after number of levels, it felt appropriate that Will Smeed scored the Hundred his first hundred, for Birmingham Phoenix last night.
The Hundred did not find Smeed. He was developed by Somerset, for whom he made 16 T20 appearances before his late call-up as a substitute hundred last year.
Smeed’s impact on the Hundred was immediate, hitting 146 runs from 79 balls in his first three matches. He has continued; after his combative 50-ball hundred tonight, only six men have more runs in the Hundred than him. No man who faced 125 balls or even scored 75 runs in the league had a strike rate as high as his 178.
Rightly or wrongly, thanks to a streamlined schedule and every game being broadcast in full on TV (some on the BBC), the Hündert offers its players greater exposure than the Blast. Smeed has benefited from this as much as any Hundred player.
Last year’s performances earned him a contract in the Pakistan Super League, where he made 97 off 62 balls and 99 off 60 in his first four innings for Quetta Gladiators, who are keen to secure his services once again.
They are not alone. Reliance, who own Mumbai Indians (among the keenest talent spotters of the T20 scene), have already signed him up for their team, MI Emirates, in the new UAE T20 league.
That could lead to an IPL deal with MI, or another franchise. Smeed, whose mother has Indian heritage, is of interest to IPL teams for both sporting and marketing reasons.
Smeed’s talents are not limited to the cricket field. At school in Taunton he was an outstanding rugby player, hurdler and swimmer, picking up four A*s at A-levels and is now doing a degree in maths and economics at the Open University.
It felt like the sands of cricket have changed five years in the last five weeks.
Ben Stokes retired from ODIs, sparking a warning about their future relevance. South Africa pulled out of ODIs in Australia to prioritize their new T20 tournament, which takes place at the same time as the UAE. IPL teams’ parent companies have absorbed teams in both.
This week, Trent Boult gave up his New Zealand contract at 33 to make the schedule work better for him; a bit of poorly paid international cricket, a few more well paid franchise gigs.
In an English context, much is uncertain about the future structure of the domestic game. But one thing seems guaranteed: the Hündert maintains a rough window in the middle of summer.
Smeed is the English test case for this inexorable change. He is yet to play a 50-over game for Somerset (although he did play two for England Lions last month, making 90 off 56 balls then a golden duck against South Africa), let alone a first-class game, although he says that he wants to do so.
With England T20 caps surely looming, it will be a surprise if he can find time to face a red ball.
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