NEWS: Loughborough University Confirmed As Host For New Regional Centre Of Excellence

Loughborough University are set to play host to one of 8 new Regional Centres of Excellence which are due to replace 50-over county cricket as of this season, according to a job advert which appeared online on Thursday.

The advert, which is for Regional Director of Women’s Cricket for the East Midlands Region, states that the new Director will be based at the Sports Development Centre at Loughborough University.

The East Midlands region will consist of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Loughborough, with the new Director – according to the advert – expected to “establish and lead a senior team and an academy for the East Midlands and work with all the counties to further develop women’s cricket at all levels”.

While Clare Connor had strongly hinted at the launch of the ECB’s new “Inspiring Generations” strategy last October that Loughborough might become host to the East Midlands Centre, the regional hosts have yet to be announced officially by the ECB.

However, Loughborough’s success as host to Loughborough Lightning in the Kia Super League appear to have convinced those involved in the new structure that they deserve to continue to have hosting rights for the new CoE competition.

The news will be welcome to fans of the KSL: not only does it seem almost certain that the Loughborough Lightning brand will continue to exist within women’s cricket, it looks likely that the remaining CoEs will take up the names and branding used during the Super League, albeit in slightly amended form – just as CRICKETher predicted back in October.

While plans for the new Centres of Excellence are largely on hold for the moment, 6 of the 8 Regional Directors of Women’s Cricket 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 – with Loughborough set to hold interviews for the above post on 28 or 29 April via Skype.

VIDEO: The CRICKETher Vodcast – Social Isolation Edition – Episode 4

Raf & Syd discuss Ellyse Perry “doing the double” in this year’s Wisden, plans for the new Regional Centres of Excellence, how the Australian travel ban will affect women’s cricket, and can international cricket be played indoors in New Zealand?

Featuring a bonus plug of Raf’s book Ladies and Lords!

Plus… which county ground are we broadcasting from this week?

NEWS: Middlesex Women and Jersey Cricket Form New Strategic Partnership

Middlesex CCC and Jersey Cricket have agreed the terms of a long-term strategic partnership to increase opportunities for their talented female cricketers. Jersey are associate members of the ICC, and are currently placed 37th in the women’s international T20 rankings.

Plans for Jersey to tour in England in late May, to train with the Middlesex Women’s side and play three T20 matches at Mill Hill School, have unfortunately been put on-hold due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, but the hope is that new arrangements can be made once the current situation has been resolved.

Danni Warren, Head of Women’s Cricket at Middlesex said:

“It is really exciting to be working with Jersey Cricket.”

“Having discussed our respective visions in depth, it was obvious that we share a lot of common aspirations, making this partnership the natural next step.”

“Despite [the tour] being postponed due to the current COVID-19 situation we are committed to facilitating similar opportunities for both of our playing groups going forward.”

Lee Meloy, Jersey Women’s Head Coach, echoed Warren’s disappointment at the tour’s cancellation, but reflected:

“Looking at the bigger picture; it’s a very exciting time for Women’s cricket. To be able to work closely with such a well-established organisation will undoubtedly leave a legacy for our female cricketers.”

NEWS: ECB To Re-Assess Calendar for Centres of Excellence But Investment Remains Secure

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.”

NEWS: Australia Travel Ban Leaves Women’s Hundred Hanging By A Thread

The Australian government’s decision to ban all its citizens from leaving Australia for the next six months has left the future of the Women’s Hundred hanging in the balance, with many overseas players and coaches now looking unlikely to be able to take part.

Half of the coaches and several of the biggest-name players are currently in Australia, where new restrictions introduced last week essentially ban all overseas travel for a period initially expected to last at least six months, taking us well past the window when The Hundred could feasibly be played, even if it were rescheduled into September.

As discussed on this week’s CRICKETher Vodcast, going ahead with The Hundred without the game’s biggest names, including Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy, would leave the competition over-reliant on a relatively small pool of domestic players, without the glamour, glitz and firepower that the overseas stars would bring.

APRIL 1ST EXCLUSIVE: Women’s Hundred To Be Played At Night Amid Coronavirus Concerns

APRIL 1ST EXCLUSIVE

With the cricket season under threat due to the coronavirus, news has emerged of a proposal to play the Women’s Hundred at night, after research carried out in Australia indicated that COVID-19 can’t be transmitted after sunset because the virus is scared of the dark.

Night Cricket

Night Cricket (Photo: Don Miles)

Dr April Fulio, Dean of Topical Diseases at the Sydney University of Medicine, told CRICKETher:

“We noticed that viral content on social media is much more active during the day than it is at night, so we extrapolated from that using what scientists call ‘multi-level post-rationalisation’. This allowed us to base our conclusions almost entirely upon the unsubstantiated conjecture that the virus is essentially scared of the dark.”

Suggestions to play the Men’s Hundred behind closed doors, in a so-called ‘sterile environment’, have already been put on the table; but the additional financial constraints on the women’s competition called for a more innovative solution.

Dr Fulio explained:

“The matches would have to be played in total darkness, which rules out using floodlights, but instead we are examining the possibility of playing with a luminous pink Incrediball to assist visibility.”

“Fans will be able to watch the action live-streamed on Instagram, using a “Predator” style filter which simulates military thermal imaging technology, in another innovative first for the women’s game!”

THIS ARTICLE IS A PARODY

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NEWS: New East of England Women’s County Championship “Absolutely A Long Term Thing”

When the ECB first mooted the possibility of abolishing the Women’s County Championship last year, the Eastern Counties provided some of the loudest opposition to the plan – telling CRICKETher that: “Removing county cricket doesn’t make any sense when we are trying to grow the women’s game.”

Now, with the national County Championship consigned to history by the ECB, those same counties – Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Norfolk – have come together to launch their own East of England Women’s County Championship.

The competition has been conceived in response to a local demand to retain competitive 50 over Women’s County Cricket in the region, which has seen a resurgence in the last few years.

“With all 4 Counties, the players have a real passion to represent their County and look forward to the County season every year,” Phil Lewis, Women & Girls Development Officer for Huntingdonshire, told CRICKETher. “Not just the playing standard, but the matches we have played in the East have been good hard fought encounters – rarely do you see one-sided games.”

“The standard is getting better and better all the time – players in these sides have now gone through the entire CAG system of their representative counties – 5 or 10 years ago that wasn’t the case. Players in these women’s sides have longstanding rivalries with opposing players right from U11s.”

“I have known the guys at Norfolk and Hertfordshire for years now. We spent a lot of time in each others company during last season and had many a conversation about the impact [of abolishing the County Championship] on the Women’s game, and vowed there and then to do all we could to keep things going.”

The initiative resembles the new London Championship, which will see Surrey, Middlesex, Kent and Essex taking part in a similar 50-over competition, in spite of the ECB’s insistence that all 50-over cricket would as of the 2020 season rest with their 8 new “Centres of Excellence”.

However, an article by George Dobell on Cricinfo suggests that the ECB has “endorsed” the London Championship; by contrast, the East Championship is an entirely independent initiative. “The last word we as counties had received at one of the consultancy events last year was that it was up to individual counties if they did something, but there wouldn’t be any funding for it – which is why we have tried to approach it a little more commercially to help support the tremendous backing from the Counties,” Lewis says.

The Championship is receiving no financial support from the ECB; instead, it is being funded through the support of the representative county boards of Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Buckinghamshire, as well as Huntingdonshire CCC. They have also received backing from some independent sponsors, including Soroptomist International (specifically the Hertfordshire branch), who are providing a Championship Trophy and end of season awards for the teams and players. The trophy is likely to be named after former England player and Chairman of the Women’s Cricket Association 1983-1994 Audrey Collins, who passed away in 2010.

The ECB’s rationale for abolishing the Women’s County Championship last season was that county cricket was providing a “participation experience” for players, which needed to transfer down to local clubs. However, Lewis says that the weakness of club cricket in the East of England means that this is simply not a realistic option for the players he works with.

“Our competition is a clear statement that the removal of competitive county cricket by the ECB in the region is hugely damaging to a great number of women in the area who have very little to fall back on,” he told CRICKETher. “Women’s club cricket is not even remotely close to being an adequate substitute in the area.”

“The standard is very poor, and there are no genuine league options of any kind of standard. A good quality, competitive Women’s league is at least 5 if not 10 years away, depending on the efforts of the local boards.”

The aim, says Lewis, is to utilise the new Championship to help enhance club cricket, rather than act in competition with it. 

“The Championship is not there to be a substitute for Women’s Club Cricket and our fixture planning was all about scheduling outside of Women’s Club Sundays – inevitably there may be some clashes now [given the shortened season] but we are here to work with clubs and hopefully help enhance the club competition, not work against it.”

While there is now much uncertainty surrounding the cricket season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisers of the new Championship have agreed a contingency set of fixture dates. As it stands, 50-over fixtures will take place on 16th, 23rd and 30th August, and 13th, 20th and 27th September, with a T20 Cup Festival on 6th September. “There is a great deal of determination to make sure the competition happens,” says Lewis.

What of the future? Currently the Championship may be small-scale, but the hopes for its growth are big. “As a group we hope to bring other long adversaries into the fold to resume battle against, including Suffolk and Lincolnshire – it would also be awesome if we could somehow attract entries from Europe in time as I am sure the Netherlands will be hugely impacted,” says Lewis.

“We absolutely see this competition as a long term thing. No question.”