India could be next for contracts - Connor
India's women could be the next beneficiaries of player contracts which have begun to revolutionise life for England and Australia players.
Clare Connor, the ECB's head of women's cricket who oversaw the new deals for England players, is certain that the wealthy Indian board will follow suit soon, and with something even more substantial than the benefits England and Australia's women now receive.
"I think India are bound to announce something even bigger than what ECB and Cricket Australia have done so far for their national players; that seems to be Indian way at the moment," Connor told Cricinfo. "Perhaps Sir Allen Stanford will come up trumps for the West Indian women ... who knows? I sense that New Zealand cricket will not be able to offer their players anything but I hope I'm proved wrong."
A spokesperson for BCCI said that there were no immediate plans to offer contracts to India women although she would not rule out deals being made in the future.
In the meantime, the merger of the women's board with BCCI is still being processed and so the main focus is organising domestic cricket. Nevertheless, it would hardly be a surprise if contracts were announced in the next year or so, given the advantages that the players can receive in working on their game. Increased skills could help the long-term popularity of the game.
The ECB paved the way in offering deals in April, while Cricket Australia made its announcement last week. "I know that CA has been thinking for some time about how to fund their players better," said Connor. "I spoke to the ICC Women's Committee about our contracts back in April in South Africa, the rationale behind them and the benefits as we saw them. I was then contacted by CA to talk in more depth about them - a month later and CA has announced their plans. What's great about all this is that there seems to be real momentum behind the women's game at the moment."
Connor believes CA's move is "fantastic". "I think it sends out a great message to the players. When someone as talented as Australia's Ellyse Perry has to ultimately decide between football and cricket, then this level of financial support, coupled with her obvious love of the game, might be enough to keep her wanting to play cricket."
The deals offer more flexibility to the players who, as amateurs, have traditionally had to juggle careers and training. While Australia's players can't ditch their jobs just yet (should they want to), life is certainly much easier for them. Shelley Nitschke wrote in her Cricinfo blog today: "Although the Cricket Australia contracts won't exactly allow us to resign from our employment roles, they will help alleviate some of these pressures. I guess I have been very lucky in regard to this, working at the South Australian Cricket Association.
"While working in cricket, as well as playing, can become a bit of a cricket overload, I have been very well supported with respect to both state and international commitments. Needless to say, all the girls are pretty happy about the concept of contracts, hopefully in time other countries will also follow the lead set by the ECB, and now Cricket Australia."
England players, who retain their amateur status too, also receive funding from Sport England which has enabled them to hand in their notices to concentrate on cricket and work as Chance to Shine ambassadors.
"It's been a huge success so far," said Connor. "The PR that the women's game has had on the back of the scheme has been brilliant and the players are doing a fantastic job coaching in schools and clubs. Charlotte Edwards phoned me the other night to say that she had coached 150 girls in a single day culminating in an after-school cricket activity where she had 17 children attending, nine girls and eight boys. She's loving her role and is spotting some really talented youngsters on her travels. Chance to Shine are pleased with all that the girls are doing, especially the ambassadorial work they did for National Cricket Day a month ago."
Nitschke acknowledges the recent developments in women's cricket - including the staging of next year's World Twenty20 alongside the men's - and believes it's about time that the players began to demand more. "We are used to things happening quite slowly in the world of women's cricket, and the common response to a small improvement is often, 'Well, at least it's something'. This mentality needs to change."
England and Australia's players have certainly been offered the means to change their mindsets, while the overall involvement of the ICC in the women's game has already opened up exciting new avenues. Although today's players have never had it so good, there is still much more scope for improvement for all countries in respect to their women's cricket set-up and now it seems some players aren't afraid of asking for it.
Jenny Roesler is an assistant editor at Cricinfo