when The Hundred finally starts on Thursday, a year after originally planned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Seven cities in the UK are entered into the tournament with two from London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester and Southampton all having teams that are branded uniquely in kits resembling packets of crisps! It is certainly different!
This is completely different to the three formats of the game that we know and love. The eight teams go into a round robin league in the first phase with each team playing the other seven home and away. At the end of the league phase the top team heads straight into the final and the next two teams play the eliminator to meet them there. The final takes place at Lord’s on August 21. The tournament will be shown in full on Sky with plenty of live matches on BBC too.
The quirky part of the format is in the matches themselves when the headline changes are:
- 100 balls per innings
- A change of ends after 10 balls
- Bowlers deliver either five or 10 consecutive balls
- Each bowler can deliver a maximum of 20 balls per game
- Each bowling side gets a strategic time-out of up to two and a half minutes
- A 25-ball powerplay start for each team
- Two fielders are allowed outside the initial 30-yard circle during the powerplay
- Teams will be able to call time-outs, as has been the case in the IPL since 2009
The Southern Brave are the favourites to win the competition. Their headliner is Jofra Archer but putting too much weight behind him might not be a wise idea as he has had a tough time of it with injuries recently. The Southampton based outfit have a strong looking bowling attack with Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills, Danny Briggs and George Garton in their ranks while James Vince, Quinton de Kock, Devon Conway and Colin de Grandhomme ensure runs won’t be in short supply. The Brave were hoping to have Andre Russell over and he might have made the difference. Their bowlers carry too many injuries for my liking.
The Oval Invincibles are pretty much Surrey with a few add ons so familiarity could be their strength. They have the Curran brothers who have a decent record in domestic cricket although Sam Curran will leave early on for the Test series. With Will Jacks, Alex Blake and Laurie Evans they don’t lack for batting power while Tabraiz Shamsi and Sunil Narine offer good spin options while the new kid on the block for England in Saqib Mahmood is also in this squad. They should be competitive but too many players have England threats over them.
Joe Root was the star attraction for the Trent Rockets when the draft was done but obviously the Test series with India will get rid of him for most of the tournament. It is Alex Hales who could be the superstar for the Trent Bridge based side, while D’Arcy Short, Luke Wright and Dawid Malan offer huge batting quality. Much like Nottinghamshire, the Rockets don’t lack for bowling options either with Rashid Khan a standout pick. Good county performers like Samit Patel, Luke Wood and Marchant de Lange should ensure that the Rockets go very well.
The Manchester Originals are a side who will be well fancied in this tournament. Jos Buttler heads up their squad list and although the Old Trafford based side will lose him when the Test series begins, their batting still has the impressive Joe Clarke, Sam Hain, Colin Munro and Colin Ackermann while Carlos Brathwaite is a standout pick as an all-rounder and Lockie Ferguson and Matt Parkinson should go very well with the ball. I’d keep the Originals on side although I do prefer others.
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When the draft was made I had an eye on the Birmingham Phoenix. Moeen Ali’s fall out of the Test side certainly benefits them and then in Liam Livingstone, Finn Allen, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Benny Howell they don’t lack for batting quality. Adam Milne, Pat Brown and Chris Woakes when he is fit bring decent bowling options and then there is Imran Tahir to assist Ali in the spin department. Edgbaston gets used a lot but if their batsmen can find pitches to their liking then they should go very well.
On paper, the London Spirit look like the weakest squad in the competition. They haven’t been helped with a number of dropouts from their original squad but what they do have is the captaincy skills of Eoin Morgan and the cricket brain of Shane Warne which should help them. To be fair, Joe Denly, Josh Inglis and Ravi Bopara are in good form with the bat while Mason Crane and Mohammad Nabi are good spin options. If their seamers can keep them in the game they might surprise but do look up against it.
The Northern Superchargers are one of the outsiders for the tournament. I suspect that is because they are not going to see much of Ben Stokes but they do still have star quality with the bat in Faf du Plessis, Chris Lynn and Harry Brook while with the ball David Willey, Brydon Carse and Ben Raine can bring the heat with Adil Rashid and Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman bring the spin options. The Superchargers might actually be sleepers in this tournament.
The complete outsiders of the eight are the Welsh Fire where Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow were expected to be their star acts. However one is injured and the other has been recalled to the Test squad so that plan has gone west. That will pile the pressure on the likes of Tom Banton, Ben Duckett and Glenn Phillips with the bat but they have plenty of options with the ball in Qais Ahmad, Jake Ball, Matt Critchley and Lungi Ngidi. They are probably a batsman short of really contending in this.
Usually I would do all the player markets and everything else but they only went up on the eve of the tournament which has given no preparation time at all for them, and Covid-19 has a huge shadow over this tournament so I probably wouldn’t want to tie too much money up in it for a month anyway when one ping of an app can lead to all sorts of issues. That means I’ll go with just the one outright bet and that comes in the form of the Birmingham Phoenix.
The concern is that Daniel Vettori is their coach and teams that he takes charge of have a terrible record in 20 over cricket so we’ll need a change of luck with 20 fewer balls. What I like about them though is Liam Livingstone, Finn Allen, Moeen Ali and Daniel Bell-Drummond are as destructive a top four as there is in the competition, Pat Brown was the best white ball bowler in the country not too long ago and Imran Tahir is still a very good bowler even in his advanced years. If Livingstone keeps his form for a month and some bowlers go well this could be the year of the Phoenix.
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