England news June 19, 2015

Much to be revealed on Women's Super League

Melinda Farrell
he ECB's announcement of the Women's Cricket Super League dazzles upon first glance and appears full of potential but is still somewhat fuzzy on the detail

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Women's Super League targeting world stars

The Impressionist painters' greatest triumph was to perfect the art of creating a picturesque scene, when viewed from a distance, that transformed into a myriad of indistinct dots and dashes when examined up close.

In a similar way, the ECB's announcement of a new domestic T20 competition for 2016 - the Women's Cricket Super League - dazzles upon first glance and appears full of exciting potential but is still somewhat fuzzy on the detail.

Of course, the initial announcement - what the ECB's Head of Women's Cricket, Clare Connor, heralded as "the most significant development for women's cricket in this country for a very long time" - is just that, an opening gambit.

After a lengthy consultation period, both financial and operational, there are now calls for expressions of interest and the ECB expects to appoint a general manager to oversee the tournament within the next two months.

But exactly what that tournament will look like remains somewhat unclear, although it will almost certainly dramatically increase earning and playing opportunities for female players, both in England and abroad, and the ECB hopes it will lead to a game-wide structural change that will improve women's cricket from the grass roots up.

What we do know is that six teams will compete and those teams will contain an even spread of centrally contracted England Women players and a maximum of two foreign imports.

The sides will play in an IPL or CPL style window, with the first WCSL tournament to run during a 16 to 18-day period next August.

And in 2017 and 2018 funding from the ECB will increase when the T20 competition is supplemented by a 50 over version of the WCSL, likely to run over the duration of the season.

But whether these teams will represent single counties, amalgamated county bids, universities, businesses, or even football clubs is unclear. Connor says the WSCL "hosts" - the word franchise is studiously avoided - could be any organisation that meets the required standards in facilities, training, operations and community engagement.

"We've got to be really ambitious with this project and the impact it can have on sporting communities, on the opportunity for girls in schools and clubs and universities," said Connor. "And part of the expression of interest process for the WCSL host which kicks off at the end of the month will be for them to prove how hosting a Super League team, and working with the ECB on the project, will inspire growth and attract new players, new fans, and hopefully, eventually, new commercial partners and really grow the reach of the women's game."

Much of the £3m invested by the ECB over the first four years of the competition will go towards meeting operational, marketing and media costs and, in an historic development, there will be a combined total of 250,000 pounds in prize money - a hugely significant amount in a game where only a handful of players can make a living.

"What will be tricky I suppose is if the Surrey Strikers, for example, decide that they want to pay each of their players £10,000 but the other five can't pay a penny"

But, again, the details of how that prize money and the ECB grants will be split between hosts and players are less concrete.

The ECB plans to ring fence funds to pay for match fees, player payments and contributions to overseas players and no decision has been made on whether to pay players who are already on central contracts or if a salary cap will be introduced.

"What I don't think we know at this stage is what the appetite is going to be within the six to pay players," Connor said.

"What will be tricky I suppose - but it's a free market - is if the Surrey Strikers, for example, decide that they want to pay each of their players £10,000 but the other five can't pay a penny. Those are the things we're going to have to work through as the process unfolds."

It's hardly a small issue. Such questions have recently caused angst between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketer's Association as planning continues for the launch of the Women's Big Bash League later this year, a competition the ECB will be watching carefully.

The WBBL will mirror the men's competition, which gives the Australian version a significant head start when it comes to brand recognition and marketing, but while CA appears keen on the idea of double-headers, partly to maximize broadcasting opportunities, Connor is not convinced the same approach will work in England.

"It doesn't help when the teams don't tally," said Connor. "So it might not be a huge success to have double headers with men's T20 Blast games for example. I think we need to do some more research."

A lack of clarity surrounds the question of where the competition fits in with the ECB's current broadcasting deal with Sky, who will become the first television broadcaster of a women's Test in August, when England Women face the Southern Stars in the Women's Ashes, although securing a broadcaster and sponsorship are two of the ECB's major goals.

Could the time even have come for regular women's cricket at Lord's? © Jeremy Durkin

Questions also surround the future involvement of Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands in county cricket, with the suggestion they could be phased out by 2017 or 2018 and, along with creating the WCSL, the ECB plans to completely overhaul the structure of women's grassroots cricket and create a stronger pyramid structure.

But while the details remain somewhat Monet-esque, the creation of any competitive shop-window for the world's best female players, who desperately need more high quality competition, is a giant step forward. And the creation of two such tournaments in one year, on either side of the world, would have been considered a pipe dream just a few years ago.

It's two years since the ECB awarded central contracts to elite female players, and just one year since the England Women's team broke ground by gaining stand-alone sponsorship.

And while those developments made things a little easier at the top, the prospect of a thriving, semi-professional, televised women's domestic competition is, indeed, a dazzling picture.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 19, 2015, 13:50 GMT

    Depending on who owns the teams, it could work. Maybe 6 teams for the first season but open to expansion for the next year. It also can't just be opened up to one area of the country as well. Would be stupid just to see London or S.E areas of England taking part.

  • Anthony on June 19, 2015, 12:21 GMT

    Great idea, but 6 teams with a max of 2 foreign imports?

    Even at the start of the IPL the Indian's were not so restrictive, realising that if they wanted the best league (thus maximising the most interest and revenue), they needed to be able to have the best players on show. This will have very little chance of being 'super' with only 12 imports and 54 locals. Like the original 20/20 concept, the ECB run the risk of someone else doing it right and stealing another of their golden eggs.

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