Tests 'hanging by a thread' - Connor
The future of women's Test cricket remains bleak according to the ECB's head of women's cricket, Clare Connor. And, unless other national boards increase their support for Test cricket, Connor believes the longer format will struggle to survive.
"There's no doubt it's hanging by a thread," Connor told ESPNcricinfo. "It's difficult to see a future for Test cricket."
India Women claimed a landmark six-wicket victory over England at Wormsley last week in a standalone Test, the first India have played in eight years.
This followed on from two Tests between England and Australia in the preceding year, which formed part of a multi-format Women's Ashes Series comprising one Test, three one-day Internationals and three T20s.
"I would love to combine a multi-format series, to combine that [a one-off Test] with the three ODIs for the Women's Championship and that's what we tried to do with India this summer," said Connor. "For whatever reasons India didn't want that schedule and that's why we've got South Africa coming over as a separate competition to play those three T20s, because we didn't want to have a summer without those."
The multi-format concept was devised after Cricket Australia declined a proposal to play three Tests to decide the Women's Ashes, and Connor said other countries, such as New Zealand, have shown little, if any, interest in staging women's Tests in the past decade.
"Cricket Australia have said they don't see it as a viable format to grow the game from a commercial perspective, profile perspective, participation perspective," Connor said. "They don't think it's going to be appealing to young girls or to women to follow it and take up the sport as a consequence."
But she believes the format can be commercially viable, particularly given the positive reaction to the Women's Ashes Series, and the increasing professionalism of the game in most countries, which now offer female players central contracts.
"We would like to play more Test cricket and we would certainly like to see more between the top four or five countries," Connor said. "We would like to see a multi-format story for each bilateral competition because it doesn't take a huge amount of time. You can play the ODIs in a week, the Test in a week and the T20s in a week.
"I don't think we should give up the fight to try and achieve that," said Connor. "And I think it's probably worth a new conversation with New Zealand, because I do remember at the time one of their big challenges was around player time away from uni or work."
Globally, the women's game is facing something of a watershed moment, with England and Australia leading the way in committing to full professionalism and there is a fear that, despite India's victory over England in the Test, the gap between the top two nations and the rest of the world could widen considerably. The launch of the Women's Championship for ODIs is attempt to bring some coherence and relevant to that format.
While the future Tests are in doubt, the ECB is maintaining its opposition to a privately run international T20 tournament before an official proposal has been completed.
The WICL, fronted by former Australian international Lisa Sthalekar, has flagged the idea of a twelve-day T20 tournament featuring the world's best players. But the ECB has said it will not release any players to the proposed competition, and Cricket Australia followed suit, although it appears CA is adopting a softer, 'wait and see' approach, while the proposal is still being prepared.
"I think both boards have been unsettled, maybe the ECB more," Connor said, "because since conversations started with WICL - I had a first conversation back in May 2013 - nothing materially has developed or has been established."
Cricket Australia has indicated its interest in holding a Women's Big Bash League in conjunction with the men's version but the ECB has no current plans to host any competition.
Connor said she understood that less well paid players from other countries could be disappointed the ECB will not support a competition that could see them significantly supplement their modest earnings.
"I do see that it's easy to sit in ECB offices and Cricket Australia offices and say 'Our players are fine, thanks'," she said. "But it would be better to have that kind of competition run by a full member if it can be achieved."