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Belinda Clark believes that the limited-overs formats should remain the primary vehicle for the expansion of women's cricket, and switching the focus to Tests may not reap the desired results "until such time as we've got 10-15 nations that are playing high-quality T20 and then 50-over cricket".
"I think the focus for the women's game needs to continue on the shorter formats: T20 and 50-over [cricket]," Clark, the former Australia captain and till recently head of Cricket Australia's community cricket department, said at Monday's launch of ICC's 100% Cricket - Future Leaders Programme. "And I say that because if our objective is to spread the game globally and grow depth in the teams that are competing internationally, you do need a focus and that focus needs to be directed at certain formats.
"Otherwise what will happen is everyone will spend a little bit of money on everything and nothing actually will change."
At its recent cricket committee meeting, the ICC board decided that Test and ODI status would be given to women's teams of all Full Member countries. But despite having long been Full Members, Zimbabwe, who until the ICC's announcement only had T20I status, and Bangladesh, are yet to play Tests. Therefore, what the elevation to Test status for Full Member women's sides effectively means in practice remains unclear, especially considering that only Australia and England have played Test cricket in the last six years. That apart, only South Africa and India have been part of the longest format since 2007.
"I think the success we've seen in the last five years has really come from that focus in the shorter formats, and I'd be hesitant to move away from that until such time as we've got 10-15 nations that are playing high-quality T20 and then 50-over cricket," Clark, the first ODI double-centurion in the sport, said. "It's just a personal view, but I think we've seen great success in this strategy and I think it's too soon to move away from it."
India, who last played the longest format in 2014, are due to tour England in June-July this year for a multi-format assignment that will feature a one-off Test in Bristol. Alongside prominent Indian players such as Jhulan Goswami and Smriti Mandhana, England captain Heather Knight had welcomed the fixture, stressing the need to "keep Test cricket going in the women's game".
Steve Elworthy, the ECB's managing director for events and special projects, echoed Clark's thoughts, saying that it was imperative for all stakeholders to not lose perspective of how women's cricket has grown in recent years against the backdrop of each format.
"I think the focus is absolutely correct as Belinda is saying," Elworthy said. "I know that there is a Test match happening this year between India and England in terms of the series that we've got being played. But I think your [Clark's] point is spot on. There will be a point in time when all of these things, where that focus could potentially move. But I think getting a real grip on the sport, [as per] where it currently is in a particular format, is quite key."
Former West Indies bowler Ian Bishop, now a cricket broadcaster, said he was hopeful that the sport, over time, would take cognizance of its female practitioners' appetite for more opportunities to play Test cricket.
"It's quite correct in particularly phrasing it that, at the moment, the focus is where it needs to be most," Bishop said. "But I do know several young women who yearn to play a Test match, because some of them see Test-match cricket as the epitome.
"Unfortunately, they've come up in a time where the women don't play Test match cricket in most of the nations. So, hopefully down the road, we move to fulfil the dreams and the ambitions of a certain section of very talented women cricketers. So, I hope it's a continuous journey that won't just stop at T20 or white-ball cricket."