As I am sitting here trying to put together a preview of Division One of the Women's County Championship upcoming season I am struck by the fact that the girls play so little cricket.
The County Championship is the best level of cricket that most of the girls get to play at (in fact once they are 18 it is the only level) and it is where they need to hone their skills as cricketers and learn the subtle nuances of the game. Club cricket purely for women and girl's teams is at a very basic level. There are very few clubs (although I accept the numbers are increasing) and just not enough players to make teams that are competitive. In fact quite often there are not enough to make a team at all. Many club games are called off when one side cannot get a team together. True some girls will play in men's teams, but these are very much the exception. There is still a huge amount of prejudice against women playing for men's teams. The attitude in larger clubs seems to be that they are not going to make it to the 1st XI and therefore clubs are wasting their resources in investing time and effort in a girl, who will only play 2nd or 3rd XI cricket at best. None of them will admit this to your face of course, but it happens.
There are nine teams in Division One of the Championship this year and they will each play each other just once during the forthcoming season - just eight fifty over games, if the weather is kind to them. I know the weather last year was atrocious, but Essex managed to get to the final of the competition (I am not sure why a league needs a final, but more on that later) playing just two games throughout the entire season. Sussex, who played and won five games did not make it to the final as their average points per game - the way the standings are decided - was lower than Essex's, who had scored maximum bonus points in each of their two victories.
I would like to see the girls play each other home and away during the season. That would be 16 matches. That in my view would be a true county championship and there would be no need for a final. Whoever finishes at the top of the league after 16 matches will deserve to be called the champions. I would also like to see the points system changed to move away from an average number of points per game system, which is not used anywhere in the men's game that I can see. Straight win and tie points, plus bonus points. No points if you don't play. Average points encourages teams to play lesser opposition and not to play games they may lose or get fewer bonus points in. Teams have to be encouraged to play.
The major argument against extending the number of fixtures will probably be cost - pitch hire, umpires, travelling, etc. My response would be that the counties and the ECB simply have to find the money. Perhaps it is also time to scrap the Super 4s tournament as well and use the money elsewhere? The England, England Academy and England U19s players (who make up the bulk of the Super 4s players) should have their own extended international fixtures at the appropriate level, rather than taking another three weekends out of the Championship cricketing calendar.
Another argument is that it would not fit in with the England players who have a home series to play in each summer. Currently the Championship stops while this takes place - for example there are no County Championship games after 14th July this year (except the final!) because the Australians are here in August playing England in three ODI, three T20s and the one and only Test Match that the women now play. In my view this is detrimental to the development of all the other players below England level. The Championship should continue and the counties that rely heavily on international players, for example Kent (5) and Sussex (4), would have to find players to replace those that they lose on England duty. It would also actually even the Championship out more - Kent and Sussex have contested every final for the past 10 years, with the exception of last year when Essex made the most of the bad weather.
There is no doubt that the technical skill levels of women cricketers is getting better and better each year, but they now need to play as much competitive cricket as they can, at a decent level, to improve their game play and their mental toughness. Arguably England may have won both the games they lost narrowly at the World Cup with a bit more game time behind them. Come on ECB let's give the girls more cricket!