In each of our regular New Bulletins Raf Nicholson writes her observations on promoting women's cricket. You can read the latest edition below.
The Women’s Ashes already feels a long time ago, although that may be because it is a series I would rather forget - England losing horribly to Australia, 12-4 on points (in “old money”, they lost all three ODIs, drew the Test, and then lost two of the three T20 matches). The series vividly exposed the gap which has opened up between the two sides.
Casual observers might not appreciate fully the reasons behind this gap. For the past two years, the Australian Women’s team have been enjoying the fruits of a historic pay deal agreed in August 2017, which created the only fully professional women’s domestic set-up anywhere in the world. By contrast, the English system is a top-heavy one: beneath the contracted 21 England players is a domestic set-up which remains entirely amateur.
Players coming straight out of county cricket into the England set-up often struggle to make the step up, with the difference in the fielding standards especially apparent. County cricketers often have no coaching sessions in the off-season whatsoever, and even during the season are working with coaches who are part-time at best.
It is for this reason that the ECB are planning a restructure of women’s domestic cricket from 2020. The plan is to use part of the ECB’s new £20m investment in women’s and girls’ cricket to establish a new semi-professional structure, which will replace the existing 50-over Women’s County Championship. Players will be allocated to 8 regional “Centres of Excellence" where they will train year-round. These Centres will play against each other in both the 20-over and 50-over formats.
The new Centres of Excellence are an attempt to distil the best players into 8 regional hubs, instead of them being spread across 39 counties, to create a much higher standard of domestic competition.
The Centres will be aligned with their local Women’s Hundred side. Permanent coaching and support staff will be hired by the CoEs and it is anticipated that the paired Hundred franchise will sub-contract these same personnel to provide “year-round” continuity.
So it really is “all change” next season from a women’s cricket perspective. In fact I am writing this just after the last ever Kia Super League Finals Day at Hove, which was won by the Taunton-based side Western Storm.
One aspect of the restructure for which I admit I have little appetite is the replacement of the Super League - which has been a very successful competition for the women’s game - with the Women’s Hundred. Apparently those present at Hove agree with my assessment: that is if the booing by the crowd during the post-match interviews when the Hundred was mentioned is anything to go by (were some Cricket Society members present, perchance!!)
The Men’s Hundred in many ways represents the Big Unknown to existing cricket supporters, but the Women’s Hundred even more so. Despite the claim that the men’s and women’s teams will be placed on an even footing, it has just been announced that the women’s sides will be based at different venues to the men’s sides:
The Cardiff team will play at Bristol and Taunton
The Edgbaston team will play at Worcester
The Headingley team will play at York and South Northumberland
The Lord’s team will play at Chelmsford and Northampton
The Oval team will play at Beckenham
The Trent Bridge team will play at Derby and Leicester
The Rose Bowl team will play at Hove
(The venue for the women’s Old Trafford team is still TBC).
This makes sense to a point, as some of these smaller venues have served women’s cricket very well over the years. I am sure that any Kent, Sussex, Essex and Somerset fans reading the Bulletin will also be extremely pleased to see that they will be able to go along to their local county ground to see hundred-ball cricket in action!
However, it is also makes a joke of some of the (rumoured) names of the Hundred sides. Currently we have the Oval Greats playing at Beckenham, the London Spirit playing at Northampton, the Trent Rockets playing at Leicester, the Birmingham Phoenix playing at Worcester, and possibly the Welsh Fire playing at Taunton. Hmmm…
It is almost as if the women’s game has been merely an afterthought in all this. The sad thing for women’s cricket supporters, actually, is that something which has placed women’s cricket as front and centre - the Kia Super League - is being ditched in favour of a competition in which women’s cricket will have to compete with the men’s game for attention.
And that appears to be a contest which we never win.