If there is one thing the ECB can say they have nailed in recent years – and there probably is not too much to choose from – it is their approach to women’s cricket. After blitzing 2017, they are looking to continue on the front foot in 2018 ahead of the standalone Women’s World Twenty20 in November.
On the eve of the international summer, which begins in Worcester on Saturday (June 9) as England take on South Africa in the first of three ODIs, the ECB have announced that the England Women squad have been given a significant pay rise, in part down to their thrilling World Cup win last summer. The rise equates to a 40-per-cent increase to the overall payment pot, with 10 players given performances related increases of 50% or more.
The new deals have been active since February 1, running until the end of 2019, and it is understood that they vary in length as per the discretion of Head coach Mark Robinson. There will also be new groundbreaking payments regarding bonuses for series win – a first in the women’s game. The aim, director of cricket Clare Connor hopes, is for players to have their 2017 salaries doubled by the time the 2021 World Cup comes around.
“At the moment it’s not about equal pay [for women],” said Connor. “But we should be bold and demonstrate a commitment to closing that gap with a bit of urgency.”
Arguably one of the more eye-catching short term perks to this new system is the presence of 22 contracted players, which is a step towards correcting the chasm between international and domestic women’s cricket in the UK. It will take time to get county cricket up to scratch, but in the meantime players coming through at academy level or lower have been drafted in to train with senior players. On the recent tour of India, Robinson took the opportunity to call-up the uncapped trio of Bryony Smith, Alice Davidson-Richards and Katie George.
The issue then becomes how much individuals can be improved, which is in itself a venture hamstrung by finances. While Davidson-Richards and George have trained regularly at the national performance centre in Loughborough, Smith’s work as a school teacher means her time is limited. With that in mind, three of the 22 contracts are rookie deals for George, Davidson-Richards and quick bowler Freya Davies, who trained with England throughout the 2017 World Cup.
It also now means that being in possession of a contract does not guarantee selection and it is this brutal new world that sees England go into the first two ODIs without left-arm spinner Alex Hartley, who was one of the side’s real breakout acts last summer. Robinson, though, had no qualms in overlooking the 24-year old who took just one wicket in three ODIs against India in March. She now sits behind Laura Marsh, Danielle Hazell and Sophie Ecclestone on the spin roster.
“Nobody is guaranteed a spot,” Robinson told Cricbuzz. “Not when there is a lot of competition around. She bowled well enough in India but ended up playing second or third fiddle to Sophie and Danni. She had an incredible rise, straight through. And she’s just hit a few bumps, which happens to everybody at different times, doesn’t it? The positive signs in the last week or so is that she has started to bowl well again.”
Robinson is reticent to look too far ahead but there is little doubt that these ODIs with the emerging forces of South Africa, followed by a tri-series with New Zealand, who themselves stick around for three ODIs to cap it all off, will be skewed towards finding a squad to win the World T20. From a personnel point of view, it will be about managing the workload of Katherine Brunt, monitoring the form of returning players such as Lauren Winfield and giving Sarah Taylor space to build herself up to an overseas tour after she was given the India tour off. None of last year’s success could be attributed to coincidence and Robinson, along with his new performance coach Gareth Brees (formerly of Durham) and new national talent manager Di Lewis, will ensure everything is as meticulous this time around, too.
The timing of the message – bear in mind these changes have already been in effect for the last four months – is in keeping with that. The ECB management and it’s female cricketers have dovetailed effectively in recent times to ensure they get the most from the press exposure they are given. Last year, players ensured there were around after the World Cup final, delaying holidays in some cases in order to fulfil the surge in media requests that followed their thrilling nine-run win over India. The respective pay rises are as much a reward for their off-field commitments, while also ensuring they are remunerated accordingly for now being more accountable on the field than ever before.
Of the matters to unpack about this pay rise, invariably it is that this is no bad thing. Being a female English cricketer is as sustainable and attractive as it ever has been.
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