It’s almost a year on from England’s thrilling win at Lord’s in the Women’s World Cup final – how do you reflect on that day?
I was at Lord’s for the Hurricane Relief game with a friend who I’d been with at the end of the Women’s World Cup final, and the reminiscences just brought uncontrolled smiles and memories flooding back.
It continues to be a brilliant time. We saw something very special, not only from our team and how they rose to the challenge, but also in the response they received.
It really is in my head all the time, inspiring me and everyone else working in the women’s game.
The profile of the women’s game has clearly increased – do you see evidence of that on a day-to-day basis?
This is one example, but I hear similar stories all the time – at a dinner recently I sat next to a man who had been at the final with a client and their two 12-year-old daughters.
The girls had never met before or been to cricket before. They’re now really good friends, they haven’t stopped talking about that day, they now play cricket at school and they beg their dads to play in the garden with them.
And apparently as they left Lord’s one turned to the other and said, “in 15 years, that might be us.” It is really heartening and I think it has made parents see the opportunities for their daughters differently.
How have the team moved on from such a high?
We had a tough Ashes in Australia, but finished strongly. We applied a development focus to the tour of India early this year, which was a rare opportunity because the games weren’t part of the ICC Women’s Championship.
There is a constant balance between performance and development as players still have much to learn. We were without Sarah Taylor and Katherine Brunt in India, and took a few young players – Katie George [left-arm quick from Hampshire], and all-rounders Bryony Smith [Surrey] and Alice Davidson-Richards [Kent]. It was a useful tour.
We have a big summer with ODIs and IT20s against South Africa and New Zealand. Not only are Sky Sports covering every England Women’s match, but, for the first time, highlights of our Vitality IT20 matches and Royal London New Zealand ODIs will be broadcast on free-to-air TV, on Channel 5.
Then in November we have an ICC Women’s World T20 in the Caribbean. To be double white-ball world champions would be incredible.
You’re increasing players’ salaries – what’s the thinking behind that decision?
Any increase to a player’s salary is judged on performance and potential. Ten of our contracted squad will be receiving an increase of 50% or more.
At the moment it’s not about equal pay [for women], but we should be bold – I’m always looking to be ahead of other women’s team sports at international level – and demonstrate a commitment to closing that gap with a bit of urgency.
The objective is to get to a situation after 2020 – when the new investment in the game kicks in – whereby the players are paid double what they were paid when they won the World Cup. It’s the direction of travel that’s important. We have also introduced a bonus pot for series wins for the first time.
We now have 22 contracted players – more than ever before – including three rookie contracts [Katie George, Alice Davidson-Richards and Sussex quick Freya Davies] to help bridge the gap between the academy and senior England level.
We are also trying to deepen the level of support we can give to Counties and players through the appointment of Di Lewis, who came from England Netball, to the role of National Talent Manager.
Underneath Di we have a team of four regional talent managers, which helps us develop more meaningful relationships with counties and regions. And we have appointed Gareth Breese, the former Durham player, as England performance coach to work alongside Mark Robinson and Ali Maiden.
Is there a balance to strike between growing the game and remaining accessible?
I was flicking through some photos from the World Cup and I saw so many of the players with fans. It’s really important that they stay as connected as possible to those families and children.
As they focus more and more on performance and on being paid to play the game, they must still be aware of the magic they can create and those little moments.
I get so many letters of thanks on the back of players taking just five minutes to make a connection with a little girl who then talks about it for the next year. We mustn’t lose sight of that.
In terms of participation, how are you attempting to take advantage of 2017’s success?
Everything we’re doing at the moment is inspired by this sense of opportunity. There’s a big push to get girls involved in the All Stars Cricket programme for five-to-eight-year-olds. This year 57,000 children have signed up to All Stars, compared to 37,000 last year, and we’ve almost doubled the number of girls.
That figure also shows the scope of the challenge and the opportunity for growth. The scale of the new competition in 2020 and its alignment with the women’s game gives us the opportunity to attract more families, as we did on 23 July last summer.
And the women’s softball events that you launched in 2017 – how have they gone down?
They’ve made a huge impact really quickly – a casual, fun, sociable format played in festivals for adults [anyone over 16]. We had 9,000 involved last year, many of whom had never played any form of cricket before, taking part at festivals set up around the World Cup.
This year that number is predicted to be more than 20,000. It shows that we’re prepared to innovate with formats, that we have listened to insight about how women who would traditionally never have put on whites and picked up a leather cricket ball might be persuaded to take up the game. It shows there’s an appetite.
The new domestic competition that starts in 2020 will have parallel men’s and women’s versions, which means the end of the successful T20 Kia Super League. How will that impact the women’s game as a whole?
In 2020, a new County Partnerships Agreement will come into being that will define the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities – and funding – between ECB and the counties.
Within that we have the chance to improve women’s domestic cricket, which is a huge opportunity. We have to use the opportunity from 2020 to create an equal system for girls to fulfil their potential, as we do for boys. We are trying to appeal to women, girls and families, partly because it’s completely the right thing to do, but also because of the business case for the game as a whole.
We are telling little girls that they are as welcome as little boys through All Stars; we can’t then neglect them when they are 11 or 12 and identified as talented.
We currently don’t invest in talented girls through the same County pathways that develop talented boys. We have to show a little girl playing All Stars Cricket on a Friday night that there is a pathway that’s inclusive, clear, welcoming and well-resourced so that she has as equal a chance as a boy to achieve her potential.
That’s the next challenge for me and for the game to take on.
This article was taken from the official match programme.