In the immortal words of the Aussie soap theme, “Everybody needs good neighbours!” But in sport (as in Ramsay Street) it is often the BAD neighbours that make the biggest stories – think the Mets v the Yankees in Major League Baseball; Carlton v Collingwood in Aussie Rules; or Celtic v Rangers in Scottish football.
And women’s cricket is no exception – Kent and Sussex are neighbours… but GOOD neighbours? Hardly!
So if Sussex were to be contemplating a franchise bid, it is a pretty safe bet that it won’t be a joint bid with Kent! Ditto Middlesex and Surrey; not to mention that oldest and fiercest of great cricketing rivalries, Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Yet with only 6 franchises to share around in the proposed Women’s Cricket Super League, this could well be a major sticking-point.
The counties listed above are probably six of the most likely franchise candidates, especially when you factor-in financial viability; but it would mean 4 of the 6 franchises within 60 miles of London, and the other two based either side of the Pennines – leaving huge swathes of the country, from the Midlands to the south west, without a sniff of top-level women’s cricket.
And this DOES matter – perhaps not commercially, but certainly from the perspective of building England’s next generation around localised “Centres of Excellence” for coaching and development.
Is there a way to cut through this? It won’t be easy.
A “South East” franchise that somehow combined Sussex and Kent would still need to be based somewhere; and there aren’t too many options once you start to consider the minimum standards being mandated for facilities – it is going to be either Brighton or Canterbury*, which means it will be Sussex or Kent in all but name. (And likely in name too, because that would be the obvious way of marketing it to the existing (men’s) fan-base.)
The other option for the ECB is to “pick one” – one of Kent or Sussex; one of Middlesex or Surrey. But how do you do that fairly and transparently? (And how big is your budget for legal fees when the “loser” sues?)
One thing is for certain – Clare Connor and her team at the ECB are going to need to walk on political water to make this one work! Can they do it? Yes! (But it ain’t gonna be easy!)
* Or possibly Beckenham… but that doesn’t buck the point!