For all the flash and fanfare that the ECB’s new Women’s Cricket Super League will bring, it is the Women’s County Championship which is, and will remain, the bedrock of women’s cricket in England. And it is very-much an amateur affair, in every sense of the word – the players aren’t paid, so they train when they want and they play when they want; and it isn’t unusual to enquire after an absent name on the teamsheet as to whether she is injured, only to be told she is on holiday.
Jason Yip and his team at Worcestershire are looking to change all that.
Worcestershire came third in Div 2 last year, going 4-3 in the 50-over competition; but there was a feeling they could have done better.
“We lost a game to Essex because we weren’t professional about the way that we were going about things. We had a few core problems; but the main one was availability – we went down there with just 11 players, including a fourteen year old and an injured player, because many of our team were unavailable or off on holidays.”
“So we asked the question: Girls, the losses to Essex and Durham cost you promotion to Div 1, so what do you want to do about this?”
What emerged from this discussion was that the players didn’t “feel” professional – taking themselves off on holiday was what they had always done, and they felt justified in this because they weren’t professionals. Might the answer be professional contracts?
Yip is quick to point out that contracts aren’t magic:
“Does a contract make you a professional? No! You are professional because you go through your practice, your performance, your review, and your evolution in a methodical and accountable way.”
But it was nevertheless clear that contracts could be an important symbolic step in making the players “feel” professional, and this was the genesis of what is now being announced by the Worcestershire Cricket Board: professional contracts for the county women’s team – a major first in the English domestic game.
It is important to understand that the contracts themselves aren’t about money. But nevertheless it was recognised that money was a potential issue, and so alongside the contracts, Yip is introducing new community participation programs within the county which offer a part-time employment opportunity for the players, who will be working in a variety of roles – from office and admin to coaching – tailoring their hours to suit their personal situations, such as fitting-in around their university studies, for example.
The pay isn’t stratospheric, but it is “a lot more than they [the players] would earn stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s”; and furthermore the programs themselves are self-financing, rather than being based on ECB grants or charitable donations.
“It is about showing you [the player] that we’ll meet you half-way on a whole number of fronts. In order to progress we need both the individual and the team to move their performance in a positive direction; and we’ll help you through this as much as we can; but with this comes ownership and accountability.”
It is certainly a fantastic time to be involved in the Women’s and Girls’ programs at Worcester, with further fixtures (hopefully plural!) planned for the Rapids’ women’s team at New Road, after history was made there last season; and a drive towards a more valuable level of participation, with girls schemes running across several weeks rather than just one-off sessions. It’s an exciting journey, and we’re already looking forward to catching up with Jason and his team later in the season to see how it is all going!