OPINION: Will The Centres Of Excellence Be The Kia Super League Mark Two?

One of the major disappointments surrounding the launch of The Hundred (Women’s Competition) has been the simultaneous end to the highly successful Kia Super League.

In a relatively short space of time (four years), the KSL developed a strong fanbase – as evidenced by the sea of orange / green / purple / etc shirts sported by supporters at matches – and was able to attract good sized crowds, including two sell-out Finals Days at Hove. In one fell swoop the ECB appeared to have abolished the whole concept and all the accompanying teams in favour of their glitzy new format.

Or had they?

We now know that the 8 new Centres of Excellence will operate in the following areas: North West (incorporating Lancashire), North East (incorporating Yorkshire), West Midlands, East Midlands (incorporating Loughborough University), South West & Wales (incorporating Somerset / Gloucestershire), South Central (incorporating Hampshire), London & South East (incorporating Surrey), and London & East.

While we don’t yet know who the host counties will be for each region, there was a STRONG hint from Clare Connor at the launch that Loughborough might well end up as the host for the East Midlands region – “The whole process within regions is open to any cricket-minded organisation,” she said. “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.”

When you put it like that, it becomes apparent that 6 of these Regional Centres have something important in common: they represent the old KSL franchises – with bonus extra teams in London & East and in the West Midlands.

It really is the KSL Mark Two – only this time, the teams will also be playing 50-over cricket (as was originally the intention for the KSL).

There is an added aspect to this. The “Centres of Excellence” are as yet unnamed, but they will need a rebrand ahead of their launch in 2020 – “Regional Centre” isn’t exactly the catchiest title!

The strength of the KSL was that each of the 6 teams was founded on strong, solid branding – see for example the Ageas Bowl (home of the Vipers) becoming known as the “Snake Pit”, or Western Storm adopting a song about combine harvesters as their team ditty.

So… why not use what you’ve already got? The South West & Wales region can be the “Western Storm” CoE. The South Central region can be the “Southern Vipers” CoE. Assuming the ECB have no objection to the use of county names, the London & South East region could even be the “Surrey Stars” CoE. Etc, etc, etc.

This would not only save a whole lot of time and effort, it would save the Regional Centres having to reinvent the wheel and come up with shiny new branding, when they’ve already got quite enough to be getting on with (we’re only about 6 months away from the start of the new season and there are a LOT of logistics to sort out before then, not to mention player recruitment!)

In fact arguably, in order for the Regional Centres to be any more successful than the Women’s County Championship at attracting spectators, they NEED to focus on branding, and not simply consider themselves to be running a slightly more updated version of Super Fours – i.e. a development competition only. This will, after all, be the premier 50-over competition (and possibly after 2021 the premier 20-over competition) being played in England. As I see it, it’s a no-brainer: use the brands you’ve already got to market these new teams.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’ve a sneaking suspicion (having looked at the layout of the new regions) that this might even be what the ECB had in mind all along. Maybe it was never about getting rid of the KSL altogether – maybe it was always about ensuring that the Women’s Hundred and the KSL (Mark Two) would be able to happily co-exist?

THE HUNDRED: Why Was There No Women’s Draft?

During the men’s draft for The Hundred last night, quite a few people were questioning when the women’s draft was happening, and were subsequently surprised to learn that there wasn’t going to be one, asking if this was another case of “All cricketers are equal… but the men are more equal than the women”?

Sources at the ECB have told us that they did consider holding a women’s draft, but decided against it; and we think that this was actually the correct decision.

The main stated reason for this is that the average age of the women is much lower than the men – there were going to be a lot of teenagers involved, and you simply can’t just pack a seventeen year old girl off to the other end of the country, to live and play for six weeks with people she doesn’t really know, and expect that to not end up with problems somewhere along the line – at best homesickness; at worst, a life-changing mental health crisis.

Of course, the ECB could have excluded teenagers from the competition, or found a way for them to “dodge” the draft, but excluding them completely would defeat the entire object, and allowing them to dodge the draft would have made the process ridiculously complicated and/ or unfair.

There were also no doubt a couple of other considerations at the back of peoples’ minds at the ECB.

One was the issue of players who come as a “package” – you get both, or you get neither. Arguably, you could say “That’s their problem!” but then don’t be surprised if several of the world’s best players decide to say “Thanks… but no thanks!”

There are also… inevitably… a few instances of players who absolutely will NOT play together any more, for similar reasons, and again this would be very complicated to handle in a draft. You could have given players an “Objection” but then someone would inevitably ask “Why?” and then… well… as the kids say… awks!

It was also the case that the England players didn’t want a draft. After their experience of being shifted around in the KSL – a much more contentious (and occasionally fraught) process behind the scenes than people ever let on – they wanted to be in control of their own careers and destinies, which was especially important given that The Hundred isn’t really just six weeks for the women, because the franchises are likely to be strongly tied to the Centres of Excellence. So the ECB listened to what the players had to say, and acted on it.

Therefore they opted instead to have an “open market” system, where players could accept or reject offers – so if people wanted to play with (or not play with) a particular coach or other player, or in a particular city a long way from home, they could ensure that.

It might not have had the excitement and media impact of a draft, but it by-passed a lot of potential problems – the ECB don’t get everything right, and we’ve been very critical of The Hundred at times; but in this case they made the right call for the right reasons.

WBBL: Are The Hurricanes Set To Blow Everyone Away… Or Blow Out?

Team Played Won Lost Points
1. Hobart Hurricanes 2 2 0 4
2. Brisbane Heat 2 1 1 2
3. Adelaide Strikers 2 1 1 2
4. Melbourne Renegades 2 1 1 2
5. Sydney Thunder 2 1 1 2
6. Sydney Sixers 2 1 1 2
7. Perth Scorchers 0 0 0 0
8. Melbourne Stars 2 0 2 0

After the opening fixtures of the WBBL, it is perennial wooden-spooners Hobart Hurricanes who sit clear atop the table, after two wins against Melbourne Stars. Aside from Perth Scorchers, who don’t play their first match until Wednesday, everyone else won one and lost one over a topsy-turvy weekend.

At North Sydney Oval, Brisbane Heat, Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder played out a win and a loss each; whilst in Adelaide, the  Strikers shared the spoils in their “series” with the Melbourne Renegades.

So have Hobart Hurricanes finally found a way to play winning cricket? Or is this just a temporary glitch, before the order of the universe is restored and Sydney Sixers return to their predestined place at the head of the table?

There is no doubt that the Hurricanes are a very different team to last season. With the signings of Nicola Carey, Maisy Gibson, Belinda Vakarewa, and Tayla Vlaeminck they have an all-new bowling attack, and with Heather Knight as the fifth bowler, there isn’t a really weak link there, even if there isn’t a superstar either. (Though yes, ideally, you wouldn’t play Vakarewa and Vlaeminck on the same team – both are quick and capable of blowing batters away, but both are also liable to leak runs, and if they do it on the same day, it won’t be pretty!)

It is arguably on the batting side that the Hurricanes are weaker; but T20 is a game where you can often afford some spare parts in your batting line-up as long as the bigger names come through for you, and the signs are that they might. Heather Knight is class personified – we all know what she can do; Fran Wilson had a fantastic KSL and is out to prove she can do it in Australia, ahead of selection for the World Twenty20; and Chloe Tryon has actually turned up (some might say “for once”, though that isn’t entirely fair) facing 36 balls so far without being dismissed, scoring 75 runs at a Strike Rate of over 200. With that batting, literally no score is unchasable for the Hurricanes.

Will they do it every time? No, probably not! The Hurricanes aren’t going to be consistent – they are more likely to finish mid-table than top-table; but all they need to do is have a slightly better than evens record to make the semi-finals, and then all bets are off – as the Brisbane Heat proved last year, you are then two “performances” away from glory… and I certainly wouldn’t bet against two “performances” from this Hurricanes line-up.

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!

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.

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…