In what will serve as a boost for women's cricket in Pakistan, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has decided to offer central contracts to the members of its women's squad who won the gold medal in the inaugural women's cricket tournament at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in southern China in November. Pakistan beat Bangladesh by ten wickets in the final.

The PCB said it would issue 20 one-year contracts, divided in to four categories, from January 1, 2011, but haven't yet specified the amount of money involved. This is the first time that women cricketers will be awarded central contracts in Pakistan.

The board has also introduced match fees for the players; previously the team used to receive only a daily allowance for expenses and the only regular source of income for the players was through the jobs they held with the departments that have first-class cricket teams.

"The Women's wing had been trying for this and other such incentives for the players even under the leadership of my predecessor Shirin Javed," Bushra Aitzaz, the current chairperson, told Dawn. "But this time round the girls' recent gold-winning performance at the Asian games was enough to convince the PCB to take the step."

The move was welcomed by the team captain, Sana Mir. "It's a positive step from the PCB," Mir told AFP. "It (central contracts) was something badly missing and now the PCB has acknowledged that we can play the game professionally and this will spur us on for more achievements."

The women's team came under the control of the PCB in 2005 after much dispute with another body that had run the game since the mid-90s. There are currently around 600 women cricketers in Pakistan under the age of 19 and around 1,200 seniors. The PCB had introduced central contracts for the male cricketers in 2007.

Earlier this month the West Indies Cricket board (WICB) had awarded central retainer contracts to six of its women cricketers for the period October 2010 to September 2011.