Charlotte Edwards and her England side have made history after the ECB unveiled the eight players who will receive the first women's contracts. Edwards is one of five players to opt for full-time contracts, alongside Ebony Rainford-Brent, Katherine Brunt, Rosalie Birch and the uncapped Danielle Hazell who is part of the Durham Academy.
Lydia Greenway, Jenny Gunn and Nicky Shaw are on part-time contracts at their own request. Greenway and Gunn want to spend the off-season playing in Australia, while Shaw is already involved on an elite coaching scheme, as assistant coach at Loughborough UCCE. Having an ECB contract, however, will help her develop her own game and stretch her capabilities.
The deals are not, as has been reported elsewhere, central contracts. The work they will undertake is for the ECB and The Cricket Foundation with Chance to Shine, as ambassadors and coaches or, in the case of Birch, with some PR work thrown in.
Those on full-time deals will work 25 hours a week over eight months (to allow for touring), the part-time deals are 25 hours a week over four months. The pro rata salary was originally thought to be around £40000 but the ECB has clarified that this isn't the case and although they could not disclose the sum, they confirmed they were not worth that much. Cricinfo are happy to update this information.
The contracts have been designed around the players and offer flexibility, which is rarely the case in other jobs players undertake. This way the players can maximise their development of their own game, with one or two days a week put aside to concentrate on training, while ensuring them a steady income. Technically the women are not professional players which means their athlete funding, from Sport England (formerly Lottery funding) can continue.
The move made sense: the women get secure and most importantly flexible work, while the ECB and Chance to Shine fulfil some much-needed job requirements with reliable, enthusiastic and highly talented women. As the Chance to Shine initiative has grown bigger, with 44% of the school participants girls, ambassadors and coaches were needed.
Wasim Khan, operations director for Chance to Shine, said: "We are delighted to have secured the coaching services of the England women who will be a real asset to the programme. Last year saw 43,000 girls participating in the scheme and with the involvement of the England women, we'll have every opportunity to build on this success."
More England players can be added to the scheme, given that the ECB ringfenced enough money to fund ten full-time contracts for five years. With five full-time contracts and three part-time deals given out Clare Connor, the new ECB executive director for women's cricket, notes there is "a significant cushion."
One nameless player was declined a spot, but only on the basis of her lack of coaching experience. She is being supported and will have plenty of opportunity to reapply in the future.
The idea to get the England players on board for Chance to Shine came about in conversation between Connor and Mike Gatting, who was appointed into an ECB role last year. "We identified there were two needs," said Connor. "How to support the England girls and how to cater for the explosion of interest in the game. He took it to the board, the money was approved. He's been a really big supporter of it, he talks about it wherever he goes."
Now is the time for action.
* * * *
The new contracts have given England a massive advantage not all top countries enjoy. Their players can now concentrate on their game without having to worry about securing, and most importantly retaining, work.
Players from Australia and New Zealand, for example, have lost their jobs as employers understandably grew frustrated with their increasing need to have time off work as the international calendar grows. With the new contracts, the England players can work around their training and playing demands, a groundbreakingly flexible initiative that may prompt other countries to follow suit.
"It's a considerable investment on the ECB's part," said Connor. She was called upon to explain the initiative at an ICC meeting with other women's representatives in South Africa in March. "It's possibly something that Cricket Australia may look to implement,"said Connor. "I don't know if it puts pressure on them. I suppose it might make other players feel that we're forging ahead."
Connor suggests that the knock-on effects may not just inspire other cricket teams across the globe, but also could be used as a blueprint for other national women's teams sports in England. "It is an innovative idea and it's something that I know England women's rugby players would like to do something similar for their players. I'm proud that the ECB is pioneering something like this for women's teams sports which don't necessarily get injections of cash."