The rapid growth in the profile of women's international cricket is being undermined by continuing "amateurish" standards, particularly at domestic level, according to the findings of a global survey conducted by FICA, the players' association.
The FICA Women's Global Employment Market Report and Survey 2018 is the first study of its kind since female players were formally brought under the auspices of FICA in 2016. In a 60-page document released this week, it outlines 20 key findings into the health of the game, as determined from interviews with players from the ICC's 12 Full Member nations.
The overwhelming conclusion of the report is that the game is "moving forward in a positive way", with 89% of the 124 players surveyed, including 76 current internationals, stating that they were optimistic about the future of women's cricket.
However, the report also found that gender inequity was the biggest barrier to the game's long-term future, with opportunities for participation still limited in many countries, as well as a continuing inequality of pay when compared to their male counterparts.
"There has been a dynamic shift in the world, where businesses and sports are increasingly seeing the importance of equality," Lisa Sthalekar, the former Australia allrounder and current FICA Board Member, states in the report. "Cricket is no different, with a watershed moment occurring in July 2017, when the ICC Women's World Cup final was sold out at Lord's."
That tournament, won by England in a thrilling final against India, transformed the profile of the sport and propelled many of its biggest names into a limelight that had never previously fallen on women's cricket. However, the challenge of bridging that gap between the game's possibilities and its current realities remains significant.
The report states that the sport's growth is currently being hampered by "the pervading culture of insecurity" that exists within the women's game, and calls for minimum standards to be enforced in terms of playing opportunities and pathways, employment contracts, travel and accommodation.
FICA's research found that the global number of fully professional female players is currently "no more than 120", adding that at present only Australia, with the Women's Big Bash League, and increasingly England, through the advent of the Kia Super League, are in a position to offer professional cricket as a genuine career choice for women. As a consequence, the report states that "these two are pulling away from the rest of the countries".
Furthermore, four of the ICC's 12 Full Member nations - Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan - were unable to provide sufficient information to offer a "realistic and balanced assessment" of the health of the women's game in their countries.
"Whilst the report recognises the great strides of the women's game both on and off the field, there is still plenty of work to be done," Sthalekar said. "Complacency is not an option if the game is to realise its potential and recalibrate the scales of equality in cricket."