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Australia A-England A series to run alongside Women's Ashes

There has been a push to expand the WNCL but the tournament will remain 29 games for next season

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Queensland won the WNCL for the first time in the 2020-21 season  •  Mike Owen/Getty Images

Queensland won the WNCL for the first time in the 2020-21 season  •  Mike Owen/Getty Images

Female state cricketers will have to wait for an expansion to their domestic playing schedule although those on the fringes of national selection will have more opportunity in the coming season with an Australia A-England A limited-overs series set to run alongside the Women's Ashes.
Last season, the Women's National Cricket League (WNCL) was the only state competition to run in full despite plenty of disruption due to the pandemic with the 29-match tournament played between late January and late March as it navigated various border closures and restrictions.
However, there has been a push to increase the tournament to a full home-and-away campaign to provide more than eight days of state cricket in a season.
The 2021-22 WNCL season, which will be announced on Wednesday along with the other domestic and tour match schedules, is set to start in late September - at the time Australia are playing India - and consist of four blocks of fixtures through early October, December, January and February with the WBBL played in the October-November window.
The January block of matches will provide preparation for the Ashes which will begin later that month. While that is being competed for, there will be three T20s and three one-dayers between the second XIs of both nations.
Among those calling for more domestic cricket last season was New South Wales allrounder Sammy-Jo Johnson who is one of the players pushing for higher honours and would likely feature in an Australia A side.
"You can't pick an Australian team without this tournament," she said in February. "The Big Bash is the shopfront window there, but the hard work goes on back at your states where these girls bust their backsides for months at a time to play only eight games of cricket.
"Credit to CA and the ACA for extending that because it was only six, but I'm hoping we can get a full home-and-away season at some point where we're playing 12-plus games in a summer."
Peter Roach, Cricket Australia's head of cricket operations, said there were a number of factors to consider before expanding the tournament.
"It's a combination of age-group, A-tours and camps to make sure they are playing the right cricket at the right time," he told ESPNcricinfo. "The women's game is probably still going through that transition of how much cricket they play. We have an undefined FTP at the moment in the women's space so we are working through that to try and get some consistent windows in international cricket. Then over time I'm sure we'll settle on a more consistent schedule. Will that look like eight WNCL games? Can't answer that, but we are continually assessing it."
One of the other key debates in the women's game at the moment is how to provide a better support structure to prepare for Test cricket if that format is to have a sustained place in the calendar. England and India resumed Tests last month and both teams will play Australia during the upcoming season.
Roach said that "anything is possible" with regards to there being multi-day cricket at domestic level but also believes that preparing for a format does not have to solely be based on the level below.
"What is worth pointing out is that there's a lot of different ways to prepare players for international cricket," he said. "We understand Test cricket is a passion for them which is great and we'd be disappointed if it wasn't. The players' association is working through that with us at the moment to say what's the best way to structure our domestic cricket in the future. We often default to answer of it being more, but there's different ways of finding the right solution."
Meg Lanning has said how she hopes the squad will be able to organise some long-form preparation ahead of the pink-ball Test against India in Perth which starts in late September. India will have a one-day warm-up match before the start of the ODI series which begins their tour.
As previously reported, on the men's domestic scene there will be six rounds of the Sheffield Shield before the BBL with five before the Afghanistan Test. There will also be an Australia A-England Lions match running concurrently with the first men's Ashes Test.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo