Finding out about the ECB’s new competition, The Hundred, is like unravelling an Agatha Christie plot. As each twist is revealed, what is still concealed is more intriguing than what is in plain sight.
Needing a bit of help, Deep Extra Cover’s Terry Wright spoke to Neil Snowball, Chief Executive at Edgbaston, one of the chosen venues for The Hundred, and Paul Farbrace, newly appointed Sport Director at the Club.
Firstly, let’s be clear about what we do know.
There will be eight teams competing in The Hundred over a 38-day period at the height of the holiday season. Each team will play four matches at home and four away. The playoff system will include the top four teams at the conclusion of the league stage.
Each team will have a squad of fifteen players, of which a maximum of three could be overseas players. Players will be signed using a draft system. In addition, two of the fifteen players will come from players that performed well in the T20 Blast.
We also know the home bases for the teams and the playing format.
There is still plenty that is unknown so everyone is now looking for clues: what will the team names be? How will playing and coaching squads will be created?
As far as an Edgbaston-based team name is concerned, Neil Snowball is clear that the word Birmingham will feature but that a sponsor’s name will not. Presumably, most of the other teams will also carry the name of the city where they are based – Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham and Southampton – with Lord’s and the Oval fighting over whether one or both get to use the name “London”.
The name choice raises issues as to whether potential supporters in, say, Coventry or Worcester will rush to support a Birmingham team. It also opens up the possibility of the Edgbaston based team that competes in the T20 Blast reverting from being the Birmingham Bears to playing as Warwickshire, a change that would delight many county supporters.
Counties will be linked together for The Hundred. A Board made up of representatives of local counties will run the teams. – so the Birmingham side will be managed by Warwickshire and Worcestershire just as, for example, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire will run the Trent Bridge outfit.
Snowball confirmed that Warwickshire and Worcestershire are ready talking about how they can co-operate as a joint Board in the creation and running of the Edgbaston based team, and the two Head Coaches, Jim Troughton of Warwickshire and Alex Gidman at Worcester, seem already nailed on as Assistant Coaches to the new team.
But assistant to whom?
The possibility of England Coach Trevor Bayliss joining his erstwhile assistant Paul Farbrace at Edgbaston has been widely publicised. And Snowball and Farbrace did little to dispel the rumour.
“We’ve not formally spoken to Trevor Bayliss,” says Snowball, the key being the word “formally”.
Whilst stressing that “there’s a long way to go” before any appointment, and that others might be considered, Farbrace pointed out that Bayliss has had Midlands connections. He lived at one point in Stratford-upon-Avon, and his son played league cricket locally.
“We’ll definitely be keen to chat to him when he’s a free agent.” said Farbrace.
“He has good experience of the Indian Premier League and the [Australian] Big Bash.
“For a new tournament, you want someone to put a team together in a short space of time. So he’s definitely a strong candidate.”
Any such appointment would create a role reversal in that Farbrace, who has worked under Bayliss for both England and Sri Lanka would, in effect, become his boss in the new set-up. Fortunately, Farbrace does not see that as a problem.
“He’s never made me feel like he’s my boss. It’s never been a case of ‘You do this, I do that.’
“He’s very hands-on, so the organisation and planning comes to me. I’ve learned so much from him over the last ten years.”
What about The Hundred? Many have been negative about the whole concept but Farbrace is enthusiastic.
“It’s a great opportunity. It’s a brilliant way of bridging the gap between international and county cricket, and a good opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts.
“Every player that’s been to the IPL or the Big Bash has come back with stories of being coached by different coaches, having different game plans, different ways of thinking about the game.
“That’s got to be good for county cricket, getting players and coaches mixing and talking. We all want to improve players, so the more coaches they get exposure to the better.”
Even before starting his new role at Edgbaston, Farbrace has been actively thinking about The Hundred.
“In the West Indies, I sat down with Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes and talked about The Hundred – how we put a group together, who are the best people to be involved in order to be competitive.”
One of the downsides is that the county 50 over tournament will take place at the same time as The Hundred. So it will be played not just without the best players but also, it would seem, with a weakened coaching team, if the likes of Gidman and Troughton are involved in The Hundred.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Farbrace prefers to see the positive side of this.
“In the 50 over competition, it will provide an opportunity for players and coaches to step up.
“It will also be the case that, in the T20 Blast next year, players who have missed out on the draft will have a chance to get into the Hundred.”
Those outside the centres chosen are fearful that The Hundred is the first step towards the creation of eight super counties, with the rest maybe going to the wall.
Farbrace does not see it that way.
“Inevitably, big clubs have always got a slight advantage over everyone else. Players and coaches want to work at the best places with the best facilities.
“But this presents an opportunity for all clubs. How can we best grow our coaches and give them opportunities?
“There’s a lot of good English coaches who should be involved in The Hundred.”
What is Farbrace’s overall view of The Hundred?
“It could be a fantastic tournament!”
With that thought, he left to finish his first day in what looks to be an exciting and challenging multi-faceted role as Edgbaston’s Sport Director.