OPINION: The Times They Are A Changin’… Because That’s What They Do!

The international retirement of allrounder Jenny Gunn, confirmed this week by the ECB, means that the England squad have now lost two senior players in the past month, after Sarah Taylor announced her retirement two weeks ago.

For different reasons, neither Gunn nor Taylor were automatic selections any more – Taylor having already essentially opted out of overseas tours and tournaments; and Gunn reduced to a “squad player”, winning just one cap in the past 12 months, in the 3rd ODI against the West Indies.

But having been fixtures of the team for so long – Gunn made her debut in 2004; Taylor in 2006 – they will be missed by the squad, both professionally and personally.

Their retirements, combined with new contracts awarded this summer, reduce the average age of the “fully contracted” squad (excluding rookies) by an entire year, from 27½ at the start of the 2019 season to 26½ now.

Retirements are of course natural and expected – a 20-strong squad would normally see one or two a year – but the cycle had recently been put out by the introduction of central contracts, which allowed some to play longer than they might otherwise have done, whilst also pulling up the drawbridge behind them, as the “chasing pack” of amateurs fell back, unable to compete with the full-time athletes for skills and fitness.

Perhaps this is why the loss of two players in the space of a month, plus Dani Hazell earlier in the year, feels disconcerting – though not as disconcerting as it will feel when Katherine Brunt (34 – a year older than Gunn, and 4 years older than Taylor) also decides to join them on the great balcony in the sky… or at least in the great comms box on Sky, which is where most of them seem to be headed!

But one player’s retirement is another’s opportunity, with Georgia Elwiss perhaps set to take over Gunn’s job as the “squad player”, able to step up as either a late-order batsman or a bowler at a moment’s notice, as needs must in the heat of a tournament; and Amy Jones now secure in her role with the gloves, at home as well as away.

So yes, the next England contracted squad in 2020 will feel different – the times they are a changin’… but only really because that’s what they usually do – we just need to get used to it again!

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OPINION: 40 New Contracts… But Who Should They Go To?

The ECB’s announcement of 40 new full-time domestic professional contracts is great news for the game in England and beyond.

In England, it means that for the first time there will be a cadre of professional players beyond the England squad. It has been noticeable recently how much the England players have pulled away from “The Rest” in terms of fielding skills and fitness in particular – not because the rest have got worse, but because the contracted players have become true elite athletes, as the benefits of 4 years of professionalism have begun to show. Professional contracts for some of The Rest will allow them to start to catch up again.

It is also good news for the game more widely, with concerns that the Australians are playing the sport on a different level to everyone else thanks to the depth of their professional structures. As these changes start to work-through, and as “The 40” become 60 or 80 in years to come, England will hopefully be in a position to challenge Australia, as well as raising the bar more generally across the top-tier nations.

The ECB have said that The 40 will be selected centrally, though presumably there will be some local input at least on an informal level; so this raises the question of who these contracts should go to.

Make no mistake – it will be contentious! During the discussion phase, there was a debate about whether the available budget should be used to pay everyone a little “semi-professional” money, or pay a few players enough to go fully professional. The latter won-out, but this means there will be Haves and Have Nots… and the Have Nots won’t necessarily be happy about it – there will be jealousies and bitterness and some of the Have Nots may well decide to quit the elite game as a result.

But leaving these questions aside, there are essentially two options now for The 40 – we either fund the best players on current form; or we pay those with the most potential to play for England one day in the future.

One of the arguments for abolishing county cricket, and establishing the eight new “Centres of Excellence” teams, was that county cricket didn’t provide a high standard of competition; so on this logic, you have to pay the best players to ensure the quality is raised – especially as those players are probably the most likely to walk away if they don’t get contracts. (“Why should I open the batting or the bowling, and carry the team, when X down the order is getting paid, and I’m getting nothing?”)

On the other hand, the purpose of these contracts is to build the England team of the future, so perhaps there is no point in paying players, however good they are right now, if they will likely never be pulling on an England shirt? CRICKETher understands that these contracts will not be going to students, but if all the contracts have gone to the current best, players coming out of university will still end up facing the same choice that Katie Levick did however-many years ago – cricket or… well… eat!

Hopefully the answer is a happy medium. Unfortunately, we are likely to lose some players as a result of this process – there are certainly a handful of big-ish names who would have to take pay-cuts to go pro on the salaries we are talking about, which they probably can’t afford to do; and we’ve also spoken to players who just don’t want to be professionals, even regardless of the money. But if we can use the budget to keep the likes of Aylish Cranstone and Marie Kelly in the game, through their twenties into their thirties, and give some of our most promising youngsters like  Rhianna Southby and Sarah Glenn a platform to build towards the dream of one day playing for England, we might just get the best of both worlds.

NEWS: “Inspiring Generations”: The Details – Clare Connor Q & A

After today’s glitzy launch of the ECB’s new “Inspiring Generations” strategy for women’s and girls’ cricket, Clare Connor filled in some of the details. Here’s what she said:

Why are there less than 100 professionals, as the PCA claimed there would be?

“The feedback from lots of county meetings, and from talking to a lot of people and our own staff from a performance perspective, was that it would be better to have a smaller number of full-time pros, who aren’t trying to juggle further education or part time jobs. To have a group of pros underneath the centrally contracted group who are full-time cricketers is more powerful than having another 80 or so who are very part-time.

It’s not an end point – it’s the start point to try to get to somewhere near 100 professionals by the end of the strategy.”

How much are the 40 new contracts worth?

“They are in line with PCA recommendations for young male cricketers.* The PCA have been closely involved in all the conversations. They will be earning not far off what one of the lowest paid England centrally contracted players are paid currently.”

*NB: The PCA’s mandated minimum wage is £27,500.

Who will select the 40 new professionals?

“There will be 5 per region. We [i.e. the ECB] will have a big say in who the 40 players are – it would be crazy not to, because we will know them so much better than the majority of new regional directors of women’s cricket, or new regional head coaches.

Many of them will either be fringe England players, like Sophia Dunkley, or current members of the England Women’s Academy.”

Which counties make up the 8 new regions?

North West: Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria

North East: Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland

West Midlands: Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire

East Midlands: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Loughborough University

South West and Wales: Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, Wales

South Central: Hampshire, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire

London & South East: Kent, Surrey

London & East: Essex, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk

Which county will be the host county in each region?

“The process we are going though right now and which should be concluded by the end of November is currently determining which of the counties will be the regional host in each region.

The whole process within regions is open to any cricket-minded organisation. It might be that within the East Midlands region, Loughborough University are the regional lead for that region. It’s not wedded to the county structure.”

What will the relationship be with the Hundred teams?

“I think that will depend on each region. There will be some alignment of players and staff. In each region, we’re funding an Operations Executive in the women’s game, and they will work across both the Hundred and the regional centres.”

Why are the Hundred salaries for the women lower than the men’s salaries?

“We’re really comfortable with where we are with the salary bands. What we must keep striving to do is keep closing the gap – no woman in this country had been paid to play cricket until 5 years ago, and while there’s no one more impatient than me in that area, we have to be realistic about where we are.

We’ve benchmarked the Hundred across lots of other women’s competitions – the FA Women’s Super League, Women’s Big Bash, the direction of travel for the Women’s IPL. And I think it’s a really good start point. There is huge commitment to close that gap as quickly as we can.”

Will the Hundred games be live-streamed?

“The WBBL has proved that the reach from streaming makes it a really good way to go.”

When will players be communicated with about next season?

“We realise that some messages will flow down very accurately from county staff to their players, and in other counties, less well. We’ve met now numerous times in the last year with a range of roles within counties, and in some of our meetings we’ve had a few players come, but there’s been a mixed communication flow.

We have talked about arranging a day in a big school hall where we invite players to tell them ‘we’re at this stage, this is what the schedule will look like, these are the changes’. That might be something we do in December, after the regional director posts have been put in place.”

Will there be an elite 20-over competition next season?

“No. We’re not starting the regional cricket until the end of next summer. Next season, county T20 cricket will run in the early part of the season, New Zealand are touring in the first half of the international summer, then the Hundred, then the new 8-team 50-over comp, and we’re playing India. The 20-over regional competition will begin in 2021.”

What happens to the County T20 Cup after 2021?

“We’ll review it. Our consultation has showed that it’s not a performance competition, and it won’t drive the performances that we need for the international game – it’s more of a participation experience. It’s done a really good job in the absence of competitive club cricket for women.

The investment into women’s club cricket – which is possibly our most important area in terms of really driving sustainable club experiences for women and girls – that in time, and Premier Leagues, and good recreational club cricket, needs to fill that gap.”

How will the £8 million be shared out for club cricket?

“There will be a small grants scheme, and there’ll be bigger projects that clubs through their county boards can bid into. We’ll be looking really strategically where money for club facilities needs to go.

We’ll be spending roughly £1m a year on a new workforce of club development officers. This year we are piloting, what are the success factors within clubland to make women’s and girls’ club cricket sustainable? We’ve just appointed Lauren Crozier as our Head of Female Participation, and she’ll be looking at what are those success factors, and how can we deploy an army of club development officers to support our ambitions around sustainable women’s club cricket?”

What about age group cricket?

“We are bringing in an England Under 19s programme next year, because from 2021 the ICC are introducing an ICC Under 19 Women’s T20 World Cup. So we need to make sure that we’re giving enough focus in that area.”

NEWS: 40 New Full-Time Domestic Professionals in England

As part of their “Inspiring Generations” strategy, the ECB have today announced that they will fund 40 new full-time domestic professionals, in addition to the 21 England contracted players, bringing the total number of full time pros playing in England up to around 60 – a 200% increase.

The ECB’s action plan dedicates £10 million per year over the next 5 years to grow the women’s game – focusing not just the new professionals but also the elite “pathway” – the England players of tomorrow, between U11 and U17 – and the recreational game; with the ultimate aim of making cricket a “gender-balanced sport”.

The action plan’s ten points are split into five main areas:

Participation:

  • 1. Create cricket offers that inspire girls to say ‘cricket is a game for me’
  • 2. Bring cricket to more primary and secondary schools
  • 3. Build a strong, sustainable, and inclusive club network

Pathway:

  • 4. Raise standards in girls’ County Age Group cricket to provide consistency and excellence

Performance:

  • 5. Launch a new regional elite domestic structure for women’s cricket
  • 6. Introduce 40 new full-time professional contracts

Profile:

  • 7. Drive engagement with The Hundred – Women’s Competition
  • 8. Increase the profile of elite women’s cricketers and connect them to a new generation of fans

People:

  • 9. Increase the representation of women in the cricket workforce
  • 10. Support more women to take on leadership roles in cricket

Speaking at the launch, the ECB’s Managing Director of Women’s Cricket, Clare Connor, hailed the integrated approach of the plan:

“To truly transform women’s and girls’ cricket, we must now move from targeted standalone programmes to addressing the whole pathway as one,” she said.

OPINION: The Hundred – The Case For Equal Pay

Since the salary bands for The Hundred were announced recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the huge disparities between the money on offer for the women – which will range between £3,600 and £15,000 – and those for the men – minimum £30,000; maximum £125,000.

As a result, debates over “equal pay” have reared their head yet again, with some prominent voices reiterating their opposition to the concept.

This, though, is not about whether Heather Knight should be paid the same as Joe Root in her role as England captain. The Hundred is a different kettle of fish altogether – and there’s an excellent case to be made that this is a missed opportunity for the ECB to pay players in their new competition exactly the same. Here’s why:

1. The Hundred as a competition is predicated on equality between male and female cricketers. We’ve been told the whole way along that the reason to get behind it is that it is women’s cricket’s big opportunity to be seen as on a par with men’s cricket. “It enables us to send a very powerful message that we are putting men and women on the same playing field, in the same teams,” Clare Connor has said. Heather Knight, at the launch last week, said that: “Kids growing up will look at The Hundred and see men and women [on] level-pegging.” But what message does it send out to kids when they see that the women’s players are being paid 10 times less than the men’s players? Surely that defeats the whole purpose of the competition?

2. The launch of The Hundred is unique: from the outset, men and women are playing under the same brand names, with the same team names, kit, and sponsors. As we’ve been very pointedly told by the ECB, it’s “The Hundred”, not “the Men’s Hundred” and “the Women’s Hundred”. Surely, on that basis, everyone playing in the competition should have the opportunity to earn the same amount of money, whether they be male or female. Can you imagine the outcry, for example, if we learned that the mixed doubles champions at Wimbledon had to split the prize money on offer, with 90% going to the male player and 10% to the female player? It just wouldn’t make sense. These salary bands don’t either.

3. The normal argument against equal pay – that women don’t sell out stadiums in the way that men do – doesn’t apply here. We’ve no idea at this stage how many people will turn up to watch the men’s or women’s matches. For all we know, the women could attract bigger crowds – as it stands, it’s completely up in the air. (And given how much opposition there is to The Hundred from existing cricket fans, it’s surely not out of the question?!)

4. Another argument often used against equal pay is that men’s sport attracts more money from sponsors and more money from TV deals. Again, in this instance, that argument doesn’t apply. As the main sponsor, KP have paid for a package deal, to have their branding on the shirts of both the men and the women. Ditto the BBC, who have signed a broadcasting deal to cover the men’s and the women’s competitions. Given that the competition is being funded largely from these two sources, why should the men be able to automatically claim the lion’s share of the money?

5. Given that the squads will be made up of 15 players, at least one of the men in each team will probably end up not playing in any of the matches, but will still get paid £30,000 for the privilege. Incredibly, this means that some of the male players in the competition will be paid more to sit on their bums and do nothing for a month, than the women on the top salary bands – say someone like Ellyse Perry, who is likely to command the top women’s salary of £15,000 – will be paid to play in every match. Doesn’t sound massively fair when you put it like that, does it?

You don’t have to support equal pay in sport per se to see that The Hundred is an unusual case. On that basis, it does seem like this has been a missed opportunity for the ECB to demonstrate that their commitment to parity between the men’s and women’s Hundred teams is more than just rhetoric.

OPINION: The Hundred WILL Succeed

In 1985, facing what they believed to be existential competition from Pepsi, Coca-Cola introduced New Coke. Driven on by gung-ho marketing consultants, who based their findings on small secretive focus groups, New Coke was sweeter and, in the words of the management gurus, “bolder” and “more harmonious”.

It was a spectacular failure – the public hated it, and less than 3 months later “Classic” Coke was reintroduced, with Coca-Cola President and CEO Donald Keough admitting:

“The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”

More than thirty years later, with New Coke having passed into legend, the ECB launched The Hundred – a new, sweeter competition, based on small secretive focus groups – with a blitzkrieg of marketing babble:

“Follow Southern Brave, and go boldly where others shy away. Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure, what’s over the horizon?”

The parallels were like railway tracks disappearing into that very horizon.

Tweets were tweeted:

And replies were replied:

And actually, Megan Schutt is right – it will be great.

Money is being poured into it, and the spectacle will be unprecedented. Domestic players will be paid more than ever before, as they match up against an unrivalled lineup of the world’s biggest stars, including all the top Australians who have mostly passed on the KSL, with Ellyse Perry having only played two KSLs; Alyssa Healy one; and Meg Lanning none.

The final will be broadcast on the BBC – free to air at prime time, and is certain to be the biggest live TV audience ever for a women’s cricket match in this country.

This time next year, Clare Connor will rightly be able to stand up and say to the world that the doubters were wrong – The Hundred has been a roaring success.

But it is what comes slightly further down the line which we should all perhaps be a bit more concerned with – and that’s where the worries really lie – Clare Connor and Tom Harrison will have moved on by then, but cricket will still have to live with their legacy.

Put simply, England is not a big enough market to sustain a form of the game that no one else plays. Even if The Hundred restores cricket’s place as England’s “second sport”, it will still be dwarfed by the commercial might of the IPL, which by then will include a full-blown Women’s competition. And the BCCI are never going to embrace The Hundred format – they are the paymasters of world cricket now and they just won’t countenance it, and everyone else, from Australia to the West Indies and everywhere in between, knows which side of the bread their butter is on.

So at some point – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, in the greater scheme of things – a future ECB board is going to have to accept that reality.

They’ll launch a “New” New Competition, based on the Twenty20 format which everyone else plays; and The Hundred will be quietly forgotten, having succeeded… but ultimately failed.

NEWS: Beaumont Unsigned As England Players Announced For The Hundred

The ECB have announced the first round of “draft” picks for The Hundred – the 100-ball tournament which will replace the Kia Super League next summer.

Birmingham Phoenix

Amy Jones, Kirstie Gordon

London Spirit

Heather Knight, Freya Davies

Manchester Originals

Kate Cross, Sophie Ecclestone

Northern Superchargers

Lauren Winfield, Linsey Smith

Oval Invincibles

Laura Marsh, Fran Wilson

Southern Brave

Anya Shrubsole, Danni Wyatt

Trent Rockets

Nat Sciver, Katherine Brunt

Welsh Fire

Katie George, Bryony Smith

The 16 players were selected through a negotiated process, rather than a classic “draft”, which meant players were free to accept, or importantly reject, any offer they received.

Significantly, it looks like Tammy Beaumont has done the latter – she is the highest profile player not selected, and it looks like she may be holding-out to be a second-round pick for a more attractive team.

Also unsigned from the current contracted squad are (former) Loughborough Lightning captain Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Alex Hartley and Alice Davidson-Richards.

Today’s announcement also confirms the team names – “Welsh” winning-out over “Western” for the Fire, who will play in the traditional Welsh heartlands of… er… Taunton – and the kits, which are basically advertising hoardings for salty snacks.

Mmmmm…. snaaaaaaacks…