Before the inaugural KSL T20 competition had even finished the ECB had issued a Press Release declaring the competition to have been a great success. Not many would argue with that, although there are a few wrinkles that could do with being ironed out - the main one being making the competition longer. The Press Release also linked to a page on the ECB website where Clare Connor answered some questions about the competition (click here to read). At the end of that piece Connor explains what is going to happen next year...
"Next summer the Kia Super League will expand to include a 50-over league competition with the six teams playing each other once either at home or away, and the teams finishing in second and third playing-off to take on the top team in a final. The 50-over KSL will be played prior to the ICC Women’s World Cup, followed by the KSL T20 competition, which will be the same format as this year and played in a block alongside the men’s NatWest T20 Blast in August."
(since removed from the piece)
It has always been Connor's ambition to extend the competition to the 50 over format, ostensibly, it seems, so that the England players have some good quality warm-up games before the World Cup, which is being staged here in England between 26th June - 23rd July. A laudable ambition, but will it work?
There are a lot of hurdles that it will need to overcome :-
a) Will the overseas players want to come and play in England in May/June? Will Cricket Australia for example want Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning in England while the rest of their squad are together in a pre-World Cup training camp? For that matter will any other country want this?
b) Without some, or all, of the overseas players will the standard even be as high as county cricket? Twenty four of the 72 English players in the KSL squads currently play their county cricket (if any) outside of Division One of the County Championship.
c) The games will have to be played in May and early June. This is exam time for any young English players at university or school.
d) It has been mooted that the games might be played on Wednesdays to avoid clashing with the Women's County Championship, but this would mean negligible crowds, and clashes with university and school cricket matches.
There are already plans to reduce the number of teams in Division One of the County Championship in 2017 from nine to eight, why not only promote one team from Division Two and make this seven teams? If funded properly (so that it becomes semi-professional), and if the current six Division Two players could be accommodated in those teams, the standard would be just as high if not higher. Why not make this the focus for 50 over cricket in England?
It was interesting to hear Charlotte Edwards confirm that the KSL overseas players had been impressed by the standard of the county girls that have taken part in the KSL. The standard of county cricket is not as poor as many people would have you believe. In the recent Girls of Summer book by David Tossell, Edwards said of county cricket - "When the girls score runs in county cricket, what value is that?...If they score a hundred, well you should score a hundred. If not, why not?" Edward's scores in county cricket this year have been 79, 1, 30*, 18, 34, and 2. Tammy Beaumont, who is the leading run-scorer, has scores of 72, 49, 20, 20*, 53 and 47. She scored far more runs against Pakistan. Indeed no player has scored a century in Division One this year so far. Surely this says something about the standard of bowling in the County Championship?
The KSL T20 competition works, as it is a concentrated hit of the shortest form of the game, which attracts foreign players, spectators, and, no doubt, ultimately, television coverage and therefore money. This will not be the case for franchised 50 over cricket. This will be a massive drain on the stretched resources of the current KSL franchisees.
The integrity and standard of county cricket needs to be maintained. Counties need to be encouraged to develop their local players through age-group cricket and have the pinnacle of that to play county cricket in Division One of the slimmed down County Championship. Counties who are not in Division One will need to be rewarded for players they produce who go on to play at this semi-professional level (Division One), and then KSL and then for England. If senior county cricket withers and dies, as no KSL players have the inclination/energy to play in county matches, then far from bridging the gap between county cricket and international cricket, that gap will just have become even greater.
I may be wrong? I frequently am. But is extending the KSL to 50 over cricket really the best way forward, in the long term, for English women's cricket?