The Future of Women’s Club Cricket – Does it have one?

Simon Pearson writes…

This seems like an odd question given the constant mantra from the ECB and England players extolling the continued growth in the sport (1.3 million girls through Chance to Shine for example) but, in my experience at least, the competitive club side of the sport is dying, and that is before any impact from the KSL which, I fear, is likely to hit hard once the 50 over competition starts, presumably next year.

I say this because the number of teams is falling. A few seasons ago our County used to have nine teams in the leagues; they now have four. One of the local leagues has lost a substantial proportion of its members. Our team has only played one game so far this season due to other teams being unable to field a side, and we have just heard that another club has withdrawn from the league due to lack of availability of players. Ironically this is one of the clubs which has been featured on CRICKETher.

Lack of cricket at an appropriate level is a constant theme, and it’s interesting that the England coach has raised the same point because it is, of course, one of the aims behind the KSL. Generally women’s teams seem to play less than half the fixtures of the equivalent men’s teams, even before the concessions start. Recent surveys have confirmed the desire for more cricket but the changes brought in have resulted in even less.

It seems to me that the club scene has no role in the ECB/County pathway and so is largely ignored. Although there are very few clubs playing competitive league cricket in our County, our club has never been visited to see what players we have. It is also of note that the ECB have given up their role in the Premier Divisions and, I was told, will no longer protect club days.

The main emphasis seems to be on Chance to Shine. This was clearly demonstrated during a meeting called by my County several seasons ago to discuss Women’s and Girls’ Cricket. A question was asked about what the plan was for the girls as they got older, and there was no answer. We later heard that a club had lost all their older girls to another sport – not, as is often said, due to other interests but simply because there was nowhere for them to play. Most of our County girls who are at clubs at all are where there is no women’s team. When I was involved (some years back), very few played any cricket other than County and were not encouraged to do so.

One issue seems to be that Chance to Shine feeds few, if any, girls into the clubs – we have never seen one and, in fact, currently have no juniors at all.

The pathway seems to be Chance to Shine -> County Age Groups -> County -> KSL -> England.

My fear is that the game is on the edge and the KSL will push it over. Am I being overly pessimistic?

Some seasons ago I recall there was a rule that to field a County side you had to have a minimum number of league teams – maybe this should be brought back. Maybe to qualify to play at County at U15 and above you should be required to be playing in an approved competitive league.

Or maybe we should simply give up on women’s club cricket and feed the ladies into men’s teams at an appropriate level; at least they would get to play more. Unfortunately many do not want to do this, and many club facilities are not suitable.

Another issue is the verbal abuse they suffer. Contrary to what the ECB etc seem to think, a number of women I have spoken to have left clubs due to what they have been subjected to, often by their own teams.

The question of how we move forward is rather difficult to answer since there seems to be little reliable information as to where we are – the figures put forward by the ECB are regarded with considerable scepticism by those on the ground. But it is clear that the women’s game is very different from the men’s and we need to think outside the box.

While in a men’s club you can bring in new players who will find a place in whatever XI is appropriate for their standard, very few women’s clubs now have even a 2nd XI – further evidence of the decline. This means that it is very hard for players to join a club whose team is playing in an upper division. Maybe clubs should be more open to loaning players so they get the cricket they need, and it might help to keep struggling teams going. I raised this at a County area meeting a few years ago but it met with a hostile reception. Another possibility is a group of clubs getting together and co-operating.

Maybe I am exaggerating things, but I am more pessimistic than ever about the future. In my view the next couple of seasons are crucial if we are not to lose this level of cricket altogether.

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13 thoughts on “The Future of Women’s Club Cricket – Does it have one?

  1. Very interesting article and debate. being more of a glass half full guy I would say that it is overly pessimistic but there are some extremely valid opinions here that do need addressing if the women’s club game is to thrive.

    Perhaps I have a bit of a rose tinted view. Our club, Orton Park CC in Peterborough have launched our first ever Women’s team this season and overall, have around 30 players to call upon to play. Availability has been pretty good with the exception of clashes with County U15 and U13 games. With many mothers and daughters playing we get hit with a double whammy where multiple pairs of players are unavailable but generally with our remaining fixtures in place we have between 12 and 18 players available for each.

    Locally (around 30 miles away) another club called Needingworth have also launched a new Women’s team and we have tried to help each other out where possible. We did investigate a collaborative approach but club loyalties tended to be the obstacle! I do think that in the future as one or both of the clubs progress up the league ladder a collaborative 2nd XI would provide cricket at a more social level for those that want or prefer it.

    The huge issue we found over the winter was actually finding the right league to enter! We wanted an ECB supported competition but all we had available was the Womens Midlands League which means the logistics of playing is a big deal and may hamper our clubs desire to play our club cricket at a strong competitive level. Whilst we currently play in the ‘regional’ Division 4S, we still have long journeys to Oxford and Brackley meaning a 130 – 190 mile round trip and 40 overs a side cricket. Promotion could mean trips even further out the the west of Birmingham.

    One of the key problems facing club cricket in general is how much time it takes out of the day never mind the women’s game which has so much potential!

    A minimum number of club sides per County sounds in principal a good idea. We (as are Needingworth) are affiliated to Huntingdonshire with only a limited number of clubs in total, never mind with a womens team! Perhaps some slack for minor counties would be a good compromise. A large chunk of the players representing both our sides come from the junior County squads which are proud to be running from U11 all the way up to U17 (Womens is in partnership with Cambridgeshire).

    A better geographical spread of ECB supported leagues would be wonderful – is this feasible? Just so the logistics of playing are not such an immediate hurdle!

    Club cricket in general is an option. At Orton Park, our older girls/ladies playing in our club teams with the full backing and support of all playing members. One of our girls was leading wicket taker in one of the Hunts County league divisions last season. The issue of abuse and scoffing from other clubs is still there though. Some people are so narrow minded it makes my blood boil!

    Womens club league cricket is important and needs to be addressed. Without it and a pathway for women and girls to play competitively or even socially within their leagues as they get older will hamper growth.

    Without it, people can throw all the positive Chance to Shine statistics around but it will mean nothing if none of these enthusiastic girls can play beyond their introductory years.

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  2. Firstly, I think the same problem exists in boys / mens cricket but by sheer weight of numbers the men’s game will not show the affects at PL or County level for a while longer. The private school system also provides a steady flow of players, the same cannot be said for the female game. There will come a time when there will not be enough PL standard players in some areas.

    So it is a numbers game and in my hugely successful women’s county there are numerous clubs trying to attract girls to their juniors and create age group teams. In fact maybe too many! There is also a huge amount of schools cricket thanks to the London Youth Games, Borough Schools, Chance to Shine and Lady Taverner’s – club cricket specifically women’s teams still struggle.

    I have to say the county system is as much a hindrance as much as a help. Good club players are sent for county trials at U11 and thereafter have far less contact with their club, those lucky enough to be picked for the England pathway are hardly seen at all.

    The county system predominantly runs from U11 to U17, this is a fantastic experience for the girls BUT they’re typically pointed toward the most successful PL clubs to further their development and when they reach U19 there are few opportunities (men’s club cricket being one) unless you’re deemed County ready and these are usually the same girls in the ECB pathway.

    I hope the WSL will be successful in boosting participation at grass roots, giving the clubs another chance and reduce the drop-out rate in the county system with the WSL as a goal for the younger girls. But the club, county and pathway system still feels floored and is competing with hockey, netball and now pro-football for the same talent pool.

    Yes we need a Super League but we also need a super structure for the future of girls and women’s cricket. I feel the investment has been misdirected.

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  3. I’m not qualified to talk about women’s club cricket, but I do donate to CTS and receive their “glossy” communications. There may be some confusion about the purpose of the initiative. I don’t actually think it is to produce new players, at any particular level, at least, that is a “possible” secondary effect, not its main aim.

    Its “mission”, as these things seem to be termed nowadays, is simply to use cricket as a tool in the community to engage children in education and learning. It “shows” cricket to people who may have had no experience of it, and is as much about learning life skills such as teamwork, leadership or coaching as it is playing cricket.

    Maybe the ECB hopes that it will benefit them financially, resulting in more “loyalty” to cricket or interest and higher match attendances either in County cricket or at Internationals. Maybe they simply hope it will make them look good and look like they’re making an effort. It is certainly not a model designed specifically to discover or nurture future playing talent. As much as CTS touts its New Philanthropy Capital “Theory of Change analysis”, the part that claims “Increasing participation at all levels” stands out as a bit nebulous, and not actually required for, nor necessarily a result of, any of the other positive outcomes which are more easily measured.

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  4. The key is that there should always be pathway for cricket players whatever their age and level of play. So if it is schoolgirls or juniors it all eventually comes under the auspices of the District and then the state body which leads into the National level. While the Big Bash for women was hugely successful last Summer in Australia I am wondering what the long term effects will be on club cricket. The reason being that talented players are identified at a young age and may be in a WBBL team – but could end playing club cricket intermittently or hardly at all as the men do and they are lost to the grass roots of the sport. Young players can learn a lot by playing with older players just in socialisation and respect and getting a reality check not to believe their own publicity when they play WBBL.

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    • The % of county budget spent on women’s cricket is relatively small I would suggest and the system relies heavily on volunteers or county staff with community roles. I guess the ECB and Sport England provide grants / subsidies.

      But what incentive is there to produce players who will spend more time in WSL and or England duty unless the County game develops as well?

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  5. Hi Simon, I saw on a previous post that you said the number of senior women’s clubs playing competitive league cricket was down 60% in two years. Not disputing the statistic, just wondering where it came from? There may be issues in the women’s club game, but I can’t see how the Super League will make the issue worse, after all that league is for the elite 72 English players and surely would have little impact on grassroots availability? The issue of how far a club would need to travel needs to be addressed, it’s not on as Phil Lewis commented for a new club playing on the bottom rung of the club pyramid to be looking at a 190 mile round trip. More localised county based leagues are required, at least we have such a league up here in Cheshire and we also have a loan system, although I don’t deny we have lost a few clubs up here in the last few years as well.

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    • Guess it depends on exactly where you draw the distinction between “competitive” and “recreational” cricket. Purely anecdotal, but Wokingham Ridgeway (def. in the former category as recently as 2 years ago, when they won the national title) lost the core of their team to Super League this season and now struggling as they fall between the two.

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    • It was based purely on my area, (in fact I had added in one club who didn’t play league games so the decline is only from 9 to 4.)
      So far as I can see the KSL players are mostly playing for clubs currently but I am assuming they won’t once the league starts in earnest. Taking that many players out in one go must have a severe impact on the Premier clubs surely?
      The situation on travel is simple, don’t travel, don’t play – we travel large distances to get a game and always have – it is difficult though for young players who are at school the following day. Localised leagues only work if you have enough teams – otherwise you end up with a huge disparity, like when you come up against the side with the local County 1st XI (as we did last season when they tried to regionalise) the league they tried to start in East Anglia folded for that reason, the top sides had no competition and the lower ones got fed up with being slaughtered.

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  6. In India club cricket doesn’t exist per say. In the women’s game that is. Talented girls are fed directly into the state age group system . I’m not saying this is a good thing, I would love it if there was a club structure. But maybe the way to approach this is top down? A strong state system with a large number of girls could prompt clubs to set up more teams? Ive seem that often in India. But yes there must be a competition for them to play in.

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  7. So you have been awarded a place in the WSL (congratulations), you still play county (maybe even be on the ECB development pathway). Will you need, want or even risk playing Club 1XI if you don’t have to and others choose not too?

    Even if a few make this choice the Club standard will undoubtedly suffer. In some areas this may provide opportunities but unless the structure / distances are addressed the situation will become more challenging.

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    • Another issue is will your host allow you to play given the risk of injury etc.
      Yes it could be an opportunity but only if the club has more players to fill the gaps – how many do? Many seem to struggle now and play with 8 or 9.
      Also the relative standard of the divisions will be thrown out for a few seasons at least which might put players off.
      (I would regard competitive cricket as that where you play in a league and there may be promotion/relegation, recreational I would suggest is friendly matches)

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  8. My club has just about enough players for a decent 11, but a number of the league fixtures clash with County, so on those days we have to cancel the league match. This scheduling is absolutely nuts, given how little cricket the girls get anyway.

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  9. It was always the case that County and clubs did not play on the same day – I understand that has now been discontinued.
    The down side of it was that clubs, even those lower down with no County players, could only play on half the Sundays in the season.

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