An ambitious action plan to transform women’s cricket that will include an extra 40 professional contracts has been launched by the England & Wales Cricket Board in an effort to close the gap with Australia.
Funding of £20m over two years, with potential to rise to £50m over five years, was announced on Tuesday as well as confirmation of the restructuring of domestic women’s cricket in a bid to streamline and improve the system.
The new contracts will be worth around £27,500 matching the minimum wage for male county cricketers and are in addition to the existing 21 centrally contracted England players.
The new 10-point action plan has five key objectives focusing on participation, pathway, performance, profile and people. Eight new regional hubs will be created each with its own director of cricket to oversee coaching, talent identification and supervise the creation of a semi-professional regional structure which will see eight regional teams play 50-over and Twenty20 cricket. This will be in addition to the women’s Hundred which runs alongside the men’s competition from next year and will be worth an extra £8m of funding. The regions and location of the hubs will be confirmed in December.
In Australia there are more than 100 women playing the game professionally and the gap between the two nations was evident this summer when England lost the Ashes.
“Over the last five years, Australia have made similar investments which we are about to make. There’s no getting away from the fact we do need to close the gap, certainly around the number of female players who can make a living playing the game,” said Clare Connor, England’s director of women’s cricket. “It’s about giving those talented players that opportunity and for a girl in the game to have visibility ahead of her so she can see how she can progress through our system to become a professional. Australia have been a little ahead of us in that regard. They have done really well, but it’s time for us to make a big move ourselves.
“We want to see women better represented in the game. The game is largely run by men to cater for men. This plan gives us the chance to attract more women into the game in all sorts of roles. We want to see more female coaches, women in leadership roles operating across the game so it is a more gender balanced sport.”
This funding will be crucial in helping the women’s game move forward. There is a perception women’s cricket lags behind football and rugby. This is because the domestic game in those sports is stronger than cricket but at international level cricket is ahead. The England women’s team are current world champions and boast some of the best players in the world, regardless of their recent defeat by Australia, but the international side needs a much stronger domestic set up to help nurture talent and give England players a better standard of competition when not playing internationally.
Matches in the women’s Hundred will be screened live by the BBC next year (the exact number has not been agreed yet) and the ECB will look to make the rest of the matches free on digital platforms giving the game badly needed exposure.
At the launch in Covent Garden, Heather Knight, the England captain, said it is the “best time ever to be a woman in cricket” as she described her own journey and being laughed at by boys when she said she wanted to be a professional cricketer. “Cricket gave me so much. I was a shy young girl. It got me making friends and having a purpose. If we get this investment right now and build the structures correctly this will be something that ensures the growth of women’s and girls’ cricket. There is that carrot of trying to be a professional cricketer. I would love it if I was 10 years old now and could see cricket as a path I could go down.”
Connor revealed she is drawing up a shortlist of candidates, both men and women, for the vacant role of head coach of the England team and intends to have a new person in place by January. A second round of interviews is due to take place next week.