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Australia's depth and success could herald more female contracts

Currently selectors can award a maximum of 15 deals but Australia's depth could support more

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Sophie Molineux was part of a superb Australia spin attack, Australia v New Zealand, 1st women's ODI, Brisbane, October 3, 2020

Sophie Molineux has lost her Cricket Australia contract  •  Getty Images and Cricket Australia

An increase in the number of central contracts for Australia's female players is likely to be a key discussion in the next round of pay deals.
Talks around the next Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) are ongoing with the women's game expected to be one of the areas to see improved terms amid considerable on-field success capped by the recent ODI World Cup triumph.
Currently the agreement between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association allows for up to 15 female contracts but such is the depth in the game that there is an increasingly strong argument for more - there can be up to 20 men's contracts awarded.
"When that MoU was agreed five years ago, [since then] the game has evolved a little bit more," national selector Shawn Flegler said as the deals for 2022-23 were announced. "It might be a point where there's more expanded contracts.
"We still don't have the same Future Tours Programme as the men, they still probably play more games and are on the road a bit more than us, whereas the girls get to play a bit more domestic cricket. I think there's a chance to review the contract system and have a look at what best suits our needs.
"It's always going to be tough to squeeze in [all the players], whether it's 15 or 18 or 20...the depth of the talent pool in Australia just keeps increasing, but certainly something to discuss for the next MoU, I'd imagine."
The female game was given a significant financial boost in the previous pay negotiations - which were often acrimonious at a time when the women's team was playing the 2017 ODI World Cup in England and had to sign temporary deals to stay employed - and last October there was a pay rise for domestic players.
The investment Cricket Australia has made in the women's game has been evident over the last few years with the national team sweeping all before them with the T20I and ODI World Cup titles, Ashes series victories and a world-record run of ODI wins, along with the growth of the now standalone WBBL. It all came together with victory over England last weekend as Meg Lanning's team completed their five-year mission of bouncing back from their semi-final exit five years ago.
"It's not just about the Australian cricket team, it's the Australian cricket system that's contributed to this win," Flegler said. "There's been commentary on the depth of Australian cricket and that doesn't happen automatically or easily, it's investment, commitment by a lot of people and we saw that cumulate in a great win on the weekend."
Further indication of that depth was shown by Sophie Molineux, the left-arm spinner who played all formats against India last year, missing out on a new contract following a period sidelined by injury.
Australia were able to go unbeaten through the World Cup without her, Georgia Wareham and Tayla Vlaeminck while they also dealt seamlessly with Ashleigh Gardner missing early matches due to Covid. Legspinner Alana King, who only made her debut in January, has become an integral part of the team and was their second-leading wicket-taker at the World Cup.
Flegler admitted the conversations with Molineux were "terribly difficult" but was confident she would be able to push for a return and even suggested the Commonwealth Games and tri-series in Ireland that precedes it were not out of reach despite the loss of her CA deal. He explained that Wareham (ACL) and Vlaeminck (foot) retained their contracts because it was felt their recovery from long-term injuries needed more support.
"Soph has been a really important part of this team for a few years now. We've got 15 contracts to work with and we talk about the depth of Australian cricket, it's very hard to fit everyone in," he said. "Soph is a world-class bowler and we are very keen to see her back involved. It was a tough call to make."
"We've got world-class players sitting on the bench. You only have to look at the players on the bench in the World Cup final who could be playing for any other team around the world. We've got this sweet spot of world-class performers having success and we have this next level coming through pushing for spots. That keeps pushing performances up and up which is nice to have but it's a challenge from a selection point of view."
Flegler also followed up Matthew Mott's comments about expanding the Australia A programme saying he was hopeful of more matches for the second team and that there would be another concurrent tour during the 2023 Ashes in England. There had been plans for Australia vs Australia A matches ahead of leaving for the Commonwealth Games but those have been shelved with the senior side now taking part in the tri-series in Ireland.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo