Shaheen Afridi, Sophia Dunkley and Tom Abell were all key picks for Fire.

Hundred draft breathes fire back into Welsh squad for 2023

Welsh Fire are hoping their impressive draft picks will see a change of fortune in The Hundred 2023

TWO Pakistan Super League winners and an England big-hitter were the standout picks of a strong draft for Welsh Fire who are looking to bounce back from their 2022 horror-show.

The franchise has struggled to make its mark on the tournament since its inaugural campaign in 2021, with both the men’s and women’s teams finishing bottom of their respective leagues last time out.  

After announcing their retained list in February, the Sophia Gardens-based outfit had eight empty spots to fill in the men’s squad and six in the women’s – before wildcard selections and open market picks take place. 

The men’s picks

Finishing bottom of the table in 2022 meant that Fire were awarded the first pick in last night’s draft – and they made the most of it.

They chose Somerset skipper Tom Abell as their opening gambit, perhaps with the side’s captaincy vacancy in-mind, amid the likelihood of Jonny Bairstow’s international commitments hindering his Hundred campaign again. 

Abell took the first of the £125,000 salary slots with the other going to second pick and England all-rounder David Willey. 

Afridi holds the Pakistan Super League trophy which his side won last week.

Up next, Pakistan and Lahore Qalandars star Shaheen Afridi was selected as Fire’s first of four allotted overseas picks as he filled the remaining £100,000 slot, alongside retainee Joe Clarke.

Afridi, 22 was named ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year for 2021 and is currently regarded as one of the game’s best fast-bowlers. He is also fresh from a second PSL title win in a row with Lahore. 

New Zealand wicket-keeper Glenn Phillips was the fourth pick of the evening and will return to the Welsh Capital after playing in Fire’s inaugural 2021 season. He joins another retainee, Ollie Pope, in the £75,000 bracket. 

Afridi’s club and international teammate, fast-bowler Haris Rauf, and Dutch-South African all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe were then selected as fifth and sixth picks, before Aussie batsman Stephen Eskinazi and Glamorgan’s Dan Douthwaite rounded off the proceedings. 

The men’s picks suggest a much stronger showing could be on the cards this summer.
Credit: Alfie Reynolds

The team’s performance in the draft was praised by former England captain Nasser Hussain on Sky Sports’ coverage of the event.

“It’s pace like fire for the Welsh Fire with Haris Rauf joining Shaheen and then you throw in Phillips, who smashes it out of the ground,” he said.

“They are looking much, much stronger and have made some really good signings. They’re starting again and they’re doing it with pace and power-hitting.”

With a squad salary cap of £1,000,000 to play with, Fire have been left with £70,000 for their remaining two wildcard picks which will be chosen in the summer from the pool of players not picked up in the draft’s first round. 

The women’s picks

The inaugural women’s draft saw some heavy use of the ‘Right to Match’ option, which enables a team to re-sign one of their 2022 players, who they previously released, when a rival team offers to buy them. This is the first year it has been used in either the male or female draft.

Fire were the first to fall victim to the rule as they were scuppered in their first two attempts at a first pick, with England all-rounder Sophie Devine and opener Danni Wyatt retained by Birmingham Phoenix and Southern Brave respectively. 

It was a case of third time lucky when they finally secured a coup getting England big-hitter and one of the picks of the draft, Sophia Dunkley, in as first selection for £31,250. 

Batting-all rounder Dunkley was a Hundred finalist with Southern Brave last year and is keen for the women’s Hundred to push on.

“It is a kick-starting moment and I’m sure it will create a lot of competition around the world,” she told Sky Sports. 

“It’s definitely not something I would have imagined growing up and for a lot of the girls that are a bit older than me, it’s amazing for them to get to experience that because the game is in such a different place to when they first started and were my age.

“It’s changed the game overnight in a way. I’m sure as the years go on, it’s going to grow and grow and grow,”  she added.

Dunkley’s new teammate and Welsh Fire’s second pick Shabnim Ismail brings some much needed winning pedigree. The South African fast-bowler has won the tournament for the last two years running while at Oval Invincibles. 

She is joined by a Sussex pair – all-rounder Georgia Elwiss and fellow fast-bowler Freya Davies. While Aussie batter Laura Harris was the side’s fifth pick. 

Left-arm Lancashire spin bowler Alex Hartley was the final selection and joins captain Tammy Beaumont and retainee Hayley Matthews in the Welsh Fire squad. 

Like the men, the women’s side have good reason to be optimistic for August after a strong draft showing.
Credit: Alfie Reynolds

The skipper and England star struggled to hide her excitement after the draft concluded. 

“I’m really ecstatic at the team we’ve put together, we’ve stuck to Plan A which is great,” she told Sky Sports.

“A lot of tactics had to be thought about to make sure we got players without ‘right to matches’ coming in. It’s been so stressful to be perfectly honest,” she added.

Beaumont and co. will be hoping to secure further talent by the end of June through the open market picks which, like the men’s wildcard, sees clubs offer contracts to any player they want and who originally was shunned in the draft.

Both Welsh Fire sides are set to face the Manchester Originals on August 2 in Cardiff and you can sign up for ticket access here.