The Hundred: Australia star Steve Smith could captain Welsh Fire

Steve Smith
Steve Smith made his Test debut for Australia against Pakistan in 2010

Australia batsman Steve Smith could lead the Welsh Fire franchise in the first year of the new Hundred tournament.

Ashes star Smith was the Cardiff-based team's second selection at the competition player draft, behind fast bowler Mitchell Starc.

"Steve Smith is the best batsman in the world," said Fire coach Gary Kirsten.

"We wanted someone who could offer stuff for the younger players as well, potentially a captain."

Smith was captain of Australia until the ball-tampering scandal against South Africa in March 2018 cost him the role, but returned to dominate the Ashes series against England, scoring 774 runs.

The Welsh Fire squad also includes Glamorgan's T20 captain Colin Ingram and Essex skippers Ryan ten Doeschate and Simon Harmer.

"We wanted a good dose of experience in our side, we have three or four captains and often these tournaments get down to pressurised moments, so quality decision-making makes a big difference," explained Kirsten.

"It appears Starc and Smith will be available throughout the tournament, Starc's record speaks for itself since we wanted someone who is strong at the 'death' and can bowl in the powerplay."

Short on locals?

Welsh Fire include England Test batsman/wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow, while Liam Plunkett, Ben Duckett, and Danny Briggs have also played for England and Tom Banton is about to do so in New Zealand.

The western squad also includes South Africa, West Indies, Afghanistan and Netherlands players- but Gloucestershire pair David Payne and Ryan Higgins were the only draft additions to previous 'local' picks Ingram and Somerset's Banton, with nine players from the 'host' counties going elsewhere.

Colin Ingram
Colin Ingram joined Glamorgan ahead of the 2015 season

"We planned to take a few more higher up, but we weren't picking in the second round and a few guys went," said Fire cricket manager Mark Wallace.

"We really fancied Lewis Gregory who went early in the second round, Ben Howell and Chris Cooke we fancied, but they kept getting taken just before us so we had to shuffle the deck, though it's good for those guys to be playing in the competition.

"Chris Cooke totally deserves to be playing on this scale and Marchant de Lange going too, so we'll have to replace them at Glamorgan, but it'll be an opportunity for someone else to have a game."

Declining sport?

While the competition has brought a sceptical response from many existing cricket supporters, Wallace is convinced the TV money and publicity, including some games televised on the BBC, will help revive interest in the sport.

"It's not necessarily about 100 balls a side, we're trying to give cricket a shot in the arm and a boost. To be able to put a new competition on with new teams and a vibrant atmosphere, it's what cricket needs.

"It's not just fighting against other sports, it's e-games and people's social time getting squeezed, so do we carry on and look at a declining sport or do we try and spark interest? We're in the middle of October, but people, kids, families are talking about cricket and that's got to be a good thing to build on."

The tournament starts on 17 July 2020, with Welsh Fire facing Southern Brave twice and the other sides once each in the eight group games.