As reported by Lizzy Ammon in today’s Times (ECB plans to cut teams in women’s game [£]) the ECB are planning a radical restructuring of women’s county cricket in 2020, creating a number of “professional” counties and relegating the others to permanent Minor Counties-style feeder status.
CRICKETher understands that new setup would preserve the Women’s County Championship as a “thing” but with a top tier of 8 (or possibly 10, depending on who you talk to) professional counties, with no relegation or promotion.
As well as the County Championship, these counties would also play a T20 competition, addressing concerns about the lack of domestic T20 when The Hundred is introduced.
As for all the other counties, they would become feeders for the pro teams – so for example, Berkshire would officially feed into Middlesex, creating an official pathway for any junior girls in Berkshire. CRICKETher understands that these structures are already being put into place, so expect to see more tie-ups such as yesterday’s announcement that Berkshire’s Lauren Bell will play for Middlesex in the T20 Cup this season.
The key advantage of this is it allows the pro counties to invest in the women’s game, without having to worry about promotion or relegation, creating a more stable system for the top players. (It has long been a concern for the England management that England players playing below Div 1 in the County Championship is (at best) unhelpful.)
It would also allow a degree of player payment to be brought in more easily, with the “pro” counties offering match fees and stipends, though this is likely initially to continue to fall some way short of full professionalism.
Improving the pathway for youngsters and the standards for women’s cricket is a good thing. But I’d love to be a fly on the wall for the ECB meetings with the South Eastern counties!
Initial thoughts – how different will it be from what we have now? Counties relegated from Div 1 invariably bounce straight back, and vice versa with those promoted from Div 2. This will just save on the admin!
However, we don’t like “ring-fencing” here. There’s a similar row brewing in Rugby Union. “Pull the ladder up and sod the rest” doesn’t sit well with our sporting psyche. We like the notion that anyone can “do a Wimbledon.”
I’d like to see a bit more detail. Presumably the counties will be cherry-picked and not just based on the winners and losers at the end of this summer, musical chairs-style…? There needs to be a reasonable geographical spread, otherwise certain regions of the country will be disadvantaged. The current Div 1 includes four South East counties, if you include Hampshire. That’s not an even spread.
More detail awaited, i think. For instance, no detail on funding to “minor” counties? Will current funding levels be cut to help finance top tier? Will they be reliant on handouts from those they are feeding? They will need support if they are to act as functioning feeders.
Ring fencing a top division doesn’t strike me as a bad idea. As a rugby union fan (apologies for wandering off topic!), I think I’m in the minority that favours it. There are 13 viable teams, the 12 in the Premiership and whichever wins the Championship, usually Bristol, London Irish or Worcester. All that happens is those teams at the bottom swap for a season.
Maybe it’s because I follow US sports as well where there is no promotion or relegation and obviously the two aren’t comparable, the structure is entirely different, no minor leagues, drafts or massive college and high school programme but a ring fenced league can work.
Perhaps the ECB should look at having say an 8 team league for three or four years and then if there is a pool of players big enough, expand the league to more teams possibly to a point where two divisions is viable.
Presumably, eight teams would be one or two from London, one more from the South East, Yorkshire, Lancashire and one from East Midlands, West Midlands and the South West. The last three could prove to be an interesting fight!
Are we sure that the ‘other’ counties will continue to exist as ‘minor’ counties at senior level? Will there indeed be enough funding for a senior minor counties tournament if the top tier is to be fully professional? Or will the ‘feeder’ element exist only at junior level?
That is one of the big questions we haven’t really heard an answer to yet. (The other being the one Richard alluded to – i.e. WHICH counties get WHICH status?)
As far as I know they will only exist at junior level so if you haven’t made it by 18 ( as many of the women players don’t but continue to develop and hit their prime later) then that’s it you’re out.
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On further reflection…
How much is “fact”, and how much is “speculation”?
Based purely on Lizzy’s piece (and this is in no way a criticism of it of her) it seems there is not much of the former and plenty of the latter.
The opening paragraph – two “could”s and a “plans being discussed” – leaves more up in the air than it confirms. And most of what follows is similar. It seems that not much is concrete yet.
That said, having had a chat with a couple of people with links to my own county today it seems that they fear a “fait accompli”.
A long overdue move, I wrote a piece on here back in 2016 about how the CC was no longer fit for purpose.
One thing not mentioned is whether players in the pro counties who don’t make the grade will be allowed to move down as it were.
Below the Pro Structure there won’t be anything – the remaining CC won’t exist.
There is a ton of work to do at County Boards to develop the club network and club league structure by 2020 – the players currently playing in the lower division counties currently would be expected to provide the player pool for an improved and competitive club league structure.
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