In response to ECB plans to restructure women’s county cricket from 2020, several of the counties who will be relegated to “feeder county” status are planning on launching their own league in order to keep women’s county cricket alive below the top division.
The ECB’s restructure would see only the top 10 counties fielding senior county women’s sides in the new 1-division Women’s County Championship, with all other counties serving as “feeders”, developing age-group players who will then join their closest full county side.
Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire are the counties currently involved in the plan, which would see a new East of England Competition set up, contested by the 6 counties.
“We are still going to play county cricket,” one Hertfordshire official told CRICKETher. “Removing county cricket doesn’t make any sense when we are trying to grow the women’s game.”
CRICKETher understands that the ECB are aware of the plan and are attempting to limit it to an Under-21 age-group competition, in keeping with the new restructure.
However, the counties feel this would defeat the purpose of the competition, which is to ensure that older players continue to have opportunities to develop their abilities. One senior county executive said that they would play overage players even if an age limit was imposed by the ECB.
“We don’t want to interfere with the ECB’s new structure, and we will schedule our county matches so that they don’t clash with the ECB’s fixtures,” he said. “We aren’t waging war on them – we just want our girls to continue to have the opportunity to represent their county.”
It will be difficult for the ECB to force the issue, given that the new competition will formally be played outside of their direct jurisdiction, and will be independently funded by the counties from sponsorship and fundraising.
Several existing county players have already expressed disquiet about the restructure, which will see them restricted to playing club cricket – seen by many as a backward step. In the East of England, where the club structure is almost non-existent, those involved in county cricket are particularly worried that many players will be forced out of the game altogether come 2020.
“This is being driven by the players themselves,” one official told CRICKETher. “They want to carry on playing county cricket. If there isn’t that step up, they are much more likely to drop out when they turn 18.”
Should the Eastern Counties be successful they may well inspire similar independent county competitions around England in other areas where club cricket is struggling.