There has been a lot of speculation about what might or might not come out of the current review of the structure of women's cricket in England. It seems to be accepted that the current county structure is not "fit for purpose", and that there needs to be something with fewer teams, playing a better standard of cricket, between international cricket and the current county set-up. For want of a better phrase I have called this a "Super League". It also seems to be accepted that this level of cricket needs to be better financed and the players need to be paid for their commitment to it, as they are in state cricket in Australia.
Let's assume, just for a moment, that professional "franchise" cricket is going to be introduced in 2016, or sometime soon after, both for T20 and 50 over cricket. How is this going to be structured and how is it going to work?
The more I think about it the more complicated it gets. It is not just a question of throwing money at a few of the current counties and asking them to run the six or seven new franchise teams, who are going to play in the new Super League. Women's county cricket needs more than that. I hope the ECB will see that and perhaps look to appoint someone to oversee the whole project and make sure that the money that is going to be invested actually produces the results that the ECB are craving - better quality cricket, better players for England and a better product for paying spectators and television companies. Hopefully these are the aims, aren't they?
Currently women's county cricket is run by a handful of overworked and unpaid volunteers. All county cricket boards receive some funding direct from the ECB for women's cricket. But any money that is paid is paid to the county cricket board, who may, or may not, make it available to their women's cricket section. My understanding is that the ECB do pay towards some expenses - pitch hire, accommodation, staging of tournaments, etc. The rest of the expenditure needs to be covered by the county themselves - sponsors, fund-raising and players paying for their own kit, travel etc. The current annual budget for the running of a women's county team is probably less than £10,000.
If professional franchises are going to be introduced they need to be professionally run from the top down - ie they need a proper management structure with competent business/marketing/cricketing people at the helm. People who know women's cricket. It is NOT the same product as men's cricket, and to leave it in the hands of men's county executives and committees would be wrong. Women's franchises need proper coaches giving proper coaching and properly managing players and the games they play in. Women's cricket at the Super League level needs to be taken seriously and the women that play it need to take it seriously too. Izzy Westbury, in an article for the current issue of All Out Cricket, wrote about training in Australia - "Every training session and every match is tackled in the same way - with the same intensity, regardless of whether you are turning out for Australia, your state or your club". This does not happen in county cricket here in England. This attitude has to change and that will not happen if the current structure is not changed too.
Then, of course, the players need to be paid. In Australia each state is given $100,000 for the season (£50,000), from which they have to pay each of their players between $2,500 - $7,500, which would account for about half that sum. In addition CA also cover travel and accommodation expenses for the states. The state cricket associations still have to pay for balls, kit, pitch hire, umpires, scorers, training facilities etc.
The only players paid anything in England at the moment are the 18 contracted England players. There are apparently three different types of contract - tiers 1, 2 and 3 - but no-one knows how much any of the tiers are worth or who is on what tier. Speculation suggests £50,000 for tier 1 and about £20,000 for tier 3. The level below full-England contracts currently includes four players who were in the Winter training squad and 12 players in the England Academy. You would guess that for players at this level their "Super League" contracts might be worth at least £2,000 pa. It does not make them professional, or even semi-professional, but it does help with kit, travelling, physios etc.
So how should the ECB structure the new Super League? I have previously suggested seven regional teams - South East, South, South West, South Midlands, North Midlands, North West and North East, with England players and England Academy players evenly spread between the new franchises - an extended Super 4s structure if you like. The problem will be where do you base these teams for training and games? Will the ECB be able to convince the counties to allow them to use say, Chelmsford, Hove, Taunton, New Road, Grace Road, Old Trafford and Scarborough?
The temptation will be to award "franchises" to current "successful" county set-ups, but I am not sure that would produce the best results. I would much prefer that the ECB invited organisations to tender for the right to run an ECB franchise. Those who think they can do it would then have to say how they would run a new franchised team - management structure; marketing; grounds; costs; sponsorship. The current county set-ups will be in prime position to win these, but there are others who might want to throw their hat into the ring (universities for example), or perhaps join with existing counties to bring a new dynamic to the women's game. I also think it is important that the Super League teams are given their own, new identity - not Essex Eagles or Lancashire Lionesses, but Tesco Tigers, HSBC Hurricanes, B3 Devils etc.
And what then becomes of County Cricket, below the Super League? This MUST still be funded by the ECB to at least the current level of funding. It should continue in its current format, providing an opportunity for young and old county players to play at a level above club level. It should be seen as an important feeder for the Super League.
I doubt much more will be heard from the ECB until the end of this summer's Ashes series. But if England want to remain at the forefront of women's cricket then changes need to be made pretty soon, particularly with the Aussies getting the Women's Big Bash underway later this year. England Women cannot afford to be left behind as the England Men have been.