09 May

Women's cricket may be at the back of the queue when it comes to scheduling matches at the small number of bio-secure venues in England and Wales, should the sport get underway this summer in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clare Connor, the England and Wales Cricket Board's managing director of women's cricket, made the frank admission on Wednesday that while representatives of the women's game were involved in discussions about staging international cricket behind closed doors if lockdown restrictions are eased, they had to be "realistic" about the prospect of making way for men's fixtures as the ECB looks to reduce a projected £380 million loss.

"We have to be completely realistic as the weeks tick away and the lead-in time to getting international men's and women's cricketers ready to play ticks away," Connor said. "If the international women's schedule can't be fulfilled in full but a large amount of the international men's programme can this summer, which is going to reduce that £380 million hole, we have to be realistic about that.

"That's not to say we won't be fighting hard to play our international schedule against India and South Africa as best we can. But we're only going to have a few venues, if any, in operation and if that ends up being two bio-secure environments or three, there's only a certain number of days to try to cram everything into."

The ECB is investigating the possibility of staging matches involving only players, officials, essential staff and broadcasters at venues with on-site hotels - like Southampton's Ageas Bowl.

It is hoped such a plan would allow England's men to play their Test series against West Indies in June, and Pakistan in August, but it is dependent on the UK government easing the lockdown.

The ECB is in talks with the BCCI about rescheduling the India women's tour, which was due to start on June 25, but postponed once the July 1 date was set, and Connor hoped that England could host South Africa for two T20Is and four ODIs in September as planned.

"It's impossibly difficult to imagine all that international cricket being able to take place but we'll have to make the best of what we can put on," she said.

"I would be devastated if there was no international women's cricket this summer. No one would be more disappointed, but I do believe that we've got this period to get through and we've all got to come out of it in as healthy a way as possible.

"If we have to play less international women's cricket this summer to safeguard the longer-term future and investment and building the infrastructure for a more stable and sustainable women's game then that is probably a hit we might have to take."

Despite previous suggestions to the contrary, Connor accepted ECB’s Chief Executive Tom Harrison's assertion that £20 million pledged last October to women's and girls' cricket over the next two years, was not ring-fenced.

"The £20 million that has so far been signed off by the board was for 2020 and 2021 and that is still the budget we are working to, albeit we are going to have lower areas of spend for obvious reasons in 2020. What's really important is that we can't give that guarantee of ring-fencing but what we can give is a guarantee or a promise that that vision for the game remains unchanged.

In recognition of the postponement of The Hundred and the financial impact that would have on those players, Connor expects to still award 40 professional contracts later this year, but in the meantime place many recipients on a retainer, albeit at a reduced pay rate. In turn, the players would commit to strength-and-conditioning programmes, embark on off-field education such as anti-corruption and anti-doping modules, and work with mentors from the senior squad.

"What we are doing is we are looking at, in the interim, how we can show those players that we care," Connor said. "We want to keep them motivated and we don't want to lose them to other career opportunities that might present themselves to them."

John Stephenson


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