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Analysis

How the men's Hundred draft really works

Duckett's open-secret transfer from Welsh Fire epitomises behind-the-scenes dynamic

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
22-Mar-2023
Ben Duckett pulls through the leg side, Oval Invincibles vs Welsh Fire, Men's Hundred, The Oval, August 2, 2021

Ben Duckett is expected to move from Welsh Fire to Birmingham Phoenix when the Hundred draft takes place on Thursday  •  Getty Images

Ben Duckett has spoken to enough people about the Hundred that he is confident he knows which team will sign him in Thursday evening's draft, and for how much money.
But as he stands in the Long Room of the Trent Bridge pavilion at Nottinghamshire's media day, he finds himself in an unusual position. "It feels really weird doing this interview," he says, smiling. "Because I can't say who it is - but that team is somewhere I'd love to go and play."
"That team" is Birmingham Phoenix, not that Duckett is at liberty to confirm as much. Phoenix have the third pick in the draft and have already signed their full quota of three overseas players; it is an open secret that they will use it to add Duckett to a top order that already includes Will Smeed, Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone - unless Southern Brave or Welsh Fire spring a surprise.
Fire, his team in the first two seasons of the Hundred, could theoretically bring him back if they want to, by using their Right-to-Match (RTM) card. But Duckett has made it clear to Michael Hussey, their new coach, that he would rather move on after Fire's winless 2022 season: "He said he wanted me, but I said that I'd made my decision now and I want to go somewhere else, wished him all the best and said, 'please don't Right-to-Match me'."
Ideally, Duckett would have liked to sign for Trent Rockets, but after winning the title last year they are last in the draft pick order, and will likely bring back Tom Kohler-Cadmore instead. "I've spoken to teams going into the draft so I'm quietly confident," Duckett says. "But I know that it is a draft and we'll see what happens. Fingers crossed I end up where I'm hoping to be."
Duckett's situation encapsulates the bizarre world of the Hundred draft: it is an event which has passed largely unnoticed by the majority of English cricket fans since the tournament's glitzy launch at Sky Sports' studios three-and-a-half years ago, but one which can significantly alter the trajectory of players' seasons - and even their careers.
It is a world inhabited by agents, coaches and general managers, who are engaged in a "constant stream of communication" every spring, according to Craig Flindall, Birmingham Phoenix's general manager. "Even at this late stage, I've had emails, WhatsApps, phone calls from people trying to get their players right in the mix."
The Professional Cricketers' Association estimated that around 300 domestic players have agents, the majority of whom are in regular communication with those running Hundred teams. The extent of agents' influence depends on who you ask, but teams are generally more interested in updates on injury and availability than lists of statistics or footage.
There are 30 contracts available in the men's draft on Thursday, of which 10 will go to overseas players. A handful of domestic players are certain to attract interest, and some have verbal guarantees from teams: Tom Abell, for example, has for several weeks been pencilled in as Hussey's captain at Fire.
But others will watch the draft with a sense of anxiety, particularly those who have missed out before. The potential fall-back of a deal nearer the time - either as one of two 'wildcard' selections after the Vitality Blast, or as a replacement - is no substitute for the security of a contract four months before the Hundred's opening fixture.
Some counties will be playing pre-season games on Thursday, and might be in the field when the men's draft starts at 5pm. "I might be out in the field, so I might have to get someone to give me a wave if I've been picked up," says Olly Stone. "I'm not 100% sure at the moment but hopefully, a selection somewhere will come."
Stone was released by Phoenix after missing the Hundred through injury. "They didn't want to retain me, or they'd already used their retentions, so I'm back in the draft," he says. He has had contracts with Phoenix and Northern Superchargers, but is yet to feature in the competition: "I'm guessing I'll have a new team this year. It could be third time lucky, as they say."
With only one English head coach in the men's competition - James Foster at Superchargers - most coaches rely heavily on their general managers, assistant coaches and analysts for advice ahead of the draft. Some Hundred teams draw heavily on players from their affiliated counties, often due to shared support staff; others ignore them altogether.
Decisions at the draft often seem baffling - and sometimes, they are. But in general, they can be explained by the fact that teams are not starting from a blank canvas, but working back from what they expect their best XI to be, and using their draft picks to fill in gaps left after confirming their retentions in February.
That means that wicketkeeper-batters, for example, will be in high demand on Thursday, since there are several spots to fill: Tom Banton has scored 179 runs in 14 innings in the Hundred, but will probably be drafted for at least £75,000. By contrast, most teams have already identified their main spin options so some consistent T20 performers may not win deals at all.
Trent Woodhill, the competition's high-performance consultant, is tasked with ensuring that as many leading male overseas players as possible register their names for the draft. And despite a series of late pull-outs - led by Mitchell Starc and Anrich Nortje - there are more than 350 names competing for 10 spots on Thursday.
But availability is a constant headache. "It's very, very difficult to know what is going on with the international schedule," Flindall says. "We've got the Future Tours Programme until 2027, but things tend to move about a bit. It's not as much in the interests of overseas boards to make players available, compared to ECB where it's in their interests that the competition is a success.
"This year, straight after the Ashes, are all the Australian players going to be available? There's a Pakistan series against Afghanistan at the end of August that may or may not impact things. You've got the CPL and the US league going on. There's a few moving parts - you have to really factor in availability for your overseas players."
The result is that every year, high-profile overseas players have gone unsold; this year, several teams have opted to retain players who are only on the fringes of international teams in the hope that they are more likely to be released to appear in the competition. More and more teams are looking to prioritise availability, and signing domestic players with their early picks.
"There will be overseas players taken at £60,000 who are better players than domestic players taken at £125,000 - just look at last year," says Freddie Wilde, an analyst and strategic consultant for Oval Invincibles. "Availability is a massive challenge in a lot of leagues - even the IPL - and the Hundred is no different. There are fewer rival leagues - the CPL starts towards the back-end - but there are often bilateral series that crop up.
"Sometimes you will draft an inferior player because he's fully available; or you might go the other way, and say 'we'd rather have a better player for five games than a worse player for eight games'. Different teams will go about it in different ways, and there's no right or wrong answer."
Invincibles have consistently loaded up on domestic players early in the draft, holding back two overseas selections for later on. "We've always had Sunil Narine at £125,000," Wilde adds, "but we've always liked to wait for our other overseas picks. We've got multiple plans or scenarios that we might adopt, and which one we go for is largely dependent on who is taken before our first turn."
Some overseas players also enter the draft with a high reserve price, knowing they are unlikely to be picked. Last year, Tabraiz Shamsi went unsold at the top reserve price of £125,000 but signed a pro rata deal with Rockets as a replacement when Rashid Khan was unavailable; Adam Zampa has registered for the draft with the top reserve price this year, in anticipation of a similar replacement deal elsewhere.
Phoenix, meanwhile, managed to retain Shadab Khan for 2023 despite the fact that his replacement deal last summer was so short-lived, it was never even circulated to other teams. "We got retentions rights on him," Flindall explains, "so it was an obvious pick for us."
It is a situation that epitomises the bizarre world of drafts in short-form cricket, particularly in a tournament that has predominantly been viewed through the lens of a sportstainment event rather than a cricket league with competitive integrity. Scrutiny and transparency surrounding player recruitment have both been negligible.
Players are relieved that the draft is back on live TV this year, having been staged behind closed doors over the last two years with picks subsequently drip-fed out via press release. But for those making the picks, being back on the clock - albeit remotely, rather than in the Sky studio - might induce some nervous flashbacks.
"In 2019, when we picked Kane Williamson, I couldn't find him on the software system," Flindall recalls. "It was probably only for 10 seconds, but it felt like about 40 - and you only had 100 to make each pick. I was in this mad panic, live on Sky: 'S***, I can't find Kane, what am I going to do?'" The ECB will hope that things run more smoothly on Thursday.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98