I’ve spent a lifetime in cricket. From running round the boundary at my dad’s club, to playing for my county, to buying my first England blazer.
I’ve watched the women’s game in England and Wales develop and grow and hit new heights – such as the World Cup win on that memorable day at Lord’s in 2017.
But in all that time I have never been more excited than I am now when I think about the opportunity before us.
We stand on the threshold of a five-year period during which we can establish cricket as a modern, innovative and truly inclusive sport.
One of the six priorities of Inspiring Generations, ECB’s strategy to grow the game between 2020 and 2024, is to transform women’s and girls’ cricket.
Because even though we live in an age when the profile of elite sportswomen is higher than ever, women and girls remain under-represented across every area of cricket.
The appetite is certainly there. Some 180million people around the world watched that Lord’s final two years ago, and the number of girls taking part in our grassroots All Stars programme for children aged between five and eight doubled the following year.
In the wider world, it feels that many stars are aligning. There are more women on boards and in leadership positions in the financial sector. It’s no longer acceptable for women and girls to face a lack of opportunity. It’s no longer fair for women and girls not to get an equal chance.
In sport, we’ve seen the England netball team winning Commonwealth gold, the sustained success of football’s Lionesses, and in athletics in the last week we’ve enjoyed the golden exploits of Dina Asher-Smith and Katerina Johnson-Thompson.
Women across sports and in other sectors are getting visibility and opportunity and as a result achieving great things. At the same time, the new broadcast deal has given us in cricket the ability to fund a holistic strategy for women and girls for the first time.
ECB is investing an unprecedented £20million in the next two years, with the expectation that a total of £50m will be spent over five years. The money will go towards helping organisations across our network to enhance their resources, improve the player experience and increase the opportunities to build careers in cricket.
Our comprehensive action plan will tackle the following five distinct yet complementary areas:
- Participation: We will increase the number of women and girls playing cricket recreationally
- Pathway: We will improve the development of talented under-17 players
- Performance: We will drive the game’s growth through a new semi-professional, eight-region structure
- Profile: We will lift the profile of women’s cricket through The Hundred, the England team and the elite game
- People: We will increase the proportion of women working across cricket
It’s wonderful to see cricket embracing innovation and moving in compelling new directions within these five areas.
The increased investment means we can substantially grow the number of female professional players making a living from the game. At present there are 22 players on England central contracts. Within a year, we aim to boost that number by 40 through identifying five players from each of the eight new regions, meaning more than 60 women will earn a living through playing the game. In five years’ time there should be more than 100 centrally contracted players, which will drive standards in the game and improve the national team.
I’m convinced the new structure of women’s domestic cricket will play a pivotal role in enabling all elements of our strategy to be successful. The eight regional teams will play in new 50-over and T20 competitions. They will be supported by eight regional academies and will also be aligned to an extent with their region’s team in The Hundred.
One consequence of the new structure is the discontinuation of the Kia Super League, which was so successful in attracting impressive attendances and TV audiences – and in providing a stepping stone to the international game.
However, The Hundred is one of the first competitions in world sport to feature men’s and women’s competitions launched side by side and we believe it will continue the important process of enhancing the status and profile of women’s cricket as a gender-balanced sport.
It’s important to emphasise that all counties will still play a vital role in growing our base and developing an excellent county age-group system to feed those academies and regional teams.