£20m plan to help Eng­land catch Aus­tralia

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Cricket - By Nick Hoult CRICKET NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

An am­bi­tious plan to trans­form women’s cricket that will in­clude an ex­tra 40 pro­fes­sional con­tracts has been launched by the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board in an ef­fort to close the gap on Aus­tralia.

Fund­ing of £20mil­lion over two years, with po­ten­tial to rise to £50 mil­lion over five years, was an­nounced yes­ter­day as well as con­fir­ma­tion of the re­struc­tur­ing of do­mes­tic women’s cricket in an at­tempt to im­prove the sys­tem.

The new con­tracts will be worth about £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 struc­ture. That will in­volve eight re­gional teams play­ing 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 which will be worth an ex­tra £8mil­lion of fund­ing. The re­gions and lo­ca­tion of the hubs will be con­firmed in De­cem­ber.

In Aus­tralia, there are more than 100 pro­fes­sional women play­ers 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. We 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.

“We want to see women bet­ter rep­re­sented in the game. The game is largely run by men to cater for men. We want to see more fe­male coaches, women in lead­er­ship roles op­er­at­ing across the game so it is a more gen­der-bal­anced sport.”

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 world cham­pi­ons and boast some of the best play­ers, re­gard­less of the Ashes de­feat, but the team need a stronger do­mes­tic set-up to nur­ture tal­ent.

Some matches in the women’s Hun­dred will be screened live by the BBC next year and the ECB will look to make the rest of the games free on dig­i­tal plat­forms, giv­ing the game badly needed ex­po­sure.

At the launch in Covent Gar­den, Heather Knight, the Eng­land cap­tain, said it was 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 is draw­ing up a short­list of can­di­dates 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.

Ca­reer path: Heather Knight thinks the plan will in­spire

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