Women's Super League launched in radical shake-up
The ECB will establish a groundbreaking tournament next summer when it launches a new women's domestic T20 competition.
The Women's Super League will abandon the traditional county structure and comprise six teams.
Potential team hosts will be invited to show an "expression of interest', a process that will start formally this month, and consideration will be given to bodies outside the current county structure with the ECB saying that "any cricket-minded organisations will be able to submit a proposal to become a host."
The successful candidates will be confirmed by the end of the year.
During its first season, the Women's Super League will be comprised solely of T20 cricket and sit alongside the Royal London Women's One-Day County Cup and NatWest Women's County Twenty20 competitions. From 2017 onwards the structure will develop to both T20 and 50-over formats.
The ECB is investing £3 million over the first four years of the tournament and believes that the competition will:
* Develop higher standards for the England team with greater competition for places and creating more experienced players.
* Inspire more women and girls to play cricket at all levels by offering new opportunities, a new narrative for the game, and new role models.
* Create more opportunities to play through a network of host clubs linked to their communities.
* Increase commercial support and broadcast coverage.
The Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch, was quick to offer support, saying: ""This is a huge step forward for women's sport, providing female athletes with a platform to showcase their skills. It is also a great opportunity to further grow the game, inspiring a whole new generation of women to take up cricket."
The women's game in England has made massive strides towards full professionalism in the past two years. In 2013, the ECB followed Cricket Australia's lead in awarding central contracts to the national squad, allowing players to turn fully professional for the first time.
A year later the ECB struck a deal with car manufacturer Kia which secured standalone sponsorship of England Women.
Cricket Australia has also announced plans for a revamped domestic T20 league, with a Women's Big Bash League to run in conjunction with the men's tournament in December and January.
Three England players - Charlotte Edwards, Heather Knight and Sarah Taylor - all played in Australia's domestic competitions during the English winter.
Now, with the advent of fully supported T20 competitions in both hemispheres, the incentives and rewards for female professional cricketer have dramatically increased.
The £3m investment will help each team to improve coaching standards and community engagement plans, support a marketing campaign and, for the first time in domestic women's cricket in England, offer prize money.
Tom Harrison, ECB chief executive, heralded a "major step for the women's game in England."
He said: "We are already very proud of the achievements of the England women's team and the growth of the game for women and girls over the past decade.
"We now have the opportunity to build on this, inspiring more women and girls to take part and offering players a domestic structure that gives the best cricketers the chance to play against each other in the most competitive environment.
"The new Women's Cricket Super League will take standards to a new level and show more women and girls the opportunities that cricket can give."
Clare Connor, ECB director of England women's cricket, called the league "the next stage in the evolution of women's cricket in this country" and said it would be a catalyst to increase female participation.
"Last year brought the introduction of central contracts for 18 England women's players and a significant commercial deal," she said. "Now, through the Women's Cricket Super League, we will create high-performance training and competition environments, which will constantly challenge our very best players and drive the sustained success of our England team.
"We also have the chance to invite the world's finest players into the Women's Cricket Super League to drive ever higher standards.