A pilot project set up a few years back in Hampshire feels, to me, like the place where an umpiring revolution is going to come from.
As of 2021, the hard work of Emma Cowdrill has meant there are over 120 girls regularly umpiring at their clubs, schools and other representative matches across the county.
Last year alone, all of Hampshire’s junior girl’s county matches were umpired by this group of girls. A new wave of young officials are getting active and involved in cricket.
Although the past 18 months or so have been challenging for cricket, one of the successes has been the rapid progress of female umpires across the game. We’re in the process of finalising a specialist pathway for umpiring in women’s cricket, which includes the professional and recreational game, to allow opportunities through to the highest levels of the game.
You might ask why women’s cricket might need its own umpiring pathway? Well, the demands of the women’s game are subtly different to the men's game.
Those who joined the millions of others in watching The Hundred last year will have seen the ball swings a lot in the women’s game, from the likes of Anya Shrubsole and Lauren Bell, and batters like Tammy Beaumont and Sophia Dunkley often move around a lot on the crease too, to create hitting angles, meaning LBW decisions can become even harder. Secondly, with only 2% of the current umpiring community being female, all of the evidence suggests women are more likely to start umpiring in women’s cricket, so a specialist pathway was needed.
The advent of the domestic professional women’s regional structure has now seen 12 women appointed as umpires, with some going on to stand in The Hundred, before Anna Harris joined Sue Redfern on the international stage at the end of the summer against New Zealand.
The team of umpires are all united and work together to share their knowledge and experience. I have been inspired by the way challenges have been embraced, whether that be standing in professional matches with stadiums and crowds, or on live TV with DRS to contend with.
And it isn’t just cricket creating these new role models. Other sports are now seeing top female officials, with the likes of Sara Cox in rugby and Stephanie Frappart in football and many more trailblazing through traditionally male-dominated environments.
The exciting position we find ourselves in with cricket in this country is there is a real movement starting, it’s not just one official doing one big thing.
Last season alone saw Anna Harris gain headlines for umpiring international cricket at just 22, but across the rest of the group, two umpires made their professional debuts. On the same day as Jane Pratt’s first game - Jane has umpired for over 20 years in mainly men’s cricket before being afforded the opportunities in the women’s game - Grace Bambury made her debut at just 20 years of age!
In the past couple of days we have confirmed that Sue Redfern has been appointed to the new Professional Umpires’ Team. This will provide Sue to opportunity to take the next step in her career with more scope for support and experiences to develop her skills in the middle.
We know there is more we can do to continually increase the number of female umpires. This is a role which has absolutely zero gender barriers; it revolves around making decisions, managing people and managing the game from the middle.
With the advances made in the professional women’s game, we also saw last year over 30 female umpires being involved in Women’s County matches, and, for the first time, a men’s ECB Premier League match had two female umpires.
This summer is going to be massive for women’s cricket in this country with England playing India and South Africa, the Commonwealth Games and The Hundred, while in March we launched the new women’s and girls’ platform ‘We Got Game’ to turbocharge the profile of women’s cricket . The pathway is now there for people to umpire whatever level of cricket they want to.
If you want to get involved with umpiring, get in touch with your local County Cricket Club for opportunities, or visit; https://www.ecb.co.uk/be-involved/officials/find-a-course/Umpiring-courses.
For more information on the actions the ECB is taking to establish a new and equitable structure for officials at every level of the game, click here.