Friday, 14 February 2014

What Impact Will A Professional Elite Have On The Rest Of The Game?

The full-time contracts announced for England's women cricketers have been greeted with unanimous applause, and it's certainly good news for Team England; but what impact will it have on the rest of the game?

A Widening Gulf Between Domestic and International Cricket?

Some of the players won't thank me for saying this, but there is already a pretty big gap between domestic and international cricket - far bigger than exists in the men's game. Several of the Division 1 county teams are 'carrying' players who act as a specialist outfielder, batting down the order and bowling little more than the odd over. On the other side of the coin, one player - Heather Knight - was basically able to drag Berkshire single-handedly to a mid-table finish last season; and it is indicative that not only was she their best batsman - she frequently looked* their best bowler too!

On the one side, we'll have the professional elite - working full-time with the best coaches at the national academy. On the other side, we'll have the rest - training for a few hours a week at most, fitting things in around work and/or classes, with coaches who are not full-time pros either. If we are not careful, this is a gap which could quickly become a gaping gulf.

The Spanish Footballization of Domestic Cricket?

Although the metaphor is slightly flawed right now, with 3 teams equal on points atop La Liga, Spanish football is basically a carve-up between Real Madrid and Barcelona - these two teams have all the money; all the best players; and by winning everything perpetuate the cycle season after season.

Women's domestic cricket in England is similarly dominated by two sides - Kent and Sussex - who have pretty-much owned the trophy cabinet between them for the past 10 years.

Although Kent and Sussex undoubtedly deserve the success they've had, even the most blinkered of their fans would have to accept that this isn't entirely healthy for the game as a whole - it's supposed to be a competition, after all; and if you want a procession... go to Pride!

It is all to easy to imagine a situation where a couple of defections (Knight to Kent? Shrubsole to Sussex?) mean we are looking at essentially two professional teams playing week-in-week-out against amateurs, which I don't think actually helps anyone, including England who need a competitive domestic game to build the next generation of the national side.

A House Built On Sand?

Jesus probably didn't have women's cricket in mind when he warned against building your house on sand, but it doesn't mean he wasn't right: the new contracts are great, but let's be under no illusions - we might have got ourselves a beautiful penthouse, with staggering views over a dazzling skyline, but it is currently hovering on little more than thin air!

England women can maybe pay their own way on 10 home international games per year - though even with sponsorship taking up some slack, they'd need crowds of thousands paying 'proper' gate-money at all those matches, to cover even half-decent salaries for just a dozen players.

But to really make this work, for the reasons specified above, we need to find a way to make the domestic game self-sustaining too, with a core of at least 50 professional players. So other difficult decisions might need to be taken as well - more T20s and (whisper it, because I can hear Raf's teeth grinding already) fewer 'other' matches? The construction of a new 'elite' domestic tier over and above the county game? Enthusiastically embracing initiatives such as the WICL, rather than cold-shouldering them?

Don't get me wrong - I'm delighted we are where we are, and I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade; but where we are is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end... but if we work hard and think carefully about where we take things from here, it might just be the end of the beginning!

* Word chosen carefully - "looked" not "was"!


  1. In spite of being a strong Sussex supporter I can see exactly (as the American's would say) "where you're coming from".

    County players still have their hands in their pockets, sometimes to keep them warm but mostly looking for their wallets, in order to play the sport. Counties feed the England side!

    We should not forget though the enormous strides made in county as well as England women's cricket in recent years. Clare Connor has an immense amount to be proud of.

    Good luck to the England girls - they deserve the support.

    But where do 'we' go next? I also hope it's in propping up the foundations of this sport on which the England team is ultimately based.


  2. Insightful post syd.. India faces a similar situation. We have a lot of girls who are semi pro with jobs in the railways that require them to put in a minimum of three hours a day in the office, sometimes more, and then time out for practice. Therefore, railways is the strongest team in the competition. But it isn't totally skewed in their favour. Railway employed girls who don't make the railways team turn out for their states.

    What I'm wondering is whether the BCCI would be more proactive in making cricket financially viable option for women if the cushion of railway jobs didn't exist? If the BCCI knew they would lose talent after a point, would they take the first step? I admit I would have done a hol col if it wasn't for the financial stability my railway job offered .

    Nonetheless, most important is the face that both Australia and England moved pro after winning major events. Performance pays. Well done.


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