In each of our regular New Bulletins Raf Nicholson writes her observations on promoting women's cricket. You can read the latest edition below.
Since I last wrote a piece for the Bulletin, the ECB have launched - in glitzy fashion - their new Women and Girls’ Action Plan: “a comprehensive action plan to engage more women and girls, and to increase representation and opportunity across all aspects of the game”. Over the next two years, £20 million will be invested in women’s and girls’ cricket, with the money being spent on five key objectives:
-increasing the number of women and girls playing cricket
-elevating the profile of women’s cricket
-increasing the representation of women across the cricket workforce
-developing County Age Group cricket through a higher quality and more accessible structure
-introducing a new, semi-professional, eight-region structure to replace women’s county cricket.
The ECB’s eight new regional Centres of Excellence will see counties coming together as follows:
North West: Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria
North East: Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland
West Midlands: Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire
East Midlands: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Loughborough University
South West & Wales: Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, Wales
South Central: Hampshire, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire
London & South East: Kent, Surrey
London & East: Essex, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk
You’ll notice that these 8 regions align fairly neatly with the 8 new teams who will compete in the Hundred competition. For those reading the Bulletin who remain wedded to county loyalties, I’m afraid this isn’t good news. Developments in the women’s game, despite being ignored by many cricket fans, do rather tend to provide a model of where the men’s game will end up in future - the KSL, for example, was the first step on the path to franchise cricket which has now culminated in the Hundred. The replacement of women’s county cricket with regional Centres in my view represents a vision of what the ECB see as the future of men’s cricket - i.e. moving towards a model of eight “super-counties”, superseding the existing 18 First Class men’s counties.
The good news is that this new ECB Plan signals the increased professionalisation of domestic women’s cricket - a move that is much needed now that the England domestic set-up is falling so far behind the fully professional Australian one. As part of the new Plan, the ECB will be funding 40 new professional contracts - 5 for each of the 8 regions - which means that as of 2020, there will be 60 women in total in England making a living out of professional cricket (the 40 new contracts plus the existing 20 centrally contracted England players). That means an increase in standards across the board, and hopefully more spectators for the women’s game.
I was struck, reading the “Miscellany” in the last Bulletin on “Two that Got Away”, that there are countless examples of players who have “got away” within women’s cricket: players who could have been England greats, but never quite made it. One of them is Katie Levick, a Yorkshire leg-spinner who is the leading wicket-taker of all time in the Women’s County Championship and was recently to be found opening the bowling for Yorkshire Diamonds in the Kia Super League. Levick’s story is an interesting one: growing up, in her words, in a “very normal, working-class, northern” family, she spent a year training with the England side but had to drop out when she graduated from university as she couldn’t afford to carry on. “It felt really hard at the time,” she told me in a recent interview for the Guardian. “I had to make that phone call to say: ‘Take me out of consideration from now on.’ It felt really hard at the time. You muddle through and you get told what to do, and that was the first time I’d had to go to my parents and say: ‘Will you be disappointed if I pull myself out of the system?’ But they said: ‘We fully support you. We’re proud of you for getting a job, and making this big decision.’”
Another example would be Somerset’s Sophie Luff, a former captain of the England Academy side, and once touted as the best batsman of her generation. Luff missed out on the first “batch” of central contracts (handed out in 2014), and somehow never quite made the step up to full international cricket. She is now Women’s and Girls Performance Head Coach for Somerset, and is also captain of Somerset in the Women’s County Championship - but she has never played cricket professionally.
That, really, is the key point about female cricketers who “got away”: despite devoting countless hours to the sport, they have never been able to make a career out of cricket, because the opportunities for them to do so just weren’t there. In that respect, unlike Paul Haywood and Mike Roseberry (both mentioned in the last Bulletin), they really did “get away: their cricketing talents were never allowed to fully flourish.
That is one of the great sadnesses of women’s sport: it is to be hoped that the ECB’s new Plan will ensure that future generations never again suffer the same difficulties.