Katherine Brunt on Women's Hundred pay row: 'Equality doesn't happen overnight'
Senior seamer recalls days of paying to play as she hails progress of women's game
Katherine Brunt, the longest-serving member of the England women's squad, has warned her peers not to lose sight of the huge progress made by their game, after a gender pay row threatened to overshadow Wednesday's standalone opening fixture of the Hundred.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, several of the more junior members of each of the Hundred's eight city-based teams risk losing out on regular income for the duration of the tournament, due to heightened restrictions within the teams' Covid-safe environments.
With salaries for the women's game starting at £3,600, compared to the lowest men's pay bracket of £24,000, this means that some of the participants may be required to choose between the tournament or their existing jobs.
However, Brunt - who made her Test debut as a 19-year-old in 2004, and went on to become of the ECB's first centrally contracted female players a decade later - insisted that the women needed to remain mindful of the bigger picture, adding that the struggle for equality is never a smooth process, but that the prospects for their sport were better now than at any time in her career.
"I used to pay to play," Brunt said. "I used to only get expenses for a good eight years of my international career. So when you look at it from that standpoint, with more women in cricket being paid than ever before, then we're doing pretty well. We're doing very well.
"The wages aren't anything to turn your nose up at," she added. "They're good. Yes, they could definitely be better. And there's gaps in it. That happens all the time in every different field, but it's definitely going to get better. This isn't going to go the other way, this is only going to go up."
A record 41 female players across the English game now hold professional contracts, and while Brunt said she sympathised with those players on the fringes who aren't yet financially secure within cricket, she also recognised the responsibility of the Hundred's female competitors to live up to the billing that this competition now offers them, and to set about proving their worth "time and time and time again".
"I do feel for those girls but it is a good chunk of change for one month's work that they would never have seen before," she said. "You'd only ever dream about it, to be honest, so you have to look at it from that angle too.
"We've been fighting for equality for hundreds of years," Brunt added. "These things don't happen overnight. And as long as the conversation keeps going, that's all you can ask for. It's when you keep quiet and don't say anything that things don't move forward, so I think it's great that the girls are speaking out and they're brave enough to do that but, equally, sometimes the positive message gets lost in that.
"Regardless of all the other things that are flying around, the important thing is that we are being paid. Yes, we are a way off the men, but that's because the men bring in more crowds, they bring in more money. They bring in more press around the world. You can't get people like Andre Russell and Rashid Khan over here to play unless you make it worth their while.
"But once we start playing these games, and we get this year in the bag, and we show that we can play these games alongside the men, then they will invest in us even more. But we need to keep proving this time and time and time again, but not forget that positive message which is that we're all being paid for once, and more than ever before.
"I'm only going to bang on about the positives because I'm here to play the Hundred and get on with this, and do the best I can for my team."
Brunt's opening match for Trent Rockets comes on Saturday when they take on Southern Brave at Trent Bridge, a venue that she has never played at in the entirety of her two-decade career. While she admitted to a degree of trepidation about bowling at a venue where England and Pakistan racked up 433 runs between them in last week's men's T20I, she also admitted that the chance to share equal billing with the men's team would fill her with pride.
"It's going to be great," Brunt said. "It's my first time ever at Trent Bridge, which is unbelievable, but it's a brilliant ground, with lovely facilities. The boys are here at the same time as us. I'm watching Rash [Rashid Khan] bowl now, and it gives you the feeling that you're part of something bigger - part of one team, and not just a spare part, or a sidepiece. You're 'it'. You're the ones that people are coming to watch and be entertained by. And that's brilliant, we're all really excited."
However, she added a note of caution to the anticipation, warning that the complications of the tournament's build-up, as well as the fast-tracked nature of many of the newer players in the squad, meant that the standards in the opening rounds may need to be given some leeway.
"We really don't want to mess up, but it's going to be carnage," Brunt said. "People are going to have to be patient. We will get better, I promise you, but as of this point, tomorrow's the first game and today I've still got four names to learn. It's a quick turnaround, but we'll get there."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket