Plans for the 8 new regional Centres of Excellence – the structures that were intended to replace women’s county cricket as of September 2020 – have been placed on hold, as the ECB seeks to assess whether it will be feasible to launch the new Centres in a season likely to be severely disrupted by the Coronavirus outbreak.
However, an ECB spokesperson assured CRICKETher that the £20 million investment in women’s and girls’ cricket promised in the new Inspiring Generation strategy is secure, saying: “The ECB remains committed to the transforming women’s and girls’ cricket action plan, despite the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
While 6 of the 8 Regional Directors of Women’s Cricket for the CoEs are now in place – including Lisa Pagett for South West & Wales, Adam Carty for South Central, Laura Macleod for West Midlands, Richard Bedbrook for London & South East, and David Thorley for North West – no further staff or coaching appointments are being made until more is known about the shape of the coming season.
This is in line with the ECB’s own total freeze on recruitment in 2020, which was announced by the Board last week.
The player allocation process for the Centres was due to commence shortly, but is also being placed on hold for the moment. Additionally, it looks likely that the 40 new professional contracts for domestic players (5 per Centre of Excellence) – originally scheduled to begin in June – will now be delayed until the back end of the season, or even postponed until 2021, given that the recipients would be unable to train together for the foreseeable future.
This delay would come as a blow to a number of players, in particular those recently released from England central contracts such as Alex Hartley and Tash Farrant, who might well have been holding off from seeking other employment on the basis of an expected paid full-time future in cricket. While the PCA were able to negotiate with the ECB on behalf of the centrally contracted players, who have agreed a pay cut, the Association only represent existing professional players in England – meaning that female domestic players have no one to speak for their interests.
However, it is important to emphasise that plans for both the Centres and the new domestic contracts are on hold only. While there has been speculation in the media that the ECB’s £20 million investment in the women’s and girls’ game as part of their new strategy, Inspiring Generations, could be at risk due to cost-cutting measures, the ECB have assured CRICKETher that they remain fully committed to this area of investment.
“The Board’s initial two-year investment into this long-term plan remains unaffected and close discussions with our Regional Hosts will continue as the situation becomes clearer,” the ECB spokesperson said.
With the CoE fixtures not scheduled to take place until September, it remains possible that the 50-over regional competition could still go ahead as planned, and a range of scenarios are still being discussed with the Regional Hosts.
“We are currently collaborating closely with our Regional Hosts and modelling a range of alternative scenarios, including a later start to the season and a reduced season,” an ECB spokesperson told CRICKETher. “Although it is not yet on the agenda, a postponement of the first year of elite domestic structure fixtures is also a scenario that may need to come under consideration.”