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Why Tash Farrant's recall is a landmark moment for English women's cricket

Seamer's return demonstrates improved pathway between domestic and international cricket

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Tash Farrant is back in the England squad, two years after losing her central contract  •  Getty Images

Tash Farrant is back in the England squad, two years after losing her central contract  •  Getty Images

Life has not always been easy for those on the fringes of the England women's set-up. The introduction of central contracts in 2014 heralded a new era of professionalism, but the lack of a full-time domestic structure to fall back on has led to some brutal conversations when players have been told that their deals will not be renewed.
After a three-month grace period, with support from the ECB and the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA), those who have been released have been left to their own devices, with the choice of attempting to force their way back in through the amateur county system and, between 2016 and 2019, performances in the semi-pro Kia Super League, or leaving the game altogether. Twelve weeks after being international athletes, such players were paying match fees to represent their counties.
In that context, the introduction of 41 new professional contracts in October and the overhaul of the women's domestic structure in England and Wales were hugely significant events. Beth Langston, Tash Farrant and Alex Hartley - the three players to have lost central contracts in the past two years - are all now professionals again after several months out of the game, and have the platform to showcase their ability and press for England selection.
In Farrant's case, her return to international colours has come sooner than even she had expected. Upon her omission from the central contracts list in early 2019, Mark Robinson - England's head coach at the time - said that "sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind" and admitted that Farrant was in an "unfortunate place" with her career at a crossroads.
Two years later, she is with the England squad in New Zealand on the back of an impressive Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy season, and is pushing for a spot in the first ODI on Tuesday. Remarkably for a player who spent so long around the squad, it would be only her second cap in the format, more than seven years after she won her first as a 17-year-old.
"When I lost my contract it was a bit like if you lost your contract then it was very hard to get back into the team," Farrant said from her hotel room in Queenstown. "So initially, I wasn't that positive on whether I'd be able to get back into the squad. But I think I knew within myself, deep down, even if I didn't want to tell myself it, that I had some unfinished business in an England shirt.
"It was massively disappointing. Obviously I loved playing for England, being in the squad and in the team. For me, it was the fact that there wasn't really much to fall back on, so it did feel sort of a bit like it was the end of the world at the time. I won't lie: I was very disappointed."
But Farrant picked herself up and dusted herself down, finding a job as head of girls' cricket at Trent College in Nottingham with some assistance from the former England batter Lydia Greenway. As well as coaching pupils herself, she was able to work closely with her colleague Scott Boswell - the former Leicestershire seamer, regrettably best known for suffering the yips in the 2001 C&G final - to help her make improvements in her own bowling, and she is said to have put on half a yard of pace over the last two years.
The result is that she finds herself pushing for inclusion in Tuesday's first ODI, battling with Kate Cross and Freya Davies for two spots alongside Katherine Brunt in the seam attack. If she does play, it will be a landmark moment, marking out the pathway from English domestic cricket to the international game.
"When [the squad] was announced, I got some really lovely message from people like Alex Hartley, Beth Langston and Hollie Armitage," Farrant said. "It gave people a bit of hope that even if they have been in a set-up and they're now out of it… they know if they're performing well in the Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the Hundred, which is on the big stage, they are putting their name in the hat.
"If you are performing now at the domestic level, you are likely to put yourself in the ring for an England call-up. It did feel quite significant. It's a marker that if you can perform at domestic level, then you can really push for an England spot and make the competition harder for the people in and around [the squad]."
Players whose involvement with the England set-up has been less frequent also have the chance to press their cases. Heather Knight, England's captain, has mentioned her Western Storm team-mate Sophie Luff in dispatches on several occasions, while Georgia Adams - the leading run-scorer in the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - would have been a decent bet for inclusion on the New Zealand tour but for a shoulder injury.
"The fact that Tash has worked so hard and those domestic contracts are in place has meant she's been training [in the winter] when she potentially wouldn't have done in previous years," Knight said last month. "It's just brilliant that if somebody does lose their contract, they can go back into that system. It's a great example and it's only going to help things in the future.
"It's been quite hard for some players because there hasn't been a huge amount of cricket, but next summer if we have that full domestic season it gives those players a real chance to push their case and knock the door down."
And Knight will hope that the prospect of facing added competition from those outside the squad raises standards within her side. "It's really healthy for us as an England side," she said. "Sometimes that pressure from outside can bring out the best in the players that are in the team, so hopefully that is what happens."
Australia have set the gold standard in recent years, bringing through players like Beth Mooney, Sophie Molineux, Ash Gardner and Georgia Wareham on the back of their impressive performances in the WNCL and the WBBL. In the meantime, England's core has remained largely constant, particularly with the bat: their most recent ODI debutant who has gone on to score even 100 career runs in the format was Lauren Winfield-Hill in 2013, who is now 30.
In that context, it is clear why Farrant's recall is significant not only for her, but for the English women's game. England are still playing catch-up with Australia, but at their journey towards parity is now much clearer.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98