The ECB's plans to professionalise the domestic level of women's cricket have been stepped up with the announcement of 25 Regional Retainers, in spite of the complications caused by the Covid-19 lockdown.
The recipients are split across the eight regions of the women's game, and represent the first tranche of professional contracts at domestic level, with the ECB still intending to upgrade these players, and 15 further names, to full-time contracts before the end of the year.
"In what has been a challenging year for the whole game, it is pleasing to be able to support 25 women's domestic cricketers by offering them Regional Retainers," said Clare Connor, the ECB's director of women's cricket.
"In doing so, we are taking another step towards contracting our first cohort of full-time, professional players in the women's domestic game.
"We know that in order for the women's game to continue to grow, we need a strong and thriving domestic set-up to enable more women to be able to make a living from the game.
"Girls need to see visible role models and to know that a talent and performance system exists for them to fulfil their potential. I'm excited to see how these players progress with greater support over the next couple of years - it's another significant step forward for our sport."
The 25 players include five England women's rookies - Linsey Smith, Emma Lamb, Alice Davidson-Richards, Sophia Dunkley and Bryony Smith - and the rising star Issy Wong, all of whom were part of a 24-strong group who returned to individual training earlier this week with a view to taking part in a delayed England itinerary against India and South Africa in September.
The players on the retainer will adhere to strength and conditioning programmes and undertake certain online modules including anti-corruption and anti-doping education. They will also give some of their time for "good of the game" activities and appearances.
The recruitment process was driven by the eight regions and their respective Regional Directors of Women's Cricket. Once the 40 full-time contracts are awarded, the players will be split evenly across the eight regions with five professional players at each region.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo earlier this week, the PCA chairman Daryl Mitchell welcomed the ECB's commitments to the retainers scheme, especially given the extent to which the women's game has borne the brunt of the lockdown, with the bulk of the board's efforts so far this season being devoted to protecting the more financially critical men's game.
"Credit to the ECB - they've put 24 [players on] retainers to try and help those people out," said Mitchell. "There's a little bit lacking for a lot of players financially, not playing in the Hundred as well, so it's been tough for some of those players on the fringes who would have expected to become a full-time pro this year.
"But I think there's light at the end of the tunnel with those contracts being awarded at some point in the near future. As chairman, I'm looking forward to being able to welcome 40 women into the PCA as professional members."
Regional Retainers

North East Hollie Armitage, Beth Langston, Linsey Smith (EW Rookie)
North West Georgie Boyce, Alex Hartley, Emma Lamb (EW Rookie), Ellie Threlkeld
West Midlands Eve Jones, Marie Kelly, Issy Wong
East Midlands Kathryn Bryce, Sarah Bryce
South West and Wales Dani Gibson, Sophie Luff, Fi Morris
South Central Georgia Adams, Tara Norris, Paige Scholfield
London and South East Alice Davidson-Richards (EW Rookie), Sophia Dunkley (EW Rookie), Tash Farrant, Bryony Smith (EW Rookie)
London and East Amara Carr, Naomi Dattani, Cordelia Griffith