Teams in the Hundred will confirm this week which men's players they have retained from the squads they picked in the competition's initial draft in October 2019, with the ECB billing Thursday, February 4 as 'deadline day'.
Following the Hundred's postponement last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, men's players who had been selected in the draft have been negotiating with teams, who were given the option of retaining as many players as they wished at a mutually agreed salary band. A number of retentions have already been announced, headlined by Jonny Bairstow staying at Welsh Fire on a top-bracket deal after losing his red-ball central contract.
After the retention window shuts, a mini-draft will be held towards the end of the month in which squads will be finalised - though each team will then add a 'wildcard' player to their squad following the T20 Blast's group stages in July.
It is understood that on account of the logistical challenges posed by Covid, the draft will not be screened live from a studio like it was in 2019 and will instead be held behind closed doors. The ECB have been in discussions with broadcasters about how best to present the draft, and at this stage, it is likely to be staged virtually on Sunday, February 21 - between England's second and third Tests in India, and after the IPL auction - with the picks in each round expected to be revealed on February 22 or 23.
Some teams, such as Trent Rockets, Southern Brave and Oval Invincibles, have retained the vast majority of their initial squads, while others, including Northern Superchargers, Manchester Originals and Welsh Fire, will have several picks to make. Around 30 spots will be free across the competition in the draft.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the majority of English players who had been picked up on lucrative contracts have been retained, though a handful of consistent domestic performers including Richard Gleeson, Ben Foakes (both Superchargers), Danny Briggs (Fire) and Chris Wood (Invincibles) are set to be released into the draft pool, and Harry Gurney (Rockets) was yet to sign as the deadline approached. Salaries have been cut by 20% for 2021 but the banding remains the same, and some players have either negotiated a slot at a higher band - including Will Jacks (Invincibles) and Dawid Malan (Rockets) - or agreed to shift down.
A number of overseas players including Marcus Stoinis (Brave), Chris Lynn (Superchargers), Qais Ahmed (Fire) and D'Arcy Short (Rockets) will be retained, while Shadab Khan (Brave), Fabian Allen (Invincibles), Mitchell Santner and Imran Tahir (both Originals) are among those set to be released. A full list will be revealed on 'deadline day', which is likely to include details of which salary band each player has agreed to.
Availability of overseas players is posing a major headache for teams in their draft planning due to the uncertainty that Covid has introduced to the Future Tours Programme. West Indies are due to host Australia and Pakistan for multi-format tours which overlap with the start and end of the Hundred respectively, and teams are alert to the fact that other series could spring up at short notice, and that quarantine requirements both in England and overseas may further curtail availability.
Some big names may be signed by teams planning for the long term, who would then sign short-term replacement players as cover but retain their stars in future seasons. Shaheen Shah Afridi, for example, is understood to have been retained by Birmingham Phoenix - despite his limited availability - as part of their long-term planning, while teams could go after players like Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer for the same reason.
That said, players without international contracts like Ben Cutting and Chris Morris may prove popular at the draft, and most teams will look to prioritise a strong core of domestic players. New Zealand and South Africa are not currently scheduled to play in the Hundred's window from late July to late August, so their players may be attractive options, while depending on the dates for Bangladesh's tour to Zimbabwe, Shakib Al Hasan may find a suitor.
There is a long list of English players who were disappointed not to be picked up in 2019, many of whom will be anticipating deals this year after discussions between teams and agents in recent months. Olly Stone, Tom Lammonby, Samit Patel, Jamie Overton, Josh Cobb and Ian Cockbain are among those expected to attract interest after going unsold last time round.
The end of the Kolpak era means that the players picked up as locals in the 2019 draft would now count towards a team's overseas quota (three per squad, and per playing XI), and the majority will be released as a result. Dane Vilas, a surprise £125,000 pick by Manchester Originals in the first draft, is among those set to be released, though Welsh Fire and Oval Invincibles have considered retaining Colin Ingram and Rilee Rossouw respectively as overseas players.
In the women's competition, teams have until June to finalise their squads. There is no draft scheduled, with a less formal recruitment process in place, and eight further marquee signings are due to be announced later this month.