Australia women handed contracts
Cricket Australia has followed the ECB's example in handing contracts to their female international players, just three months after eight England players made history in receiving deals through the cricket foundation, Chance to Shine.
The announcement is a massive boost for Australia's side, some of whom have lost jobs owing to their cricket commitments. Now they will have financial assistance to keep them in the game because, under the scheme, CA will make a total annual contribution of up to $500,000 to squad members. This year's scheme also includes an education and training grant from the Kerry Packer Cricket Foundation.
The move may also help to keep such players as the rising star, Ellyse Perry, in cricket. Perry's outstanding natural talent has prompted rumours she may be used as the poster girl for next year's World Cup in Australia but there are ongoing concerns that she may choose to specialise in football, even though it is in cricket where she is currently making the bigger impact. Although those fears will not entirely dissipate, the fact that CA is now taking the women's game so seriously could prove a persuasive factor in keeping Perry in cricket.
"Today's announcement recognises the increasing demands placed on our elite female cricketers and their significant commitment to the game," CA's general manager, Michael Brown, said. "It is designed to ensure that players are reimbursed for their costs in representing Australia. As well as their on-field success, Australia's female players have an important role to play in the promotion of the game by supporting state associations in the implementation of our Females in Cricket Strategy."
The strategy seeks to increase female involvement at all levels of cricket and is broadly similar to the ECB's Chance to Shine scheme of which the contracted England players are ambassadors.
"The intention of the new scheme is to reduce the financial burden on players when they take time off work for cricket commitments," a CA spokesperson told Cricinfo. "In that respect, we expect players will still have jobs outside cricket as they do at the moment. What Cricket Australia is seeking to is to ensure that players are reimbursed for their costs in representing Australia.
"Each player in the national squad will receive a contract. As well as providing financial support, these contracts will allow CA to use players to promote the game in ambassadorial (or other) roles and link with the Females in Cricket Strategy. Obviously some players will be used more than others and this will be reflected in their contract status and support they receive.
"There's also a provision for education assistance based on an individual's circumstances."
CA's move has come at a good time for the Australia side who have a huge amount of international cricket coming up. India are touring in October and November, then they are heading to New Zealand in February 2009 ahead of hosting the World Cup in March. Following that is the World Twenty20 in England then the women's Ashes.
The women's game is gradually gaining more exposure and it is believed that female audiences could be a market worth developing. Skills are improving and trials to have women's matches as curtain-raisers to men's Twenty20s have already proved successful in capturing the imaginations of some. The challenge has been in keeping the most attractive flair players in the game - and these are often the ones who have other international sporting interests.
While Australia's Perry may be influenced to stay by CA's move, New Zealand for example face losing their talented allrounders Suzie Bates (to basketball) and Sophie Devine (to netball), a fear voiced by their captain, Haidee Tiffen, earlier this week. "The future for New Zealand is quite good," Tiffen told BBC Worldwide. "We just want to hold on to these players, when they have Olympic games that attract them as well." She thought such initiatives as the World Twenty20 - when the women's game is set for good exposure - would be a big help. But so would extra funding.
South Africa have already lost their wunderkind Johmari Logtenberg to golf, even though she had to pick up her new sport from scratch. She refused to "play for charity" - but if other boards have the financial means and desire to follow suit perhaps one day she could be lured back to cricket should her golf not take off.
Ebony Rainford-Brent, one of the first eight players to receive a contract, wrote in her Cricinfo diary today: "It's important for women's cricket that all countries - where possible - move towards offering contracts of this sort of nature because we need to make sure that everyone is competing on an even playing field rather than, say, us and Australia get better because we have the ability to now commit to cricket. Now the ECB has blazed a trail, hopefully other boards will follow suit as with CA."
The impact for Rainford-Brent and her colleagues has certainly been immediate, making their lives much more flexible and giving them a chance to focus on their game. And already that move has had a knock-on effect in CA's catch-up move which will aim to keep World Champions Australia as No 1 in the world.
Jenny Roesler is an assistant editor at Cricinfo