Surrey Stars. © Getty Images

With the COVID-19 pandemic having brought the cricketing world to a standstill, it seems as though women’s cricket in England will have to go back to the basics. Following the postponement of the launch of The Hundred competition to 2021, it was announced that men’s cricket may have to take priority over the women’s game in the 2020-21 season to help the England and Wales Cricket Board minimise the losses they are set to face. However, Sam Lavery, Surrey women’s bowling coach has suggested that 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,” Lavery told Sportstar. “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 focusing on the men’s game.”

Quite recently the UK government proposed a three-step plan to aid in the resumption of day-to-day life. They suggested that elite sport could begin behind closed doors as soon as June 1. However, the ECB already announced that no competitive cricket will be played in England until July 1.

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While it looks like the England’s men’s team will get on the park in the near future, all discussions about the women’s game have been currently put on hold. With The Hundred meant to be the only scheduled domestic commitment for the female players, Lavery says prioritisation of men’s cricket with further hurt the women.

“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.

Alec Stewart, Surrey director of cricket, has hinted that there might be no domestic action 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,” the former England captain told The Telegraph earlier this week.

“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.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Director of women’s cricket at Surrey Cricket, suggested that women’s cricket could use this to its advantage – with behind closed doors games being more easily organisable for the women.

“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.

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The women’s game in England was set to be revamped this year, courtesy a two-year £20 million investment announced last October. The Women’s Cricket Super League was scrapped to make way for The Hundred. A new 50-over competition to be contested between the eight new regional Centres of Excellence, was also in the works. While he admitted it was up to the administrators to decide when it is safest for the players to return to the ground, Lavery said he hopes the women are given the chance to play more fixtures.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

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Meanwhile, Lavery said Surrey’s bowlers have been finding ways to keep themselves fit, but he is more worried about skill development. He also added that while both he and the team are keen to return to the field, they are well aware of the health concerns, and understand that until all the guidelines are in place, cricket cannot resume.

“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,” he said. “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.”

“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.