CRICKETher has always maintained a healthy degree of scepticism about the ECB’s participation figures for women’s and girl’s cricket. Some of the larger numbers thrown about by the board count girls who have participated in a single Chance To Shine Kwik Cricket session at school… which is great, but probably stretching the definition of “participation” a little far when the figure is quoted without context to the mainstream media.
However, anecdotally things at the grassroots really do seem to be looking quite rosy in 2015. We’ve spoken to parents in two different parts of the country* recently with daughters playing recreationally in the 11-15 year-old age-bands, and they’ve got plenty of good things to say about cricket: their girls get regular net sessions, a positive team environment, great coaching and lots of “proper” matches – up to 20 games a season in the Essex girl’s leagues.
At the women’s recreational level things are on the up too, with new clubs forming to play friendly games or locally-based leagues. The ECB’s long-term investment strategies seem to be paying-off here, with a particular driver being the graduation of last year’s girls into this year’s women’s teams.
At the elite level however, it is a different story. The “Premier League” clubs which have been the bedrock of women’s cricket since its inception as an organised sport in the 1920s are really suffering. 2nd XIs find themselves unable to put a regular team out, and even 1st XIs struggle. Wokingham Ridgeway (home when they are available of Heather Knight and Charlotte Edwards) have taken to the field with just 8 players in a Premier League match on one occasion this season, and on another with only 10.
Starting next season, the ECB are adding another elite tier to the women’s game: the Women’s Cricket Super League, which is supposed to function alongside the County Championship and the Premier League, relying on many of the same players. That’s a lot of (cricket) balls for the ECB (not to mention the players) to keep juggling – probably one too many, if we are honest. Something will most-certainly have to give… but it remains to be seen what.
* Admittedly, both in the south – Essex and Berkshire.