It’s tempting to think that women’s sport always comes second.
The latest possibility: Championship cricket is scheduled to start on 1 August. For women’s cricket… a void. Decisions are still being made.
In truth, even without the pandemic helping to cause chaos, the structures of English women’s cricket needed urgent overhaul. And Clare Connor, Director of Women’s Cricket and the MCC President-elect, engaged some keen thinkers to help her reshape it.
The model version is displayed by Cricket Australia, which provides some hundred contracts for its elite women players. Even if the money for such a figure could be found, it’s doubtful if there are that many players on these shores worthy of elevating to that status.
Back in 2019 the ECB published a 10-point action plan for transforming women’s and girls’ cricket. It saw amongst other things: a £20 million investment by 2021; eight regional hubs for elite domestic cricket; 40 new professional contracts and half a million primary schoolgirls to receive a ‘great cricket experience’.
Then the major set-back caused by Covid-19: no cricket, no money coming in. The 100, on which so many hopes rested, was postponed for a year.
In mid-May Connor announced regional retainers. These are based on the eight hubs proposed in the action plan; they are:
Region Region Host and Partner Counties
North East: Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland
North West: Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria
West Midlands: West Midlands Cricket Ltd (Warwickshire + Worcestershire) Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire
East Midlands: Loughborough University, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire
South West: Western Storm Ltd (Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Somerset) Cricket Wales, Cornwall, Devon, Wiltshire and Wales
South Central: Southern Vipers Ltd (Hampshire, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire
London and SE: Surrey, Kent
London and East: Middlesex, Essex, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk
Each region or hub to have its own nominated Director of Cricket; five are men, three women.
The County system has been part of cricket’s fabric from the start, but it hasn’t helped to maintain the game’s prominence in the nation’s heart in the 21st century. The eight hubs are another attempt to dismantle it. You can sense its unevenness in the numbers allotted to each hub; they vary from two (Surrey and Kent) to nine.
These are the players to be offered regional retainers. Many are familiar names, just on the edge of England selection; others, less well known, will gain the chance to promote their case for future selection. They may be receiving about £1,000 per month.
North East: Hollie Armitage, Beth Langston, Linsey Smith* (England women rookie)
North West: Georgie Boyce, Alex Hartley, Emma Lamb* (EWR), Ellie Threlkeld
West Midlands: Eve Jones, Marie Kelly, Issy Wong
East Midlands: Kathryn Bryce, Sarah Bryce
South West and Wales: Dani Gibson, Sophie Luff, Fi Morris
South Central: Georgia Adams, Tara Norris, Paige Scholfield
London and South East: Alice Davidson-Richards* (EWR), Sophia Dunkley* (EWR), Tash Farrant, Bryony Smith* (EWR)
London and East: Amara Carr, Naomi Dattani, Cordelia Griffith
*Players who already have rookie contracts with England will remain on them until the 40 full-time deals begin
This is an initial attempt by Connor to raise the profile of English cricket, to put more money into more pockets of deserving players.
Now we wait to hear of a full-blown season-long schedule for women’s cricket. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the amateur status of the vast majority of players. This limits the time they have available to compete in the various tournaments spread across the country.