Foolish to neglect women’s cricket for the benefit of men: Surrey women’s bowling coach

The launch of The Hundred has been pushed to 2021 in light of the global pandemic, a development that has particularly put women county players in a tough spot.

The women’s game was due to undergo a full makeover this year, courtesy a two-year £20 million investment announced last year.   -  Sussex Cricket

With no cricket in the UK until July 1, but a new roadmap from the government that progressively eases public restriction, women’s cricket is looking to go back to the basics.

With a global conversation raging about concerns facing women’s cricket in light of COVID-19-related difficulties, Surrey Women’s bowling coach, Sam Lavery says it would be foolish to neglect the women’s game for the benefit of the men. 

“With each passing year, the scales have evened out between the women’s and men’s game. Cricket is no longer a boy’s sport played by girls; cricket is a sport. While income gaps exist, it is a gap people are working to narrow down. So it would be foolish at a time like this to neglect women’s cricket while focussing on the men’s game,” Lavery said to Sportstar. 

The UK government’s new roadmap to tackle COVID-19 offers a three-step plan for public life to resume safely. Elite sport has been allowed to resume behind closed doors from June 1. The England and Wales Cricket Board, however, had announced earlier that cricket won’t resume before July 1.

Besides a pause in international cricket, England’s County Championship Division One’s scheduled April 12 start has also been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The launch of The Hundred was also pushed to 2021, a development that has particularly put women county players in a tough spot.

READ|  English women’s cricket chief braced for season cancellation

“The problem with this development is that men can fall back on their county contracts which pay them reasonably well. Whereas with the women’s game, only about 20 percent of the women who were all ready to participate in The Hundred have a preexisting cricket contract. A lot would have depended on the money their participation in this tournament was going to make available for them. Women don’t put in any less effort than the men, but this is a concern that’s more acute for them,” Lavery added.

Surrey director of cricket, Alec Stewart has discussed the possibility of no domestic action this season, for the first time since World War II. 

“Tough decisions have to be made for the health of individuals but [also] the health of the game. Those tough financial decisions will not just be about this year but will be important for the next five years as well. In financial terms, county clubs are generally on the same level as division one or two football clubs and everyone will find it hard if for example, it costs GBP 30,000 a week for testing twice a week. Times that by 18 counties and then that is a massive figure,” the former England captain said to The Telegraph earlier this week.

READ: Hundred launch postponed until 2021

“If county cricket is not a cost-effective exercise then I can understand why there would be opposition and the view ‘why not save money and play next year?’,” he added. 

Meanwhile, Surrey Women supremo, Ebony Rainford-Brent has offered an alternative that seeks to use the gap to the advantage of the women’s game. 

“We've already looked at what's the minimum number we would need just to start competitive games, and it's a lot lower than the men's game," Rainford-Brent told Telegraph Sport.

"At Surrey, we could get on games with like 30 people. We're talking coaches and players [only], a 'trim the fat' [approach] just to get competitive games back on so leagues could take place if it was completely behind closed doors. For the men's, you'd need a lot more. Some of the grounds would need more security staff, more engine rooms if they're going to be broadcast, they might need to crank that up to a few hundred people,” she added. 

READ| Alec Stewart prepared for first county wipeout since WW-II

The women’s game was due to undergo a full makeover this year, courtesy a two-year £20 million investment announced last year. The Kia Super League was removed from the calendar to make way for the Hundred. Also in the work was a new 50-over competition which would see eight regional teams (not counties) take part. While the higher-ups discuss ways to get teams back on the ground safely and lucratively, for Lavery and other coaches like him, the one priority, if and when some sense of normalcy is achieved, would be to try and get a tournament on the calendar for the girls to play.

“While the men's calendar is completely saturated, often with no space in it, the women's calendar always wants more fixtures and more tournaments. The easiest one to hopefully reschedule now is the London Cup. This is a tournament that involves Surrey, Kent, Middlesex, Essex, so we can hopefully get that on and, and even if that’s all we can do for the time being, it will give the players something to work towards,” Lavery explained.

“We effectively do not have a women’s season this year, as things stand now. The ideal case would be to have a few games and see the season pushed back a few weeks, ending around October - which is feasible. However, with women’s cricket where a lot of games are played on Club grounds that are borrowed or shared, other people may want to squeeze in their activities and leave the girls without access. So I wish it was as easy to say we can start formulating our training program, but there are larger moving parts that need to be accounted for quickly so we can hope to hit the ground again,” he added.

Sam Lavery: We're really lucky that within the women's program here, we've got four coaching staff on board plus strength conditioning coaches, plus psychologists.   -  Zoom Meeting


While Surrey’s bowlers are keeping fit in whatever way possible, skill development is a gap area that he is specifically concerned about.

READ| England cricketers set to return to individual training next week

“Skill development is something we aren’t able to dedicate resources to yet and the associated tactical development and gameplay conversations are also not happening as well as we’d like it to. We’re hearing that the government guidelines will allow people to use a cricket net. We haven’t seen anyone go ahead and do this yet but if we get some clarity on this, our bowlers will be able to have a few sessions and get some dedicated training time in. Some of the girls in the side are school teachers and have access to school facilities while others are getting creative at home or in their gardens, with a tennis ball or some other contraption that can help them train their bowling arm. A lot of the women’s cricket in England is T20-based so we’re trying to keep that in mind even when devising modules at home,” he said. 

Health concerns are the bigger conversation through it all though and Lavery explains that it is assuming priority in talks about resuming the game in the country. 

“We’re expecting an ECB meeting to take place this week and one of the things to figure out is social distancing on the ground and equipment sharing. Another conversation we’re having is distancing on the field, especially concerning umpires. It’s hard for these officials to maintain the distance experts are calling for. Among ourselves, we’re talking about whether LBW rules need some changes, whether we should modify crease rules especially for the benefit of wicket keepers; another discussion involves dividing the field into nine zones and placing fielders that way, but of course, we do not know what the guidelines are going to look like at the end of it all,” he added. 

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Lavery recognises that the Surrey team is relatively young, where most players don’t have the added burden of being the main breadwinners. At the same time, he explains that mental health has been a priority for the administration, and support is being extended to players in all ways possible. 

“We're really lucky that within the women's program here, we've got four coaching staff on board plus strength conditioning coaches, plus psychologists. We have a main WhatsApp group where all the girls can access sports psychologists or other members of staff at any stage. We're particularly lucky here that we have a setup that allows that but I doubt that everyone's able to facilitate the same kind of thing. As things stand here, the situation isn’t going to cost any of our girls their mortgage. But we must remember, our group is not representative of everyone. Without contracts or match fees and a brittle job market due to the pandemic, emotional and financial states are going to be aspects we must find a way to support,” he added.

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