The New South Wales Breakers, an Australian state cricket team, have announced that all their players will now earn the minimum wage in Australia of $35,000 (about £21,000) for playing in the Women's National Cricket League (WNCL) - Australia's state 50 over tournament. This appears to cover the entire 2016/2017 season, but that includes just six league games from 13th October until a possible seventh with the final on 3rd December.
The Breakers are the first women's state team to make this step up from being part-time players to being full-time professionals, thanks to increased sponsorship from Lendlease.
Since 2013 domestic players in Australia have been paid something to play for their state by Cricket Australia. Initially this was up to $7,000 out of a $100,000 allocation of funds from CA. In 2015 $7,000 became the minimum, and in 2016 this increased to a minimum of $11,000. With the additional money from Lendlease, NSW can now offer their domestic players the chance to be full-time professionals on a living wage.
In addition domestic players can also earn between $7,000 and $15,000 for playing in the WBBL, while Southern Stars contracted players are paid an additional $40,000 - $65,000. It means that top international players will now be earning over $100,000 from their cricket alone. NSW Breakers players who are not on Southern Stars's contracts, but do play in the WBBL will be earning between $42,000 and $50,000 per season. It seems inconceivable that the other five states and ACT will not follow NSW's example over the coming months, making the WNCL the first all professional women's 50 over league. That may not be this year, but almost certainly in 2017.
Compare this to the current situation in England where 19 players were awarded ECB central contracts at the end of January 2016. Two have subsequently retired from international cricket, Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway, leaving just 17 contracted players. The ECB have never disclosed what these contracts are worth, but somewhere between £25,000 - £50,000 seems to be the general consensus. But beyond this elite group none of the other girls that play the game were paid, until the inaugural Kia Super League this season, when those who actually played a game (about 35 non-contracted players) were paid £150 per game, and, if they made the final, the squad players all shared in the prizemoney. The maximum any player was paid for the KSL was about £2,500. Those who played in all five league games will have received £750.
The ECB have declined to follow the Aussies and have not put sufficient funds into women's county cricket to make this a semi-professional stepping stone to international cricket. There is no semi-professional league where players can hone their skills before being thrust onto the international stage, or back to which, players who lose their central contracts, can fall. It seems that the ECB are pinning their hopes on extending the KSL to 50 over cricket, but, as predicted here in December last year, this will not happen in 2017.
The door is open for the ECB to make some significant investment in the top eight teams who will compete in Division One of the County Championship next year, but it seems they are not inclined to open that door. In fact it looks firmly shut. An extended KSL (home and away games - even this will not happen in 2017) is the right format for T20 cricket, but domestic players need a semi-professional 50 over league, and surely the existing county teams are the way forward with ECB backing, leadership and minimum standards for training and playing facilities? Without this England's talent pool will continue to dwindle and the Aussies will continue to dominate women's cricket.