Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
England men's Test players have been made available for two games each in the inaugural season of the Hundred, ahead of their five-match series against India.
With Covid-19 cases on the rise in the UK and the ECB desperate to ensure that the summer's showpiece Test series goes ahead unaffected, there had been suggestions that England's players would be pulled out of the new 100-ball competition altogether in order to minimise their risk of infection.
Instead, they will play two matches each for their respective teams before being 'bridged' into England's secure team environment ahead of the first Test at Trent Bridge on August 4. The ECB had initially hoped that Test players would be available for three group games, and a decision is yet to be reached on their availability for the knockout stages, which take place between the second and third Tests against India.
While players participating in the Hundred have been asked to follow certain protocols aimed at minimising the risk of Covid infection - such as avoiding pubs and shops - and are being tested regularly, the involvement of England players does increase the risk of them missing the first Test due to self-isolation, either due to testing positive themselves or being a close contact of a positive team-mate.
It means Jos Buttler, Sam Curran and Rory Burns will all be available for the opening match of the men's competition at The Oval on Thursday night, with Chris Woakes, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Mark Wood and Dan Lawrence involved in Birmingham Phoenix vs London Spirit at Edgbaston on Friday night.
The final game that Test players will be available for will be Welsh Fire vs Southern Brave on July 27, though with Ollie Pope (Fire) unlikely to play a part in the Hundred as he recovers from injury and Jofra Archer (Brave) a doubt for at least the first two Tests following elbow surgery, availability may not be an issue in that fixture.
Ben Stokes, who has been a central figure of the ECB's advertising for the Hundred, said last week it would have been "devastating" to miss out on playing in the competition. "It would be very frustrating to not be able to participate," Stokes said. "It's a massive event for England and we want to be part of it - we know how big a role players play in making a franchise competition big."
Players on red-ball central contracts will not be replaced, since their deals fall outside of the Hundred's draft mechanism, but teams can sign replacements for players called up without such deals - London Spirit's Crawley and Wood, for example. It is expected that the ECB will confirm the squad for the first Test later this week.