Cath Dalton on PSL breakthrough – ‘Female coaches can do the job just as well’

It was the easiest “yes” Cath Dalton ever had to say. On holiday with her friends in Greece, the phone rang and it was Ali Tareen, the Multan Sultans owner, offering her a job as fast-bowling coach with the PSL franchise.

Just hours after her team lost the Final to Islamabad United in a last-ball thriller on Monday, Dalton was preparing to travel home to England for another season with Essex Women, equipped with a priceless experience she’ll never forget.

“Making the final night was truly special, but I think this franchise has done things very differently to other franchises,” Dalton told ESPNcricinfo. “Having two female coaches, one in Alex Hartley in the spin department, and myself, and then a female GM as well, which has been really cool.

“For us to be so successful has been really exciting, but we have a lot of people to thank and mainly Ali, to our owner, for putting a lot of faith in us and for really empowering women. This is more than cricket, this is showing that female coaches are here because they have every right to be and they can do the job just as well. It’s an exciting opportunity and one we’ve really enjoyed.”

By her own admission, Dalton wasn’t well-known as a player or coach when she got her chance. Born in Essex, she gained Irish citizenship in 2015 and played four T20Is and four ODIs between 2015-16, around the time she finished her university degree with a view to becoming a PE teacher.

She moved into coaching at club level and became an ECB-certified Level 3 Advanced Coach, working at the National Fast-Bowling Academy in the UK alongside Ian Pont and Andre Nel, and the Ultimate Pace Foundation in India. Tareen invited Dalton and Pont to Pakistan to conduct some fast-bowling camps either side of the Covid-19 pandemic then, last year, he appointed Hijab Zahid as general manager and picked up the phone to Dalton.

“I was really excited and it was the easiest yes I’ve ever had to say,” Dalton said. “Cricket’s such a big thing in Pakistan, it’s such a passion for this country, so the support has been incredible. The opposing teams have been great as well. We’ve been really well received and treated as an equal, which is all we wanted really.”

Dalton was drawn into coaching not just by a love of teaching and cricket but also the need to earn a living while playing for Ireland, who funded her travel and expenses but were not yet a professional women’s team, as they are now.

“If I got paid I probably wouldn’t be sitting here, so I’m thankful in one way that I had a short career, it led me into something that I really enjoy,” she said.

Back at Essex, where she began playing Under-11s, Dalton is lending her voice to the club’s bid to have a Tier 1 team in the newly structured domestic competition from next year, as the women’s game in England and Wales takes its next significant step.

All but two of the 18 first-class counties have tendered for one of eight teams in the top tier of domestic competition from next year, in a move away from the current regional structure which began in 2020.

“Initially having regions was really powerful because unless you played for the England women, unless you were an international player, you weren’t getting paid to play,” Dalton said. “I played England A, I played for Ireland, I’ve never been paid a penny to play cricket. I’ve only been paid as a coach.

“So I think that change was really good. It meant that players didn’t have to get to international level to be paid to play and there was professionalism that you could achieve. It seems a bit more attainable, which keeps people in the sport for longer because people would get to a certain age, certainly in my era of playing, and they would stop because it was too much of a commitment. They weren’t getting paid, they had to go back to work.

“That was a really big struggle and hard to balance. As soon as the regions came in, you saw a lot more people playing for a lot longer. So I think it’s extended people’s careers, but it’s also given them a career because they can actually be paid to play. That was really important for that stepping stone to happen. Now we’ve got that and we’ve seen that it can be successful, the next stage is giving it back to the counties and I think that’s going to be really exciting.”

Under the regional structure, Sunrisers draw players largely from Essex and Middlesex, who have also lodged a bid for their own team from next year.

Central to the Essex bid is a partnership with the University of Essex, which would provide training and sports science facilities, along with a track record of hosting Sunrisers and England Women’s matches at The Cloud County Ground in Chelmsford.

“When you are playing club cricket or you are within a pathway structure, every county has their own pathway structure, you want to know what’s above that to get to. Having that all synced up in one club is really important because it gives you that identity,” Dalton said.

“I’ve been through the Essex pathway and it is really well run. There’s some fantastic coaches there. There’s a lot of female coaches now involved in the Essex pathways as well, so I think it all just ties together really nicely and that association with a club can become very powerful.”

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women’s cricket, at ESPNcricinfo

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