New women's contracts in pipeline as ECB expands professional reach
"Teething problems" addressed by board after momentous year for women's game
The ECB is set to award a new batch of domestic regional contracts for women's cricketers.
Forty-one domestic players
signed deals last year, hailed at the time as "the most significant step forward for the women's game in recent years" by Clare Connor
, the ECB's director of women's cricket, and ESPNcricinfo understands that the ECB will fund one further contract at each of the eight regional centres for 2021-22, with confirmation expected later this week.
The announcement will round off a breakthrough summer for women's cricket in England and Wales, which was the first full season of the new regional structure. There were unprecedented attendances at domestic fixtures in the Hundred - which had been due to launch in 2020 but was postponed by a year due to Covid-19 - while the England team edged out India in their multi-format series and beat New Zealand in both the T20I and ODI legs of their tour.
"From November 1 we'll have nearly half the players involved in those competitions [the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and Charlotte Edwards Cup] on pro contracts," Connor told ESPNcricinfo. "You add in the value of the Hundred contracts as well, and in terms of professional status for female players, we've really shifted over the last couple of years.
"We've got to keep building that and investing in it, but the eight regions have done a tremendous job over year one or the first 18 months, and got lots of those players really ready for the Hundred. By it being postponed, lots of the players had already had a year in their regional setups and they were really ready to go."
The ECB has been working with the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) in recent weeks to solve some of the "teething problems" identified by players in the first year of their new contracts. The PCA submitted a paper to the ECB based on feedback from players earlier in the summer and the issues have been discussed and worked through.
"There's certainly been teething problems with the way the new structure has been implemented," Daryl Mitchell, the PCA's director of cricket operations, told ESPNcricinfo last month. "Probably the No. 1 priority has actually been getting a bit more structure and consistency around facilities.
"If we can get to a place where teams have one training base, one playing base, and continuity of training schedules from week to week with plenty of notice, then I think that will alleviate a lot of the problems that we've found around things like expenses, not knowing where to live because you're using three different venues for training - particularly within London - and also having a consistent structure to allow players to do other things outside of cricketing commitments, like coaching or other interests for example, in terms of earning more cash over the winters in particular.
"The women's executive team at the ECB and the PCA are very much on the same page on a lot of it, trying to improve that experience for a professional in the women's game. We've had some very positive discussions as to how we can improve things, certainly with regards structure and facilities which are the No. 1 priority."
Connor added: "Whenever you do something new, and quite significant, you would be foolish to not expect a few bumps in the road or teething problems, but those have been mostly ironed out, I think, with things like expenses policies and equality principles with men's contracts, and we're working really closely with the PCA on all of that.
"I'm really pleased with how it's all going, and there's nothing that can't be overcome in term of those little bumps in the road, and the players are thriving so that's ultimately what we care about."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98