Cricket blueprint unveiled which promises to transform women's and girls' game
A new action plan to transform women's and girls' cricket has been unveiled in a bid to create a gender-balanced sport.
The proposals for the women's game are among a list of measures outlined in the England and Wales cricket Board's new 'Inspiring Generations' strategy for 2020-2024.
They will be investing over £20m over the next two years, with ambitions of £50m over five years, to improve player experiences, enable recruitment of more dedicated resources, and increase opportunities to build careers within cricket.
There are currently only 22 female central contracts offered by the ECB (compared to 120 in Australia) but in a ground-breaking move, they have now committed to funding 40 additional full-time domestic contracts.
Amid a somewhat turbulent time for women's domestic cricket, the new strategy aims to increase participation and engagement as well as provide more opportunities for women and girls across the game. With the discontinuation of the Kia Super League and uncertainty over the county set-up, the plan will now give players and fans a firm idea of what to expect over the next few years.
It has been drawn up over a two-year period after consultation with all 38 counties, Cricket Wales and analysis of survey responses about the recreational and elite game. It was found that 35 per cent of women surveyed said there was no cricket available to them and only 17 per cent of adults playing recreational cricket are female.
On a positive note, there has been an evident increase in interest in women's cricket with a sell-out crowd of 27,000 for England's historic World Cup final win at Lord's in 2017. The plan aims to capitalise on this and outlines five key objectives:
Participation: Increase the numbers of women and girls playing at a recreational level.
Pathway: Develop aspiring female cricketers as both players and people.
Performance: Create a new semi-professional, eight-region structure to drive the performance of England women's cricket.
Profile: Use The Hundred, the elite game, and the England Women's team as an elevation platform for the profile of women's cricket.
People: Increase the female representation in the cricket workforce.
Speaking ahead of the plan's launch, Clare Connor, ECB Managing Director of Women's cricket said: "Cricket has been an integral part of my life, as a player and in my role of Managing Director of Women's cricket.
"I have never been more excited by the opportunity in front of us right now."
She acknowledged that other initiatives such as All Stars Cricket for 5-8-year-olds and the now discontinued Kia Super League had been somewhat effective but added: "To truly transform women's and girls' cricket, we must now move from targeted stand-alone programmes to addressing the whole pathway as one.
She finished by saying: "We have an amazing opportunity to make cricket the sport that we want it to be - a sport that is modern, innovative and inclusive. I have been so heartened by the level of enthusiasm, commitment and support for this plan from everyone involved in cricket."
England Women's captain Heather Knight also praised the announcement, adding: "This action plan is a really exciting next step in the continued growth of women's cricket."
She added: "We need more young girls to be inspired to play and those young girls need to be able to see a clear pathway above them that encourages them to continue pursuing the game.
"Much of this plan is about normalising the game for women and girls and I'm excited to see how much this increased opportunity takes the game forward."
The other priorities of the strategy plan are: grow and nurture the core; inspire through elite teams; make cricket accessible; engage children and young people, and support our communities.
Measures have also been taken to ensure these all contribute to the long-term sustainability of the game in England and Wales.