Richard Mann previews this year’s edition of The Hundred, with bets in the outright and top tournament runscorer market nominated.
OVAL INVINCIBLES can win the second edition of the ECB’s shiniest new toy, The Hundred, which begins on Wednesday evening live on BBC Two.
Don’t let my early sarcasm mislead the reader: any format of the game that has such a big focus on attracting youngsters to the sport is a good thing, and broadcasting some of the matches on terrestrial television is crucial to that.
We must not underestimate the role Sky Sports has played in supporting grassroots cricket for many years now, but not all children have access to subscription services and the women’s European Championships are evidence of what can be achieved with the help of free-to-air TV.
What I struggle with is that making The Hundred a success is being pursued at the detriment of the T20 Blast, a terrific tournament in its own right, one that needs changes to be made to its framework, but not as much as it requires some love from the ECB.
The lack of Blast matches shown on Sky this summer was disappointing to say the least, and a spectacular Finals Day once again showcased what the competition has to offer.
Still, this author is first and foremost a punter, and while the Blast provided some excellent betting opportunities, the lack of television coverage meant a lack of side markets for far too many matches. It was frustrating, and very costly.
We won’t have that to worry about over the next month and given this tournament is still its infancy, as are the eight teams, those who pay attention and pick up on early trends will be the ones who make it pay.
Oval Invincibles the best bet in The Hundred
For now, the outright markets look pretty standard, though I do think a sound case can be made for the Invincibles who boast a terrific squad and, crucially, look to have the best bowling attack in the competition to go to war with.
2021 wasn’t a bad campaign for the Invincibles, whose four victories carried them to fourth in the final league table, but they look a stronger side 12 months on, with new signing Rilee Rossouw coming into The Hundred on the back of a brilliant Blast campaign and runs for South Africa against England recently.
Fellow new recruit Hilton Cartwright is another excellent addition and while the form of Jason Roy and captain Sam Billings will need to improve, these are class acts with proven track records.
They won’t stay quiet for long, and the likes of Will Jacks and Sam Curran add further depth to a batting line-up that ticks most boxes on paper, for all the lack of a proven finisher will mean greater responsibility is placed on those big names higher up the order.
It really is the bowling that could set the Invincibles apart, however, with Sunil Narine still proving one of the best short-format bowlers in world cricket, and having shone for Surrey in the Blast this summer.
The signing of fellow finger spinner Danny Briggs is another excellent addition to help complement a seam attack that has pace in the form of Pakistan’s Mohammad Hasnain, left-arm variation from Curran and Reece Topley, and guile from Tom Curran.
Unsurprisingly, there is a strong Surrey connection throughout this squad, and that makes the Invincibles even more attractive.
Surrey bossed the South Group in the recent Blast campaign and but for losing a host of England stars to international duty for the narrow defeat to Yorkshire in the quarter-finals, they could well have gone all the way. Don’t forget that Surrey trounced eventual winners, Hampshire, twice in the group stages of that competition.
For now, international call-ups aren’t expected to affect the Invincibles in The Hundred and many within that dressing room will be keen to set the record straight and prove just what a strong battery of white-ball cricketers the Oval now houses.
Furthermore, Billings demonstrated just what an excellent captain he is when leading Kent to Blast glory in 2021 and with old hand Tom Moody in charge of coaching duties, it’s hard to think the Invincibles won’t put up a very bold show.
Odds of 13/2 look perfectly fair at this stage.
Each of the eight teams are discussed in detail on this week’s Cricket…Only Bettor podcast, but I’m particularly keen to talk up the chances of Northern Superchargers who won three matches last season despite having plenty go against them.
For starters, a serious head injury to Faf du Plessis meant the South African didn’t feature at all last season, while Ben Stokes only played twice and the usually reliable Adam Lyth managed only 40 runs in five games.
Du Plessis is fully fit now and should prove an excellent captain, while Stokes’ absence this year has been well-known for a while now and has given the Superchargers plenty of time to plan without him.
Harry Brook is a much-improved batsman 12 months on, while Adam Hose and David Wiese promise to be two savvy signings.
Callum Parkinson and Adil Rashid form a potent spin pairing, and the pace bowling features the likes of David Willey, Wahab Riaz and Dwayne Bravo.
Lyth can cash in at Headingley
There is a lot to like about this side on paper, but the biggest factor is the form of the aforementioned ADAM LYTH, who endured a tournament to forget last year but remains a class act and comes into this on the back of a brilliant Blast season, the Whitby-born opener plundering 525 runs at a strike-rate of 177.36.
With Headingley proving a good place to bat in all formats this year, Lyth is certainly a name to watch in the coming weeks and kudos to Sky Bet for pricing up the top tournament runscorer market, in which Lyth looks worth a bet at 16/1.
Others considered in this market were Rossouw and James Vince, who continues to dominate white-ball franchise cricket, with that pair available at 14/1 and 12/1 respectively.
Having seen the seamers fare better than their spin counterparts in the Blast, in the wickets column at least, spinners will be hopeful of enjoying more success in The Hundred, given how well the likes of Rashid, Imran Tahir, Jake Lintott and Rashid Khan performed last year.
The latter will again lead a very spin-heavy Trent Rockets attack, but their reliance on the spin might persuade the Trent Bridge curator to move away from the usual batting paradises he usually produces.
That wouldn’t suit the likes of Alex Hales and Dawid Malan, so I’ll be keen to see what is served up in Nottingham for the first home match against Birmingham Phoenix.
Brave title defence on the cards
Defending champions Southern Brave will again look to a formidable bowling attack to do their heavy lifting, and Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills have both pushed the speed gun hard all summer.
Tim David continues to develop, so with even more expected of him this season, there is a lot to like about the champions, except for their price which looks awfully skinny at 3/1.
If there is one potential fly in the ointment perhaps it is Manchester Originals, who were poor last season despite boasting a strong squad.
West Indian Andre Russell is the marquee signing, but he along with Sean Abbott and Wanindu Hasaranga have commitments in the Caribbean Super League when this tournament enters its final week, so complications could arise there.
Still, Jos Buttler and Phil Salt promise fireworks with the bat, and Matt Parkinson and Richard Gleeson wickets with the ball, so the Originals should be a match for anyone on their day.
They are another interesting outfit, but it’s the Invincibles who appear to have more bases covered than most, with a strong mix of proven international quality and rich home talent which will be right at home at the Oval.
Posted at 1530 BST on 01/08/22
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