Across the next four weekends, the first “official” (i.e. ECB-supported) women’s county cricket since 2019 will take place. This year’s County T20 Cup has a different look to previous seasons – it’s being played on a purely regional basis, and there will be no overall winner. The T20 Cup seems destined, for now, to remain in the hands of Warwickshire’s trophy cabinet, after the Bears won it two years ago.
Since the last official county fixtures were played, the ECB has introduced an entirely new level of cricket between the counties and England – the regional “Centres of Excellence”, who competed in the successful Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy last season.
Where does that leave county cricket? We spoke to four figures who are integral to the current domestic structure to find out…
Richard Bedbrook (Regional Director, South East Stars):
“The two counties in our region [Surrey and Kent] are very proud of their women’s teams and the women’s cricket programmes that they can provide. The regional structure still only offers seven games of 50-over cricket and six games of 20-over cricket, with finals on top of that – so county cricket adds to the cricket our senior players get to play.
It’s all part of helping the Academy players too – they need to be playing more cricket. County cricket for them is a really, really big stage for them to move through. For a young academy girl to play with players like Tash [Farrant], ADR, Bryony [Smith], Sophia [Dunkley] and Aylish [Cranstone], there’s big learnings there.
The county games will certainly provide a massive opportunity for us to observe players. They’re going to be hugely significant for every region, to see players playing the game. Depending on the timing, it might influence narrowing down the squad for the start of the season, or it might be broader and help us see how players have progressed through training and help us identify those that we think are ready to to be in the starting Stars XI .”
Laura Macleod (Regional Director, Central Sparks):
“County cricket plays a really important part in the whole pathway. Within the West Midlands we view county cricket as really important, because it gives the players some competition. We’re going to see some of our players being pitted up against one another [for Worcestershire and Warwickshire], so that will be a real test of applying what they’ve been doing over the winter and where they want to get to.
It gives us the opportunity to have a look at them in a competitive environment. And because the club game is not quite perhaps where it is for the men’s game, the county game still plays an important part in the development of a player.”
Dave Hathrill (Kent Women’s Head Coach):
“Our role as Kent Cricket can fit alongside all of the new additions to the pathway. From a county perspective, the changes are really welcome. Myself, Johann Myburgh [SE Stars Head Coach] and Richard Bedbrook are in conversation regularly.
Having the girls have the ability to get away and train properly throughout the summer with the new regional centres has actually brought more cricketing opportunities around, which as a county we’re definitely benefiting from. The girls have been excellent, they’ve really embraced the challenge of a full professional winter.
We’re looking forward to seeing how the summer plays out, and the effect that the new structure will have [on county cricket] going forward.”
Aylish Cranstone (Professional Cricketer, South East Stars and Surrey):
“County cricket is massive. I’ve been fortunate enough to work within the county age group programme for the last 5 or 6 years, and it’s always been really tough stopping at under-17s. We lose so many girls at that age group who are really good cricketers but haven’t played enough or haven’t been fortunate enough to reach the senior side. Keeping a senior Surrey side is really important for them because they can keep playing.”
“It keeps that enthusiasm for the club cricketers as well. They’ll still be aiming to look to push into those county sides, and if you can be training in and around county stuff then obviously you will be getting the opportunity to be seen by the regional coaches and it can go from there. If you dropped county cricket, you’re focusing everything on the higher level players but you might not have as many players coming through, because they might just think it’s a bit of a difficult goal to achieve. So it’s important to keep county cricket going.”
“It’s also nice for regional players. The regional stuff is going to be very intense, so it will be nice to go back to our counties at different points in the season, regroup, play with a different team again. It’s got a bit of a different vibe, and different coaches.”
Full T20 Cup Fixtures (all teams to play each other twice, at 11am and 3pm):
Sunday 25th April
North Group: Cumbria v Yorkshire (Arnside CC), North Representative XI v Scotland A (TBC), North East Warriors v Lancashire (Burnopfield CC)
East Midlands Group: Derbyshire v Shropshire (Denby CC), Leicestershire v Lincolnshire (Barkby United CC), Nottinghamshire v Northamptonshire (Worksop College)
West Midlands Group: Berkshire v Worcestershire (Falkland CC), Warwickshire v Wales (Edgbaston Foundation Ground), Staffordshire v Somerset (Fordhouses CC)
East Group: Cambridgeshire v Buckinghamshire (Exning Park), Herfordshire v Norfolk (Harlow CC), Huntingdonshire v Suffolk (TBC)
South East Group: Middlesex v Hampshire (Mill Hill School), Surrey v Kent (Chipstead CC), Sussex v Essex (Sir Rod Aldridge Cricket Centre, Brighton)
South West Group: Devon v Oxfordshire (Braunton CC), Dorset v Wiltshire (TBC), Gloucestershire v Cornwall (Cheltenham College)
Monday 3rd May
North Group: Cumbria v North Representative XI (tbc), Lancashire v Scotland ‘A’ (Carnforth CC), Yorkshire v North East Warriors (Harrogate CC)
East Midlands Group: Derbyshire v Leicestershire (Spondon CC), Lincolnshire v Nottinghamshire (Sleaford CC), Shropshire v Northamptonshire (Worfield CC)
West Midlands Group: Somerset v Wales (Weston-Super-Mare CC), Warwickshire v Berkshire (Edgbaston Foundation Ground), Worcestershire v Staffordshire (Bromsgrove CC)
East Group: Buckinghamshire v Norfolk (Dinton CC), Huntingdonshire v Hertfordshire (Ramsey CC), Suffolk v Cambridgeshire (Woolpit CC)
South East Group: Essex v Surrey (Old Southendian & Southchurch CC), Kent v Middlesex (Kent CCC, Beckenham), Sussex v Hampshire (Sir Rod Aldridge Cricket Centre, Brighton)
South West Group: Cornwall v Dorset (Boconnoc CC), Gloucestershire v Oxfordshire (Cheltenham College), Wiltshire v Devon (Corsham CC)
Sunday 9th May
North Group: Cumbria v Scotland ‘A’ (Lanercost CC), North East Warriors v North Representative XI (tbc), Yorkshire v Lancashire (Harrogate CC)
East Midlands Group: Leicestershire v Nottinghamshire (Market Overton CC), Lincolnshire v Shropshire (Spalding Town CC), Northamptonshire v Derbyshire (Desborough Town CC)
West Midlands Group: Somerset v Berkshire (Bath CC), Wales v Staffordshire (Newport CC), Warwickshire v Worcestershire (Edgbaston Foundation Ground)
East Group: Buckinghamshire v Huntingdonshire (tbc), Norfolk v Cambridgeshire (North Runcton CC), Suffolk v Hertfordshire (Woolpit CC)
South East Group: Essex v Kent (tbc), Hampshire v Surrey (Totton & Eling CC), Middlesex v Sussex (Mill Hill School)
South West Group: Devon v Gloucestershire (Sidmouth CC), Dorset v Oxfordshire (Sherborne CC), Wiltshire v Cornwall (Sherston Magna CC)
Sunday 16th May
North Group: Lancashire v Cumbria (Widnes CC), North East Warriors v Scotland ‘A’ (Alnmouth & Lesbury CC), Yorkshire v North Representative XI (Harrogate CC)
East Midlands Group: Northamptonshire v Lincolnshire (tbc), Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire (Collingham CC), Shropshire v Leicestershire (Whitchurch CC)
West Midlands Group: Berkshire v Wales (Falkland CC), Staffordshire v Warwickshire (Oulton CC), Worcestershire v Somerset (Bromsgrove CC)
East Group: Cambridgeshire v Huntingdonshire (Exning Park), Hertfordshire v Buckinghamshire (Boxmoor CC), Norfolk v Suffolk (Cromer CC)
South East Group: Hampshire v Essex (Totton & Eling CC), Kent v Sussex (The Mote CC), Surrey v Middlesex (Old Whitgiftians CC)
South West Group: Cornwall v Devon (Launceston CC), Gloucestershire v Dorset (Cheltenham College), Oxfordshire v Wiltshire (Bicester & North Oxford CC).