Not only does it act as a 'Future Tours Program' for women's cricket, ensuring that everybody plays everybody else over a two-and-a-bit year cycle; but it also adds an extra competitive edge by acting as a qualifying tournament for the 2017 World Cup in England.
Just four of the eight teams involved in the Women's Championship will qualify directly for the World Cup; though there are two caveats here:
- The "bottom" sides get a BIG second-chance, via a qualifying tournament with the "minor" nations; and given the disparities between the "major" and "minor" nations, you've got to think that in all likelihood they would still qualify anyway.
- You also have to wonder what would really happen in practice if England (as hosts) or India actually failed to qualify? Surely TV/ sponsor pressure would be overwhelming to include them regardless?
First, the board have (for the time-being) sorted-out their stand-off with the players over contracts. You may recall that in April 2013, four leading players were offered coaching jobs; but a year later, captain Suzie Bates quit, saying that the demands of the role were too onerous, leaving no room for training or recuperation.
The situation has been resolved by granting 10 players an annual stipend in addition to their match fees and expenses. It isn't a huge amount of money; but it is an improvement on the previous situation; and leaves the 10 leading players in a much healthier situation.
Second, New Zealand cricket have reacted to the challenge of the Women's Championship by appointing two big names - Jacob Oram and Matthew Bell - to the women's coaching staff for the period leading up to their crucial tour to the West Indies this September. With those automatic qualification spots up for grabs, this series matters to New Zealand like never before, and West Indies are one of their key competitors in the fight.
Oram and Bell bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the New Zealand women's setup - and they are going to need it, because the competition is getting fierce as England, Australia, India, West Indies, New Zealand and South Africa all scrap it out; with Pakistan and Sri Lanka also in the mix with the potential to cause an upset at any time.
It's going to be an exciting couple of years for international women's cricket!