Connor plans for the future
An England cricket captain who takes a victorious Ashes campaign into retirement commands a rare respect - so even before Clare Connor gets her feet under the desk at the ECB in January, women’s cricket in England has a voice.
Connor remains undefeated as an Ashes winning captain after England’s 1-0 defeat of Australia in 2005 and has acquired a range of skills as an all-rounder on and off the field over a 10-year international career. She was the natural choice to succeed Gill McConway who recently retired as the ECB’s Executive Director for Women’s Cricket after a seven-year tenure.
Having played for clubs, schools, regions, Sussex and England, she understands its strengths and shortfalls at all levels. As England skipper from 2000-2006, she is experienced in managing people and expectations and she can draw on her time as a Channel 4 commentator and perhaps, more fittingly, her six years as a teacher at Brighton College in Sussex to communicate ideas and instil enthusiasm.
A profile of her published in 2003 described her as ‘confident, articulate, outgoing, smart, decisive, focussed, a self-confessed control freak, organised and always well prepared, very competitive, cricket mad, not scared of a challenge’.
It is a list of qualities ideally suited to tackling the challenges that as Head of Women’s Cricket, she is set to face over the next few years, namely: ensuring a successful national team, raising the profile of the women’s game, attracting more sponsors and creating a more distinct pathway for girls who want to play cricket for England.
"This was an opportunity I could not turn down," she said shortly after the announcement of her appointment was made.
"I am passionate about women’s cricket and have lots of ideas and energy for creating clearer pathways for girls wanting to play for England and for making life easier for the girls who play for their country."
In the last seven years the numbers of girls wanting to play cricket has mushroomed. According to Connor the roots of this extraordinary growth go back a little further.
"When the Women’s Cricket Association merged with the ECB in 1998, Barbara Daniels was in the post at the time and a lot of credit goes to her for getting the ball rolling.
"Since 2000, Gill has had real success with the lottery arrangements, the world class performance plan, Super Fours cricket and getting the girls onto the boys' county academy squads.
"There has been a lot of progress in integrating women’s cricket with the men’s game though there is still a long way to go.
"We have to make sure that clubs are completely equitable in their provision of cricket. If they do not provide girls' and women’s cricket they will lose funding. That is not a threat, it is a reality.
"I think it is really important that girls are able to play competitive cricket with other girls. Being flung into a boy’s team at the age of nine or 10 can put a girl who is not confident off forever, and there is no reason why that should happen."
While creating opportunities for girls to play cricket at any age is likely to dominate every facet of Connor’s new role, it is her erstwhile chums in the England team who will be her focus and priority. But having been so closely involved until two years ago, she is mindful of being realistic about her ambitions for Charlotte Edwards' young side.
"The World Cup is only 16 months away and I have to work out what is realistically achievable for such a young side. I am aware that a strong England team in any sport is a powerful tool for development at grassroots end so a strong national side has to be my priority and I have to be clear what the long and short term goals are.
"My greatest challenge will be to harness my idealism. Having been a player and enjoyed a lot of success and having witnessed the team taking great strides, some of my ideas and plans might be unrealistic.
"Things don’t happen overnight and there are often good reasons why some things can never work but there is a huge amount of positive stuff going on and plenty for me to work with.
"In an ideal world, our England and county players would be salaried professionals but at the moment there are not enough funds. One of the things I will be looking into is what other sponsorship avenues we should be pursuing.
"Obviously the women’s game gets funding from Sport England and the ECB money and sponsors, but everyone knows there needs to be more money in the women’s game."
Besides teachind English at Brighton College, Connor has taken on responsibility for the school’s public relations and marketing over the past two years. This combined with her media experience as a player and commentator has helped to formulate some objectives.
"I will also be pushing hard for more exposure on television and in the media," she says.
"The BBC has responsibilities as a public broadcaster but they never mention women’s cricket and I feel they should be more equitable in their coverage of female sport and in particular, of women’s cricket. I’m a patron of the Women’s Sport Foundation and a lot of their work involves campaigning for more media coverage for women’s sport.
"Having a successful England women’s team doesn’t translate into column inches or air time. I don’t know why but we need to be more creative in how we raise our profile."
Despite these challenges Connor is keen to continue playing cricket and if her job allows to carry on captaining Sussex next year. Last December she got married to a fellow teacher at Brighton College who is as enthusiastic about her new role as she is.
It is, she says, an amazing opportunity for her and an exciting time for women’s cricket.