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Feature

T20 Blast's leading middle men eyeing Hundred draft rewards

Laurie Evans and Sam Hain make virtue of versatility in pitch for selection

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
03-Apr-2022
Both Sam Hain and Laurie Evans are hoping to be picked up in the Hundred draft  •  Getty Images for ECB

Both Sam Hain and Laurie Evans are hoping to be picked up in the Hundred draft  •  Getty Images for ECB

Counties are putting the finishing touches to their pre-season preparations ahead of the first round of Championship fixtures on Thursday, but at the start of the week, 250 England-qualified players will be anxiously checking their phones.
The Hundred draft will be staged behind closed doors on Monday morning, with picks due to be confirmed publicly on Tuesday afternoon, and uncontracted domestic players will be competing for 25 vacant spots across the eight teams' squads on top of the 17 overseas slots that will be filled.
There are some roles where the supply of domestic options will massively outweigh the demand. With the best players in the T20 Blast generally shuffling up the order for their counties in order to face as many balls as possible, there is a huge stock of opening batters, while there are also plenty of domestic left-arm spinners up for grabs.
But there is a scarcity value on middle-order batters, which was evident in the first season of the Hundred: the champions, Southern Brave, used Alex Davies - generally a top-three batter for Lancashire - as a No. 4, while beaten finalists Birmingham Phoenix often picked Gloucestershire opener Miles Hammond to bat at No. 5.
"It seemed like teams were thinking 'we need a batsman' rather than thinking 'we need a No. 5' so it was a hard thing to balance your team," Rob Key, who covered the Hundred's first season for Sky, says. "Some teams ended up with seven really good batsmen, but five of them were top-order players. And then some teams got to the thing itself and thought 'shit, one of these guys will have to bat No. 5.'"
As a result, the handful of specialist middle-order players who are available on Monday are hoping that their versatility will make them desirable choices, as Hundred teams learn from the mistakes they made in the competition's first season. There will be further opportunities through the wildcard draft or inevitable replacement vacancies before the tournament start in August, but the draft will give players an indication of where they sit in teams' thinking.
"There's quite a few guys around the county circuit in the same boat as me," says Sam Hain, Warwickshire's all-time leading T20 run-scorer who made a single appearance in the Hundred's first season after signing for Manchester Originals as an injury replacement for Wayne Madsen. "It is nerve-wracking: you don't know what teams are looking for and how they're looking to shape their squads. All I can do is sit back and see what cards I'm dealt."
"It's exciting: I could end up anywhere," adds Laurie Evans, who played one of the Hundred's standout innings in 2021, rescuing Oval Invincibles' run chase against London Spirit, but could not agree a contract with them before the retention window closed. "When people ask me where I bat, I could probably say No. 1 to No. 7. Added to my experience, that hopefully makes me quite a good pick for most squads: you can chuck me in most places and I'll find a way of making a success of it."
Evans was offered a contract at Invincibles but opted to return to the draft, with his stock at an all-time high after his match-winning performance in the Big Bash final and a lingering frustration about his role last year - never coming in before No. 5, and once as low as No. 8.
"I love playing at The Oval and we had a great time last year," he says. "But I was picked up low in the draft [in 2019], and even though I went up a couple of spots [in the retentions before 2021], I still felt like I wanted to bat a bit higher and get up the order. I just felt like there was an opportunity to get a high spot in the draft and batting up the order might come with that. I looked at the Oval line-up and thought I wasn't really going to get to bat higher than No. 5.
"I loved batting in the middle-order in the Big Bash. You don't necessarily sit at the top of the runs but in terms of impact, I felt like it couldn't have gone much better. I'd love to open for obvious reasons - everyone would - but I think my real value lies in the middle order, in terms of handling pressure. That's where I come into my own."
While Evans was scoring runs in Australia, Hain was in Bangladesh, spending three weeks working on his game against spin as a back-up overseas player for Fortune Barishal in the BPL. Hain was overlooked in the initial Hundred draft in 2019, his career strike rate of 124.41 counting against him, and has used that snub as the catalyst for improvement in the last two seasons.
"The decision got made for me and I realised I couldn't rest on my laurels," Hain says. "I've felt like I've always had the shots but I've had to really grasp a change in mindset. Either you go with the times or you get left behind."
Across the last two Blast seasons, Hain has averaged 45.46 while striking at 139.18. "I hope there's a sense of versatility there," he adds. "I've found a lot of my success at No. 4 once I worked out a gameplan there for each scenario. It's quite a tricky position because you've got to be versatile in your method. I feel like my game is able to adapt to any scenario and that's one of my main selling points."
There are several other options for teams looking to plug that gap. Overseas players like David Miller, Colin Munro and Rilee Rossouw are expected to be available for the vast majority of the season, while Ian Cockbain, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Delray Rawlins and Adam Hose all have experience in the middle order. Previous drafts have made one thing clear: teams will spring one or two surprises along the way.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98