England batsman Tom Banton has welcomed a second chance to play for Welsh Fire in the Hundred franchise competition.
Banton, 22, could open the batting for the Cardiff-based side with Jonny Bairstow.
“I’m really excited to open with ‘Bluey’ (Bairstow) if that chance does come, hopefully we can contribute to win some games together,” said Banton.
Ben Duckett is also confirmed for the men’s franchise, who have Ollie Pope as a centrally-contracted England player.
The Hundred tournament, involving eight city-based men’s and women’s franchises, was scheduled to start in July 2020 but was put back a year because of coronavirus preventing crowds attending and making international travel impractical.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has yet to confirm how many of the planned array of overseas stars will be able to take part.
But Banton, who played limited-overs matches for England in August and September and was on the South Africa tour in December, is delighted to have the competition back in his diary.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had cricket and it’s really exciting looking forward to it, I can’t wait. Hopefully we can win it the first year which would be really good,” he said.
“It’ll make a little difference (being delayed) with the Covid setback, the whole hype around it was huge. It would have targeted a new crowd and I think it definitely will do this year, it’s going to be good fun.
“It’s been a pretty horrible year not just in sport but in general, hopefully this vaccine can roll out quickly and we can get everyone back in.”
Banton pulled out of a spell with Brisbane Heat in Australia’s Big Bash League to give himself time out after ‘bubble’ spells with England home and away, and in the UAE for the Indian Premier League.
“It was a long time away in the bubble, it does take its toll after a while. There are times when you want a bit of normality back in your life and you want to come home. I enjoyed (England), I got to play quite a bit last summer and performed in a few games, (though) I would like to have performed a bit better,” Banton told BBC Sport Wales.
“For me it wasn’t that hard (opting out of the Big Bash), I spoke to a few people I trusted and just made the decision to come home, it was definitely the best choice I’ve made so far because I fly to the T10 (in the UAE) this Friday, then straight to (Pakistan’s) PSL, then there’s the India tour then the IPL so it was definitely the right decision (to miss Australia).
“It’s not easy being a reserve and sitting on the bench the whole time. Being in a hotel in Cape Town, one of the best places in the world and you’ve got to sit in your room, it gets a bit boring after a while. I thought I’d go home and get a bit of normality.”
A spell in Pakistan could see him opening alongside veteran West Indian superstar Chris Gayle, whose spell at Somerset came before Banton broke into the first team there.
“I’d love to open the batting with him. You see him on TV growing up and for me to be stood at the other end watching this huge West Indian smack them out of Karachi is going to be quite impressive,” said Banton.
After months of overseas travel, virus permitting, a short hop over the Severn Bridge for the Hundred will seem like child’s play for the hard-hitting opener, who smashed 64 off 34 balls in a T20 match in Cardiff in 2019.
“I love Cardiff as a place, not only the cricket but also the social side is quite good fun, my brother goes to uni there so I’ll get to see him a lot.
“I love batting there, it’s a good place and hopefully we can attract a big crowd.”
The rest of the Welsh Fire men’s squad is due to be announced on Thursday, 4 February.
— to www.bbc.co.uk