Hundred wildcard and replacement slots bring added intrigue to start of Blast season

Eight squad vacancies could prove tantalising targets for cream of the crop

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Worcestershire's Ed Barnard is one of many Blast stars who hopes to make an impression ahead of the Hundred  •  Getty Images

Worcestershire's Ed Barnard is one of many Blast stars who hopes to make an impression ahead of the Hundred  •  Getty Images

When the picks in the Hundred's partial re-draft were announced in late February, the final slot in all eight of the men's squads was filled in the same way. "Know anything about this Vitality Wildcard Pick lad?" went the joke on Twitter. "Didn't Vitality Wildcard Pick captain Middlesex in the 1904 season?"
If the sponsor's name jars somewhat, that will not prevent the majority of county cricketers without deals in the Hundred eyeing those spots up in the early stages of the T20 Blast season. Each Hundred team will pick one final player as their 'wildcard' in the coming weeks, and while general managers and coaches had started to eye up options as soon as the draft had finished, there are bound to be bolters who take the competition by storm - like Pat Brown in 2018, or Tom Banton two years ago - to earn themselves deals.
The date of the wildcard draft is yet to be finalised, but is likely to be either at the end of June or the start of July. The ECB are hoping to strike a balance between allowing players time to put their hands up in the early round of the Blast and giving counties enough notice that they will lose another player for their Royal London Cup campaign, with the 50-over competition taking place simultaneously with the Hundred.
Wildcard players will be the final members of the squad and will earn the lowest salary band (£24,000) but for the group of county players who felt hard done by to have missed out in the draft and find themselves without an invite to the party they were desperate to attend, the money is largely irrelevant.
"There will be lads that think they warrant a place in the Hundred and they've got the opportunity in the Blast to get those wildcard spots," James Kirtley, Sussex's T20 coach, said. "I can't see why Ollie Robinson, for example, couldn't be one: he can bowl in all phases of a T20 game which is unusual for a bowler. I think he's got something to offer, whether it's at Southern Brave, Trent Rockets, Birmingham Phoenix - wherever.
"Will Beer is another one - with Rashid [Khan] not coming over initially - who will get opportunities. His record is good in T20, and if he has a good start, that wildcard opportunity could definitely come. There are only a few wristspinners to select from. You never know who will have a great start to the season, and that's the great thing about the Blast."
A number of consistent Blast performers including Arron Lilley, Ed Barnard, Tom Smith and Sam Hain will be pushing for spots, while a group of less-experienced players like Dan Moriarty, Jordan Thompson, Tom Taylor, Jake Lintott and Prem Sisodiya could also come into contention.
The race for wildcard places also presents certain players with an unusual dilemma. Take Jack Taylor, Gloucestershire's T20 captain, as an example: his record as a finisher is strong, but the role's inherent volatility means he may struggle to get time in the middle early on, or suffer a run of low scores. It might then be tempting for him to move up the order to ensure he gets a bat and make some eye-catching scores, but the team may benefit more from having him at No. 6 than at No. 4 since he is better against seamers than spinners; there is no guarantee that a player's best interests align with those of his team.
Wicketkeepers and allrounders are likely to be in particularly high demand in the wildcard draft. Five of the eight teams opted to pick only one frontline wicketkeeping option in their initial squad, meaning players like Jordan Cox, Ricardo Vasconcelos or Adam Wheater could be signed as back-ups if they start the Blast well. With the anticipated withdrawal of several overseas players, batters who can balance the side with a sixth bowling option or bowlers with the ability to clear the ropes will become useful squad players to help squads maintain their structure.
For seamers without a Hundred deal, there is also the prospect of becoming Harry Gurney's replacement at Manchester Originals, after his retirement left an £80,000 contract up for grabs. Gavin Griffiths and Fred Klaassen are among the like-for-like contenders to replace him as a death bowler, and the Originals are expected to announce the signing before the start of the wildcard draft to ensure their choice is still available. Further spots for domestic players may well open up closer to the start of the competition if players pull out with injuries.
Overseas players eye replacement spots
It is not only domestic players who will be hoping to start the Blast strongly with a view to further deals. With a number of overseas players likely to withdraw for part or all of the Hundred due to clashes with international tours and restrictions on overseas travel, there will be a number of spots available and players who are already in the country will be ideally placed to fill them.
"Hopefully I can slide in as a replacement player," Finn Allen, the New Zealand top-order batter who will represent Lancashire in the Blast, said. "I've heard a few players might potentially be pulling out from different countries, so hopefully an opportunity pops up. That would be quite cool to get another opportunity in another format; I'd definitely like to, and am open to the idea."
Allen is one of eight New Zealanders with a Blast contract, alongside Glenn Phillips, Lockie Ferguson, James Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Devon Conway, Ish Sodhi and Daryl Mitchell. Ferguson is understood to have attracted some interest from a Hundred team already, while overseas players from other countries like Josh Inglis, Naveen-ul-Haq, Dan Christian and David Wiese represent further candidates to be replacements.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98