English cricket is set to break new ground this weekend when a draft process takes place for The Hundred ahead of next summer’s much-anticipated start date.
The look of the new eight-team, 100-ball competition, due to run from 7 July to 16 August 2020, has been gradually rolled out. Over recent months, the format, team names, identities, branding, coaches and players have all been made public.
Now comes the draft, which will be shown live on Sky Sports and available to watch on the BBC Sport website on Sunday evening.
While drafts are a staple of American sports and auction processes have been used to assign players to teams in franchise Twenty20 cricket leagues around the world, the process is unprecedented in cricket in this country.
Unprecedented means excitement, but also uncertainty. But how will it work and what can we expect?
Each team – Northern Superchargers, Manchester Originals, Trent Rockets, Birmingham Phoenix, Welsh Fire, London Spirit, Oval Invincibles and Southern Brave – must sign up 15 players.
Each of them already has three, having selected a centrally-contracted England player and two so-called local icon players before the competition’s launch earlier this month.
The draft will now see them fill out all but one of the remaining 12 places on their roster, three of whom can be overseas stars. The last spot will be filled by a final wildcard signing after next year’s Vitality Blast domestic T20 competition.
As it is a draft and not an auction, there will be no Indian Premier League-style bidding wars.
Each franchise is allowed two players from each of the seven salary bands. The players have set their minimum price, which range from £125,000 down to £30,000.
The process will start at the top end of the scale, with Trent Rockets granted first pick in the £125,000 Band One and Birmingham Phoenix going last.
After each team has selected one player, the order reverts to complete the picks for that band and then continues down the salary brackets.
Teams will skip a go for the brackets in which they already have a player, for example £125,000 Jason Roy at the Oval Invincibles.
Overall, 96 players will be selected from a pool of around 600 who have put themselves forward.
There is no draft for the women’s version of The Hundred, however.
Each franchise has already signed up two England players for its women’s team. They will negotiate deals directly with potential recruits to fill out their squads before end of May next year.
Although there won’t be escalating bidding wars to see who gets Chris Gayle, Rashid Khan or David Warner, each franchise will still have planned their tactics out thoroughly.
But as Birmingham Phoenix’s data insights manager Dan Weston explains, the fact such a draft has never been done before leaves plenty of eventualities open.
“It’s difficult to know what other teams’ strategies are because it’s not just a new competition, it’s a new format as well,” he tells City A.M.
“Everyone is going to have their own perceptions of the kind of player that they need and who they think will do well in this particular format. Whether it’s a big name or a small name, there might be quite a few surprises.”
Weston’s Birmingham Phoenix will be coached by Australian Andrew McDonald and are an amalgamation of T20 Blast sides Birmingham Bears and Worcester Rapids.
They already have England all-rounders Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali and fast bowler Pat Brown on the books, so have scoured the data and scouted far and wide to consider possible recruits.
Birmingham are hindered by picking last in the first round, so will have to keep an open mind when it comes to their most expensive choice.
“In my view the recruitment of some teams in overseas drafts and auctions isn’t always that logical,” Weston adds.
“You’re often thrown a curveball by another team quite quickly. For the first few rounds you might have more concrete plans, but you’ve also got to have a degree of flexibility as well.”
Pressurised decision making
Uncertainty over other teams’ strategies means that creating a decision tree detailing every permutation in the draft isn’t feasible, so Weston and his colleagues will have to think on their feet.
The 100-second time frame in which teams must make each pick ensures a fast-paced viewing experience for fans and means teams need to have done their homework.
“It sounds like a lot but it’s not,” Weston says. “Usually leagues abroad have three minutes, so it’s almost half that time. They normally take the full three minutes as well, so I think it’s going to create more pressurised decision making.
“But I guess that benefits the teams who have prepared thoroughly and disadvantages the teams who have gone on the fly a little bit.”
At 7pm on Sunday we will see which teams stay calm and retain their joined-up thinking, and which crumble in front of the ticking clock.