|Men’s Hundred Draft|
|Date: 5 April Time: Signings announced from 12pm|
|Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app|
English cricket only really has two seasons.
So, no sooner has winter been brought to an end with the conclusion of the thrilling Women’s World Cup, summer begins.
The County Championship season is just around the corner, the search is on to find a new England men’s head coach before the first home Test of the year and the women’s side will soon have to brush off their World Cup final defeat as focus turns to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Then, of course, there is The Hundred. This week will see the men’s draft and a raft of new signings announced for the women’s teams as the sides aim to put together squads capable of winning this year’s tournament, which begins in August.
Anticipation is high after the success of the inaugural edition last summer but perhaps nowhere more so than at Welsh Fire, who will be able to welcome capacity crowds to Sophia Gardens for the first time following the Covid-19 regulations in place in 2021.
Gary Kirsten, head coach of the men’s team, has coached at international level and in franchise competitions all around the world but believes, even with reduced numbers, the atmosphere created in Cardiff once restrictions had been eased, was a match for anything he has experienced in cricket.
“I reflect back on our last game against London Spirit at Cardiff, which was essentially a dead rubber game,” the former South Africa and India coach said.
“We had 10,000 people in, and the atmosphere was as electric as I’ve been in in a cricket environment.
“I thought every game that we played in, the fans engaged with their teams.”
But before he can send his team out to play in front of such a raucous crowd again, it needs to be built.
After winning their first two games, in no small part thanks to half-centuries from Jonny Bairstow, once the Yorkshireman was called into the England squad, the Fire, well, went out. The Cardiff-based team lost their next five before ending with that win over the Spirit to finish seventh.
Kirsten and his team decided change was needed and retained only eight players from the 2021 squad, the fewest of any team in the men’s competition.
“The one challenge that The Hundred has is just trying to understand the schedules,” Kirsten added. “It’s quite fluid at the moment with the international players so you’re never quite sure who is available and who’s not available.
“We were a bit unfortunate last year in that we lost a couple of key players. One to go to the England team in Bairstow, and that was a big blow for us. Then we had some key injuries, we had three fast bowlers go down in one week.
“So, this year, we felt that we wanted to retain seven or eight players, individuals we feel can help us create continuity within the group. But at the same time, open us to find players that essentially are match-winners.”
What the Fire are after is not unique, Kirsten admits – “genuine pace in your attack, power-hitting through the middle and quality opening batsmen and some quality spin” – with balance and depth crucial.
“The key to these short format tournaments is having guys that you feel, on their day, can really contribute to the success of the team,” Kirsten said.
“I think if you’re relying on just one, two or three players you can get into trouble.”
Having been involved in the auction for the Indian Premier League, where he is currently working with Gujarat Titans as batting coach and mentor, Kirsten is looking forward to the relative calm of the draft.
Where he feels the intrigue might come in is with the salary bands and whether some domestic players might find themselves with an unexpectedly large payday due to the uncertainty over the availability of a few overseas stars.
“I actually find the draft quite a nice process,” the former Proteas opener said. “It’s less stressful because you don’t get into bidding wars, which I think can be quite tough.
“If you don’t get a player that you want, then you’ve got a list of a few others that you can target.
“What’ll be quite interesting this year is how you utilise your various price levels. Are the franchises going to go for international players or are they going to look for domestic players?”
The women’s side could also do with an upturn in fortunes after registering only two wins from their eight games in their first campaign.
As with the men’s side, their cause was not helped by some significant absentees from the squad that was first assembled.
Australia superstars Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney were among those to withdraw while South Africa batter Sune Luus was ruled out after testing positive for Covid.
“Unfortunately, last year we were one of the teams that was quite affected by missing out on our overseas,” seamer Katie George said.
“Hayley [Matthews] came in and did fantastically well and has been retained. I look forward to seeing her again, she brings a lot of experience at such a young age. She’s had a really good World Cup with West Indies.
“But I think the domestic girls really stepped up and I’m really excited to see how they do this year because they’ve had that exposure, that little bit of experience and they’ll be that little bit wiser this year.”
George’s experience in The Hundred last year was a strange one. While she was one of the standout performers as she excelled in the field, taking a couple of magnificent catches, and was named the women’s fielder of the tournament, a back injury denied her the chance to show off her main discipline: bowling.
“I sometimes felt like a bit of a spectator on the boundary, not being able to bowl,” she said. “Obviously, it wasn’t how I wanted to contribute but I’m looking forward to this year.
“(Last year) was different because as a bowler, you’re in the thick of it, but then I’m a very competitive person so it was ‘how can I do my best for the team in other ways?’
“For me, that was to really lead by example in the field and I felt I did that quite well and led from the front in that sense. Not only for Welsh Fire but in the competition. That was the target I set myself: to try and maximise what I could do because, obviously, my main skill, I couldn’t do.
“But then I’m an opening bowler, I want to bowl, I want the ball in my hand so if I can have the ball in my hand more often than that would be brilliant.”