The Welsh Fire will be based at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff and are representing Wales, and supposedly the south-west as well. Gary Kirsten is the head coach of the men’s side and Mark O’Leary will be looking after the women’s side.
Kirsten has formerly coached India and South Africa, before transferring into franchise cricket, and has looked after teams from Australia’s Big Bash and the IPL. O’Leary’s coaching career has largely been with Western Storm, where he was assistant coach for a number of years before becoming head coach in 2020.
The Welsh Fire will begin their Hundred campaigns with matches against Northern Superchargers at Headingley on Saturday 24th July, and they will finish on Wednesday 18th August at home to London Spirit.
In terms of players, the men’s side have a very strong-looking batting line-up. Their top picks at the draft included England white-ball opener Jonny Bairstow (£100k) whose pedigree includes being the first England player to score three consecutive ODI tons. However, in an interview with talkSPORT, head coach Kirsten indicated that Bairstow will be recalled to the Test side, which means he will miss a large part of the tournament.
They originally signed West Indies all-rounder Kieron Pollard, but he has pulled out so they have replaced him with rising New Zealand star Glenn Phillips (£100k) who was mightily impressive in the T20 Blast group stage for Gloucestershire. Phillips hit 36 sixes in that tournament, 14 more than the next best player.
In addition, there is Somerset’s star boy Tom Banton (80k) who will open and is one of the most exciting prospects in world cricket, with his array of shots including a reverse-pull for six. They will be backed up by Ben Duckett (£60k), Ian Cockbain (£48k) and Leus du Plooy (Wildcard). Their bowling may be a bit light, with Jake Ball (£60k) set to spearhead an attack that includes Afghanistan’s Qais Ahmed (£48k).
The women’s side is probably not quite as star-studded as the men’s, but there is still plenty of exciting talent. Sophie Luff has been one of the most consistent batters for many years with the Western Storm. Wicket-keeper Sarah Taylor is also excellent with the bat, but even better behind the stumps.
Coming from overseas are Georgia Redmayne, the all-rounder who has impressed in the Women’s Big Bash league, as well as Hayley Matthews who helped West Indies win the 2019 T20 World Cup with 66 off 45 balls in the final. Australian Piepa Cleary will head up the bowling attack.
The men’s team look to have a good chance on paper, with a pretty powerful batting line-up. However, if they were to lose Bairstow that would sorely damage their chances having spent the maximum amount of money on him. The women’s team lack the biggest English stars, and will rely heavily on their overseas signings to adapt to English pitches to be in with any shout.
Odds: 11/2 (SkyBet)
Opening Games: Saturday 24th July v Northern Superchargers (Headingley)