Ben Jones looks at how the Birmingham Phoenix performed on draft-day, and how their squad is shaping up.
Squad: Chris Woakes, Dom Sibley, Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali, Tom Abell, Kane Williamson, Benny Howell, Tom Helm, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Pat Brown, Adam Hose, Adam Zampa, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Henry Brookes, Miles Hammond, Chris Cooke
Draft Activity: Tom Abell (80k), Daniel Bell-Drummond (32k), Miles Hammond (24k)
The arrival of Tom Abell was the key bit of business from Birmingham Phoenix. Abell is an excellent middle order batsman whose reputation is on the rise, and he slots nicely into an already strong middle order – to get him at . Less significantly, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Miles Hammond give them cheap options at the top of the order.
Birmingham’s pace attack is excellent. Shaheen Shah Afridi is one of the best new ball bowlers in world cricket, and ticks the high pace box as well as swinging the ball prodigiously. He’s supported by Tom Helm and Henry Brooks when it comes to genuinely quick bowlers, the Englishmen able to be used as enforcers through the middle with Shaheen kept to top-and-tail the innings. The variation bowlers Pat Brown and Benny Howell are at different ends of their career, but offer similar skills, their slower balls and knuckle balls a nice balance to the pace on offer elsewhere. As a group of bowlers – not all of whom can get on the park at the same time – it’s perhaps the best group of quicks in the tournament.
The flipside of the seamer-strength is that Birmingham only have two frontline spinners: Moeen Ali and Adam Zampa. However, they are complimentary bowlers spinning the ball in different directions, and while both are capable of bowling with the new ball, Moeen is very effective in the Powerplay just as Zampa is towards the end of the innings. By locking in their spinners and not wasting spots on reserves, Birmingham have left themselves with that very versatile, malleable seam attack.
With bat, a powerful opening pair of Liam Livingstone and Adam Hose, with T20 strike rates of 140 and 146 respectively, is well set to get Phoenix off to a couple of fliers, but it’s the middle order of Kane Williamson, Moeen Ali, and Tom Abell that really stands out. Williamson and Moeen are some of the best players for the middle overs in the world, and Abell’s ability to manipulate the field with laps and scoops (of English batsmen, only Buttler, Livingstone and Billings have played more) will make them an awkward trio to bowl to.
Phoenix may be vulnerable to quality spin bowling. Livingstone, Williamson and Cooke all prefer facing pace, and while Moeen’s strength (striking at 166 v all spinners) may prevent sides going too spin-heavy against them, it’s a potential cause for concern. Similarly, there’s lots of pressure on Moeen as the sole left-hander in the top order, provided Hammond doesn’t get an unlikely place. A quality leg-spinner – of which there are plenty in the competition – could put Birmingham in a difficult positon.
The question of Test availability is a potential hurdle for the Midlands side to negotiate as well. Chris Woakes and Dom Sibley are very likely to be involved with England, with Moeen’s inclusion still up for debate, but it is not out of the question that Birmingham lose all three once the window for Test player involvement is closed. Given the importance of Moeen to the balance of the order, and his role as the second spinner in the squad, his Test selection would have huge ramifications for the way they plan their season.
Equally, while a long tail might not be the end of the world in the Hundred, but Birmingham may find it tricky to balance their XI. Howell at 7 is reasonable, but bowling-heavy in its emphasis, and places pressure on Livingstone to play in a more conservative manner than he may usually do – again, not insurmountable. But if Moeen is taken out of the equation, then the issue gets yet more complex, and tricky for Birmingham to resolve without making big changes to their balance.
Likely XI: Bell-Drummond, Livingstone, Williamson, Moeen, Abell, Cooke +, Howell, Zampa, Brown, Helm, Shaheen
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.