The Hundred 2021: Men's team guide - Birmingham Phoenix

Who are the overseas stars? Where will games be won and lost? What has changed since 2020? The Cricketer takes a deep dive into Birmingham Phoenix's men's team ahead of the first season of The Hundred

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Coach: Daniel Vettori. The former New Zealand captain returns to Edgbaston 15 years after his stint with Warwickshire came to an unfortunate end. Signing for the club in 2006, he made just two appearances (neither of which came on home turf) before a stress fracture in his back brought his Bears career to an end.

Vettori spent five seasons (2014-18) as head coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, guiding them to the IPL final in 2016, and most recently enjoyed a spell as Bangladesh’s spin bowling coach. With Australian coach Andrew McDonald unable to travel due to Covid-19, Vettori will serve as interim head coach this season and be assisted by Alex Gidman and James Franklin, the head coaches of Worcestershire and Durham.

Captain: Moeen Ali. Also returning to Edgbaston is England allrounder Moeen Ali. The 34-year-old started his career at Warwickshire, spending two seasons in Birmingham before transferring to Worcestershire. Moeen has made nearly 150 white-ball appearances for England, scoring over 2,000 runs and taking 100-plus wickets, and recently lit up the IPL, with 206 runs at a strike rate of 157.25 and five wickets with an economy of 6.16 for Chennai Super Kings – form which should come in handy in the 100-ball format.

Overseas stars

Finn Allen: The 22-year-old New Zealander is enjoying a standout 12 months, smashing 512 runs in 11 matches to help Wellington Firebirds win the Super Smash, earning a contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore and making his T20 debut for the Black Caps. Allen, an explosive top-order batter, is currently representing Lancashire Lightning in the T20 Blast and has scored four fifties in his first 13 appearances.

Adam Milne: Another Kiwi transforming into a Phoenix, Milne is a fast bowler with 63 international white-ball caps to his name and 28 wickets in 23 T20Is. A regular overseas star at Kent since 2017, the 29-year-old has 44 wickets in 31 Blast appearances and an economy of 7.39 – his best economy in any domestic T20 league.

Imran Tahir: Veteran South African Imran Tahir is Phoenix’s first-choice spinner, and what a spinner to have. The 42-year-old, who is something of a white-ball gun for hire, has played in the IPL, CPL, PSL, Mzansi Super League, and T20 Blast, and boasts an economy below eight in all five competitions. In his long career, Tahir has taken 397 T20 wickets in 314 matches.

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The destructive Finn Allen

English stars

Chris Woakes: England’s underappreciated allrounder. His exploits often go under the radar but there’s no questioning his white-ball talents. In his element in 50-over cricket, his T20 record is also impressive with 831 runs at a strike rate of 137.12 and 129 wickets with an economy of 8.27 in 118 matches. Most recently, he returned to England’s T20I squad after a five-year absence, posting figures of 0 for 14 and 1 for 15 against Sri Lanka.

Dom Sibley: Better known for his red-ball exploits, Dom Sibley has scored 859 runs at a strike rate of 121.49 in 35 career T20 matches but hasn’t featured for the Bears first XI since September 2020. A top-order batter, he made three white-ball appearances for the second XI in June, scoring 45 runs.

Wildcard

Dillon Pennington: The tall fast bowler is having something a breakthrough season for Worcestershire, collecting his maiden red-ball five-for and earning a call-up for The Hundred off the back of his Blast form. Pennington claimed 13 wickets this season, including best figures of 4 for 24 and an economy of 8.38. Standing at 6ft 4in, his ability to bowl bouncers and hit the bat hard will be a huge asset to Phoenix.

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Wildcard Dillon Pennington

Batting

Power hitters

Finn Allen: His stats speak for themselves. A career T20 strike rate of 175.64, 113 fours and 44 sixes from just 29 senior games. Allen plays one way and one way only: aggressively.

Liam Livingstone: Capable of batting anywhere in the top order, Livingstone, like Allen, can also go big. Only Alex Hales hit more sixes than the Cumbrian’s 28 in BBL10 while his career strike rate is 142.1.

Anchor

Liam Livingstone: As well as his ability to smash runs, Livingstone is also a player to build an innings around. In five Blast appearances for Lancashire in 2021, he has scored 254 runs, joining Jonny Bairstow and Marnus Labuschagne as the only players to pass 250 runs in five innings or fewer, and scored 40+ runs on three occasions (his lowest score of the season is 25).

Daniel Bell-Drummond: A second anchor and a player more than capable of stabilising the top-order should Livingstone experience a downturn in form. Overlooked during the draft in 2019, the 27-year-old has 762 runs and counting, including seven half-centuries, since his snub and looks every inch the solid top-order player.

Finisher

Benny Howell: As well as being a trickster with the ball, Benny Howell is a middle-order gun who can also bat all the way up the order. Highlights this season include a 33-ball half-century against Glamorgan and a 23-ball 44 against Kent, while he marked his return from injury last season with 49 not out from just 18 balls. If you need a chase completing, or a worm sent vertical, call Howell.

Problem areas: Phoenix’s squad is very top heavy with Allen, Livingstone, and Bell-Drummond offering an exciting top three. However, with Tom Abell only just returning from injury, there is likely to be a lot of pressure on Howell and Moeen to control the middle-order. And what happens if Moeen is selected for England’s Test side? Moeen is the only recognised left-handed batsman - following the exit of Adam Hose just before the tournament - which makes their batting line-up quite easy to target.

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Versatile Benny Howell

Bowling

Speed merchants: Adam Milne. Remember when he sent down a 95mph rocket for New Zealand against India in 2010? Well, that might be a stretch too far but the Kiwi quick averages 85mph with the ball and is good at the top and the death.

Chris Woakes and Dillon Pennington will likely dominate the powerplay, with the former using tricky variations and the latter using his 6ft 4in frame to good effect.

Variation: Benny Howell has more varieties than Heinz. In an interview with The Cricketer, he described himself as “something between a fast spinner and a medium pacer, mostly slower balls, off-spinners, knuckles, split-fingers” and also revealed he’d been working on bowling leg-spin during his winter in Australia. And his variation works – of the 20 all-time leading wicket-takers in the Blast, only Danny Briggs and Jeetan Patel boast better economies than the Gloucestershire allrounder.

Liam Livingstone, too, is a little bit of a surprise package, bowling both off and leg-spin, while Pat Brown, if fit and firing, has a couple of surprises in his pace arsenal to wreak havoc at the death.

Line and length: Chris Woakes – Mr Reliable. We saw it plain as day against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street when he finished with figures of 4 for 18 from 10 overs, including bowling five maidens. He knows his spot and he hits it (he just has to be able for a couple of matches now…)

Ten-ball over candidate: Imran Tahir. Possibly a curve-ball suggestion given England’s notoriously unfriendly conditions for spin bowlers, but as Shane Warne said earlier in the year: “If you don’t pick a spinner at Edgbaston, then when? Edgbaston and the Gabba are the best pitches in the world to bowl spin.” Tahir has experience, Blast stats of 102 wickets and an economy of 6.87 in 86 matches, and recently took 13 wickets for Multan Sultans in the PSL. He controls the middle overs and has the potential to halt batsmen in their tracks, if he maintains his PSL form.

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Fielding

Gun fielder: Something of a triple threat, Jos Buttler is among those to have praised Liam Livingstone’s fielding ability, labelling him a ‘brilliant fielder’ in a recent press conference. Often prowling around in the deep, he has a bullet arm and a safe pair of hands.

Lancashire teammate Finn Allen should also be useful in the field having trained as a wicketkeeper in his youth while Imran Tahir recently stunned the cricketing world by running Kyle Jamieson out with a bullseye throw in the IPL. Is it too much to hope for something similar in The Hundred? Possibly…

Who takes the gloves?: Chris Cooke – Veteran Glamorgan ‘keeper Chris Cooke has been handed the gloves by Phoenix and has completed 315 catches and 22 stumpings in his career. He’s also a handy T20 batsman, with a career strike rate of 135.91, but is yet to really fire in the shorter formats this season and including him in the XI means leaving out someone like Tom Abell. Finn Allen provides another option with the gloves, but Phoenix will likely want him to concentrate on opening the batting.

Changes from 2020: Several big names have dropped off Birmingham’s roster since the original draft in 2019, with overseas trio Kane Williamson, Shaheen Afridi and Adam Zampa all making themselves unavailable. Riki Wessels, Ravi Bopara and Cameron Delport were also deemed surplus to requirements, with the latter losing his place due to the removal of his Kolpak status. Young Warwickshire quick Henry Brookes was later ruled out of the tournament in June after tearing his quad.

As mentioned, Adam Milne, Imran Tahir and Finn Allen are Phoenix’s new overseas names while Miles Hammond (Gloucestershire), Warwickshire’s Dom Sibley, Daniel Bell-Drummond (Kent) and Will Smeed (Somerset) arrived in the first wave of domestic replacements. Dillon Pennington received a late call-up as a wildcard.

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Chris Woakes' availability could be limited

Ground: Edgbaston. The home of Warwickshire in county cricket, Edgbaston plays host to few T20Is but does stage Blast Finals Day every year. Five T20Is have been played at the ground, with 8.91 runs scored on average per over and a par score around the 170-mark. As Jeetan Patel’s Blast figures illustrate (141 wickets and an economy of 6.99), it’s one of the few spin-friendly grounds in the country, which could bode well for Tahir, Livingstone and Moeen.

Fixtures: July 23 – London Spirit (h, 6.30pm), July 25 – Manchester Originals (a, 6pm), July 30 – Southern Brave (a, 6.30pm), August 1 – Trent Rockets (h, 2.30pm), August 4 – Oval Invincibles (h, 7pm), August 9 – Welsh Fire (h, 6.30pm), August 13 – Trent Rockets (a, 7pm), August 17 – Northern Superchargers (a, 6.30pm)

Sound from the ground: As the host stadium of Blast Finals Day, the Edgbaston faithful know how to hold a white-ball party. Bodalia, a doctor and DJ who is due to support Fatboy Slim in November 2021, is the designated DJ for Phoenix while Lady Sanity (London Spirit, July 23), Lady Leshurr (Trent Rockets, August 1), KIOKO (Oval Invincibles, August 4) and The Lottery Winners (Welsh Fire, August 9) are scheduled to perform at specific matches.

Squad: Chris Woakes, Dom Sibley, Moeen Ali (captain), Pat Brown, Chris Benjamin, Tom Helm, Benny Howell, Chris Cooke, Liam Livingstone, Tom Abell, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Miles Hammond, Adam Milne, Imran Tahir, Finn Allen, Will Smeed, Dillon Pennington

Possible XI: Finn Allen, Liam Livingstone, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Moeen Ali, Tom Abell, Benny Howell, Chris Cooke, Chris Woakes, Adam Milne, Imran Tahir, Dillon Pennington

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Can Pat Brown rediscover his best?

Harry Gurney's analysis: "If Moeen gets called up for the Tests he leaves a big hole, he's a world-class operator with bat and ball and he adds that left-hander option. Someone is going to have to step up.

"It's a great stage for Benny Howell. There are guys on the circuit who have performed well in the Blast for a number of years and had never had recognition in internationals or in franchise cricket. Benny has had a taste but he falls into that category a little bit. He's a real student of the game, a real thinker.

"For people like him and a number of consistent performers across the country I am really excited for because they've got a stage.

"Livingstone was a really shrewd bit of business. They went hard and early knowing Manchester Originals would want him and it's a very smart move. If he gets going he will win you a game on his own. He bowls a bit of useful spin and he's the kind of guy you want in the trenches with you - he gets really stuck in.

"If he can get himself fit then Tom Helm has some great one-day skills, bowls a decent yorker out of the back of the hand. Also down the variation route, someone like Pat Brown has had a lot of injuries over the last few years but if they can get him fit he'll be a key player as well.

"Early in your career confidence can erode really quickly. Pat had that breakthrough season when he got loads of wickets, got picked for England and went off. In recent times he's had his confidence knocked a little bit but as he plays more and more you do become better at dealing with it.

"Generally the cream rises to the top and if you are going to play these shorter formats for the next few years then he will do again. As he gets into the second half of his career the bad days won't bother him as much."

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