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Sanjay Patel, the managing director of the Hundred, has insisted that the competition will feature "brilliant overseas players" and "world-class cricket" despite a spate of withdrawals that has shorn the ECB's new tournament of most of its biggest international stars.
More than a dozen overseas players have pulled out of both the men's and women's tournaments in recent months due to clashes with international series, quarantine periods and restrictions on international travel, injuries, and positive Covid-19 tests, with the relatively low salaries involved - up to £100,000 ($138,600 approx. US) for men's players, and up to £15,000 ($20,800 approx. US) for women's. This has proved insufficient for players to risk travelling to a country where Covid cases are rising.
In the men's competition, Kane Williamson, Glenn Maxwell, Kieron Pollard, Kagiso Rabada, Andre Russell, Shaheen Shah Afridi and David Warner are among the headline withdrawals, while Sophie Devine, Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney are major losses to the women's. Three men's squads and three women's squads have seen all three of their overseas players withdraw since the start of the year, with two of Welsh Fire's replacement women's players withdrawing on top of their initial three.
While replacement players have been signed, there is a step down in star quality. In the men's competition, many of the replacements - including Glenn Phillips, Finn Allen and Carlos Brathwaite - have agreed to stay on after playing in the Vitality Blast for their respective counties, while the women's competition has seen a number of WBBL regulars drafted in at short notice, including the uncapped Piepa Cleary, Georgia Redmayne and Sammy-Jo Johnson.
But Patel suggested that despite the high turnover in overseas players, the competition would still be able to deliver on its promise to involve "world-class cricket", thanks in part to the depth of talent within the English game.
"We've talked about world-class cricket and helping to prepare players to play for England and win global tournaments for future years," Patel said. "Yes, we've had a lot of disruption through Covid, and our overseas playing list, but we still have a fantastic overseas list coming over and we have some brilliant overseas players in the Hundred this year.
"If you've seen recently the England Women's series against India, [it was an] absolutely fantastic performance from the England Women and there is now more depth in the English women's game than there has ever been before, so again, we're set to see brilliant cricket in the women's comp.
"In the men's comp, England's second team just beat Pakistan which is a remarkable achievement, and again just underlines the depth of talent that we've got in this country. All those players alongside the England players will be on show in the Hundred and we're set to see some brilliant, world-class cricket."
That depth of talent, Patel said, meant that the Hundred was "less reliant" on overseas players than might be the case in other competitions, and also highlighted the challenges that other sports are facing with top players withdrawing at short notice due to the pandemic and its wide-ranging implications.
"Of course, we haven't got the original list in either the women's competition or the men's competition," he said. "But if you look at any sporting event right now, they are getting hit with withdrawals. There are people withdrawing from The Open golf, from the squads of the British Lions [rugby union] - there's no sports tournament which is going to get through this without any form of disruption and that is the world that we live in, and the world that we've got to accept.
"Now having said that, we've still got brilliant overseas stars. I'm excited to see how someone like Devon Conway is going to go, who has burst onto the scene. I can't wait to watch the five Indian women's players, who have been able to get into form recently in the Test series and are going to come into the Hundred. One of my favourite overseas players is [Harmanpreet] Kaur, and I want to see her bat in the Hundred. We've got brilliant stars still available.
"The domestic white-ball talent now for both the men and the women is strong, so I think we're actually less reliant on overseas players. And look, in future years, I think those stars, once they see it, are going to put their hands up and be involved in future competitions, so we're not too worried about that at this stage."
Withdrawals since February 2021:
Men's: Kane Williamson, Shaheen Afridi, Adam Zampa, Glenn Maxwell, Nicholas Pooran, Kagiso Rabada, Shadab Khan, Kieron Pollard, Jhye Richardson, Aaron Finch, David Warner, Andre Russell, Marcus Stoinis, Nathan Coulter-Nile
Women's: Ashleigh Gardner, Sophie Devine, Ellyse Perry, Sune Luus, Amelia Kerr, Ellyse Villani, Nicola Carey, Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes, Annabel Sutherland, Sophie Molineux, Georgia Wareham, Jess Jonassen, Meg Lanning, Beth Mooney