By Paul Jones
Welsh Fire have opted not to retain Australian Test stars Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc for The Hundred competition this summer.
But they have added England’s World Cup-winning seamer Liam Plunkett to their ranks.
The new Cardiff-based team were due to spearhead their campaign with two of the biggest names in world cricket last year before the tournament was suspended due to the pandemic.
A year on and it appears Welsh Fire have decided to release both Australian players from their squad because of doubts over their availability.
Australia are due to tour the West Indies in July, which clashes with the start of The Hundred and both Smith and Starc are known to be feeling the strain of being camped in bio-secure bubbles.
Welsh Fire have already retained England batsman Jonny Bairstow for this summer’s delayed start but will now have two slots available for overseas players, having also retained Afghanistan leg-spinner Qais Ahmad.
Salaries in the competition have been cut by 20%, leaving top earners on £100,000 for the season, still enough for a large number of leading international players to have been retained, having made themselves available.
A second and final draft will now be held on 22 February when the eight team will finalise their squads. Welsh Fire still have seven slots to fill in total.
Squads for the women’s tournament – which will run alongside the men’s – will continue to be announced over the coming months and be finalised in June.
Full list of players announced on Wednesday:
Welsh Fire: Qais Ahmad, Amy Gordon, Ryan Higgins, David Payne, Liam Plunkett.
Birmingham Phoenix: Shaheen Afridi, Thea Brookes, Chris Cooke, Gwen Davies, Liam Livingstone, Isabelle Wong, Kane Williamson.
London Spirit: Charlie Dean, Mason Crane, Freya Davies, Joe Denly, Hannah Jones, Glenn Maxwell, Sophie Munro, Roelof Van Der Merwe, Mark Wood.
Manchester Originals: Georgie Boyce, Natalie Brown, Ellie Threlkeld, Alex Hartley, Emma Lamb, Wayne Madsen, Matt Parkinson.
Northern Superchargers: Aaron Finch, Beth Langston, Brydon Carse, Chris Lynn, John Simpson, Linsey Smith, Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Oval Invincibles: Sam Billings, Sarah Bryce, Alice Capsey, Laurie Evans, Jo Gardner, Will Jacks, Sandeep Lamichhane, Dane Van Niekerk.
Southern Brave: Amelia Kerr, Fi Morris, Craig Overton, Andre Russell, Marcus Stoinis, Ross Whiteley.
Trent Rockets: Nathan Coulter-Nile, Ben Cox, Lewis Gregory, Nancy Harman, Lucy Higham, D’Arcy Short, Luke Wood, Luke Wright.