The Women's County Championship season (labelled slightly less inaccurately this year as the Royal London One Day Championship - it was apparently a Cup last year!) starts on 3rd May. With just eight games to play the championship could almost be decided by the end of May, by which time most teams will have played four of those games.
With the prospect of a Women's Super League and new franchises apparently looming for 2016, it has been interesting to see how the teams have set themselves up for the season ahead.
Six weeks ago I asked all the Division One and Two counties if they could let me have some basic details about their squads for 2015. First to respond were Middlesex with their full squad, closely followed by Scotland, who duly confirmed their squad and the fact that they are playing in blue "with a wee bit of tartan" (my favourite kit description ever!). Berkshire gave me their full squad with numbers the next day and Essex gave me their squad, and details of their early April Press Day. Notts gave me some details by twitter. Sussex and Devon gave me their squads, numbers and some blurb a few days later. Next to arrive was the Yorkshire squad, closely followed by Worcestershire's with plenty of detail. Lancs was the last to hit my laptop, before it was time to publish my Div 1 preview - No information had been supplied by Kent, Surrey or Warwickshire.
I published the Div 2 preview a week later, by which time I had also heard from Ireland, Somerset and Staffs. No info had been received from Durham or Wales.
To date the Previews have been read over 1,200 times, which shows there is interest out there in women's county cricket.
Four counties in Divs 1 and 2 held joint Press Days with their men's teams - Middlesex, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Essex, although I am not sure that any of those interested in women's cricket were actually invited to any of them. Some good photos were posted on twitter of the days, although Middlesex's gloat of "Our pavilion is better than yours", referring of course to Lords, rang rather hollow as they have never played there and are extremely unlikely to ever do so. But, beyond twitter, media coverage was sparse, to say the least. I appreciate that it is early days and that the Women's County Championship does not have the gravitas of the Men's, but I had hoped for more.
Of all the counties it does seem that Lancashire lead the pack - off the field, at least. They are new to Div 1 this year, but they have made the most of their promotion with...well...self-promotion. They have received good local media coverage and have made others aware of this through good use of social media. They have also taken the novel step of calling themselves the Lancashire Thunder. Their press release, which I found on their website, was full of effusive claims for the new nickname. It will apparently "increase media coverage of the game, make the game attractive to new players and retain players within women's cricket." Woah!! Whether it will do any of these things is debatable, but what it does do is remove the word "Women" from the description of the Lancashire team. It shouldn't, but somehow the use of the word "women" in a sporting context, suggests "inferior to men's". Women's cricket is not inferior to men's. It is a different product, with different skills and different nuances.
It is for this very reason that I have never been a fan of double-header T20s with men's teams. Women's T20 cricket has all the subtlety that the men's game does not. In my eyes it is actually a better pure cricket product than men's T20, but that is not what attracts people to watch men's T20 cricket. They ignore women's T20 in their droves when it is played before men's games. The last T20 World Cup in Bangladesh proved the point. Crowds of upwards of 9,000 turned up to the group games played exclusively in Sylhet, but when the semi-finals and the finals were played before the men's games in Mirpur, the ground was almost empty. Sylhet, and indeed Chelmsford (where they get crowds of up to 5,000 to watch England Women play T20) have proved that there is a market for women's T20 cricket, but it is NOT the same market as for the men's T20.
But I digress. The point is that no-one is quite sure how women's cricket is going to pan out over the next few years. All that you can say is that it has come a long way in the past five years and if you were an entrepreneur or a betting man you wouldn't mind investing a few bob in women's cricket going a lot further in the next few years. Suddenly the marketing guys at county cricket clubs are waking up to this fact and to the fact that they need to start getting their ducks in a row. The winners will be those that take the time, and make the effort, to understand women's cricket and how best to market it. At the moment Lancs appear to be leading the field.