Women's pay should not depend on results
If you happen to be Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning or Alex Blackwell, you'd be forgiven for greeting the news that you will now be able to earn in excess of $100,000 a year - a pay rise announced earlier this month by Cricket Australia - with sheer uncomplicated pleasure.
And yet the news that Cricket Australia has increased its female player payment pool from $2.36 million to $4.23 million, with maximum retainers for the Southern Stars rising from $49,000 to $65,000, is not just about a pay rise. It is much more important than that.
The idea that women should be financially rewarded for representing their country at cricket appears, at least in England and Australia, to be becoming a generally accepted one. Back in 1976, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint wrote that: "Women will always play for the love of the game and there will be no professional female cricketers." Fast forward 40 years and we are moving towards a world where it is not a question of whether women will get paid to represent their country, but how much.
Far more radical - and far less generally accepted - is the idea that this kind of largesse should extend beyond the elite levels of the game. And yet, since 2013, state-level contracts and match fees have been in place throughout Australia, with domestic participants in the inaugural Women's Big Bash League given the opportunity to earn up to $17,000 across the season. As of earlier this month, that figure is set to rise to $26,000.
Elsewhere in the world, domestic female players remain in the unenviable situation of having to pay their own way in order to participate. Yet, Cricket Australia are forging ahead with a process which not only gives Lanning, Perry et al the privilege of being paid to play cricket, but extends the process of professionalisation downwards, allowing all women state players to share that privilege. In short, this latest move goes one step further towards creating a system in Australia whereby women at the top level of the domestic game will eventually be, like their national team, fully professional.
Meanwhile, the ECB has confirmed that all participants in the inaugural Women's Cricket Super League, which begins in July, will be paid expenses throughout the preparation and competition phases of the tournament, as well as a standardised match fee for each game that they compete in. For many of the English domestic players in the competition, this will be the first time they have ever received any kind of financial recompense for the many hundreds of pounds they have paid to travel to training and matches in order to play the game at the highest level.
The idea of payment for these players is in itself revolutionary. It's a world Heyhoe-Flint, who captained England for over a decade and never earned a penny in match fees, could scarcely have imagined.
And yet it's also a world that is under threat.
I received an online message on March 31, the day after England Women had lost their World T20 semi-final against Australia in rather spectacularly bad fashion. I quote:
I was wondering if the abject failure of England's women in the world T20 is going to provoke you into writing something even mildly critical of their efforts. Or are you going to just pen another puff piece about how hard they have life because they had to fly at the wrong end of an aeroplane?…
When the players start playing and training like professionals, perhaps they can be treated accordingly. Until that point, cattle class performances deserve cattle class flights. And that's where they are today."
While reading this message made my blood boil, what worries me is that it reflects a sentiment that is still genuinely held by many people - that sportswomen should not be paid for their efforts if they perform poorly. That the only female cricketers who deserve to travel on equal terms with their male counterparts, or be paid even one tenth of their fees, are those who win global tournaments.
Professionalism in women's cricket may appear to be entrenched. But while this sentiment is still bandied around in some circles, it is absolutely not. For if women are only worthy of payment when they win World Cups, then professionalism is a mere fleeting thing that will always be grasped at, but will never quite be achieved.
I have said this before, and I will say it again: This is competitive sport. Someone always has to lose.
Should losing a World Cup final, or even crashing out of a World Cup at the semi-final stages due to a spectacularly poor performance with the bat, really be a reason to lose your salary? If you've just answered "yes" to that question then perhaps you can volunteer to tell Eoin Morgan that he deserved a pay cut after England crashed out of the 2015 World Cup in the group stages, having lost to Bangladesh.
In fact, you could make a good case that the England men's central contracts should never have been introduced in the first place, coming as they did in 2000 after a decade of depressing results. It should not be forgotten that Charlotte Edwards has to date won a total of five Ashes series and two World Cups. Mike Atherton's cumulative total was zero.
Of course, I don't really believe the England men's team should have taken a pay cut in 2015. Actually, I believe that not many people do. I suspect that those who think that England's women players suddenly deserve to be treated like "cattle", are using their poor performance across one tournament as an excuse to hide a deeper and more uncomfortable truth: that they don't deserve to be paid because they are women.
If we continue to suggest that the professionalisation of women's cricket is a reward for good performances, we are playing into the hands of these kind of idiots. That is why this latest announcement by Cricket Australia is so important. Up until now, in the countries where professionalism is becoming the norm - namely England and Australia - it has come about largely as a result of success on the pitch. When the ECB announced the introduction of pro contracts for 18 of their top female players in 2014, then Minister for Sport Helen Grant said that it was a way to "reward the exceptional achievements of this current crop of international cricketers". And the Southern Stars were already holders of the T20 and 50-over World Cups when Cricket Australoa introduced lucrative contracts for their female players back in 2013.
This time, though, the Southern Stars' pay rises came not in the wake of World Cup glory, but the opposite - being announced just four days after Australia's failed attempt to claim their fourth consecutive World T20 title. That defeat was on the back of T20 series losses to New Zealand and India.
And yet the pay rises came anyway.
Behind this principle - that female cricketers' pay should not be dependent upon their results - there is an important practical point. In order to advance the women's game in countries outside of England and Australia, professionalism needs to spread, or else best-paid teams will continue to pull ahead of the others. But if professionalism depends on results, the outcome will simply be stagnation. World tournament wins - as West Indies Women, who waited 43 years for theirs, will tell you - don't fall out of the sky. The investment needs to come first.
Credit to Cricket Australia for making the first steps towards decoupling pay rises from results. What we really need now is for the other boards to follow suit; and to get rid of, once and for all, the idea that sportswomen only deserve to be paid if they are winning.
Raf Nicholson is an England supporter, a feminist, and has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the history of women's cricket. @RafNicholson