14 Jun

England captain Heather Knight fears that women’s sport is suffering disproportionately from the coronavirus pandemic as national bodies seek to protect revenues through the more lucrative avenues of the men’s game.

England’s women are not due to return to action until September, almost two months behind the men, with a tentatively planned one-day tri-series against India and South Africa.

“The pandemic has made me realise that the women’s game has still got a long way to go, not just women’s cricket but women’s sport,” Knight said. “Potentially us playing in September might be the only [live] women’s sport on television this summer. If we are, I guess that makes me proud of cricket . . . [and] the ECB when they say they want to make it a game for all and women’s cricket is a big part of that strategy. They’ve set the standard in terms of the behind-closed-doors stuff. The fact they’ve got West Indies [men] over, the first time it’s happened anywhere in the world after the pandemic, is brilliant. A lot of boards are cancelling women’s competitions.”

“It’d be great if we can play in September and be part of those plans. But safety’s the most important thing and we may well have a case that it doesn’t happen. It is dependent on India and South Africa coming over. Hopefully they feel they are in a position where it’s safe to do so. The West Indies coming is a good start to that process.”

The biosecure tri-series, which would be probably staged at Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, as with the men’s series, is particularly important given that a 50-overs World Cup is due to be staged in New Zealand in February.

Like other sports, women’s cricket is taking a financial hit. The ECB had been due to issue 40 domestic contracts last month, but they have been delayed, probably until October, without any chance of the intended recipients being furloughed. The Hundred, now postponed until next year, was also going to create 40 more professionals. As a result, English cricket has only 21 players on contracts compared to nearly 100 in Australia.

“The women’s game has grown so much, it’s a massive opportunity to keep that growth going,” Knight added. “I’ve been liaising with the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA), the ECB and the girls about things like pay cuts, things you never want to do as captain. The ECB have said they can’t ring-fence the money, which is understandable, but I’m hopeful that the plans will eventually go ahead.” The good news is that a new assistant coach to Lisa Keightley is expected to be announced shortly.

Knight and the other England players are set to return to individual training next week before moving on to group sessions at Loughborough in the build-up to the tri-series.

John Stephenson


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