A view of The Hundred final from the crowd

The rise of England cricket’s franchise generation

While England’s domestic white-ball season may have only just started, for many of county cricket’s best and brightest male talents, this will be far from their first limited-overs cricket this year. 

In years gone by, preparation for the country cricket season would have taken place entirely on home soil and largely within the confines of indoor nets and gyms.

For today’s modern cricketer, however, the winter can be spent competing overseas in one of myriad limited-overs tournaments.

The last few years have seen an explosion of white-ball franchise cricket, illustrated by the fact that at one point in January, players could take part in any one of the four different leagues happening throughout the cricketing world. 

English players, in particular, have reaped the rewards of cricket’s burgeoning franchise addiction with no other nation having as many players recruited to play in the various leagues. 

The International League T20 (IL20), played in the United Arab Emirates, hosted its inaugural season between January and February earlier this year.

The tournament had no limit on overseas players with 97 non-UAE players involved. 

Of those, 33 were English with West Indies and Sri Lanka second and third with only 19 and 12 respectively.

The remaining 10 countries, including the likes of New Zealand and South Africa, had 33 players combined – the same number as England – a figure which serves to illustrate the vast influence of English players in these leagues.

South Africa’s franchise league, The SA20, occurred at the same time as the IL20 but was similarly teeming with British talent.

Twenty-one English players were selected to participate in the competition, more than double the amount of the second most-represented nation (West Indies with nine).

There are some caveats to these stats.

Australian numbers are expectedly lower with many of their biggest talents playing international cricket during that time of the year.

India may also have a similar number of players taking part if it weren’t for the Indian Cricket Board’s decision to not allow players to take part in overseas white-ball franchise leagues.

For Dan Weston, who is a senior data analyst at Kent and a recruitment consultant with several franchise teams, the proliferation of English players in these leagues can be explained quite simply: England’s very own franchise tournament. 

“The exposure the Hundred has provided is the single most important reason,” Weston said.

“I was saying before the Hundred started that there were so many players in England who are clearly good enough to play in overseas leagues. However, the T20 Blast is not a good shop window because the vast majority of it is not televised around the world. 

“Ultimately there are people who run overseas teams who think that if they can’t see it on TV then it didn’t happen. Now a county player can go onto that big stage, get a load of runs or wickets in a short space of time and get that notoriety that they need.”

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is Will Smeed, who Weston worked with at Birmingham Phoenix.

The Somerset batter became the breakout star of the inaugural tournament in 2021 and the following year became the first batter to hit a hundred in the competition with the 21-year-old going on to then play in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and IL20.

“Smeed has a century on TV in a franchise tournament and several 90s on top of that – that’s going to catch some eyes,” Weston said. 

“He had a massive springboard from that inaugural season to then go on and play all around the world. If The Hundred hadn’t happened, I’m not sure that his Somerset performances would have attracted as much attention around the world.”

It is not just Smeed who has benefited from the bright lights, though.

Out of the 33 English players who played in the IL20, 13 have yet to play a T20I for their country.

Whereas previously, only international cricket provided the necessary experience needed for English players to get picked in overseas franchise leagues, nowadays the Hundred can provide that.

“The exposure they get to higher-quality opposition and foreign coaches is a game-changer,” Weston said.

“Furthermore, a lot of these coaches manage several franchise teams across the circuit. In a lot of cases, players have down well under a coach in The Hundred and that same coach has drafted the player to play under them at another team.

“Those relationships are vital.”

It is also not just the smaller franchise leagues in which The Hundred’s influence can be felt.

In the more traditional and longer-running leagues such as the Indian Premier League, Australian Big Bash and PSL, the number of English players selected has increased since the inaugural season of The Hundred.

In the 2021 PSL season, 25 English players were selected while there have been 13 Englishman in the last three IPL seasons, an increase from the pre-Hundred record of 11. 

Given the vast sums of money spent on overseas players, teams want guaranteed success. For that reason, the increased game time and data The Hundred provides to potential suitors is a key reason for the uptick in English picks, according to Weston.

“It’s going to give people in charge of selection more confidence that a player is worth investing time,” he said.

“It provides players and data analysts with a bigger sample of data to be assessed upon. If you are playing 10 T20s a year, it is a lot harder to assess your skillsets and ability than if you are playing 30.

“If you are batter you are looking at almost 800 balls of data compared to 200. That gives buyers a lot more confidence because the data is so much more robust.”

The Hundred continues to attract criticism for its scheduling and non-traditional routes.

But even its biggest detractors would be hard-pressed to ignore its influence on England’s new wave of globetrotting franchise superstars.

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Featured image credit: Ben Fleming

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