ECB women’s cricket restructure has 16 counties bidding for eight teams in 2025

Sixteen of the 18 first-class counties have bid for one of eight professional women’s teams in a revamped England and Wales domestic competition starting next season.

Worcestershire and Derbyshire are the only two clubs among those invited to tender who have confirmed that they did not bid for a Tier 1 team under the new structure.

Essex and Glamorgan made formal announcements on Wednesday while Surrey, Lancashire, Sussex, Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire all confirmed this week that they had lodged tenders with the ECB.

Middlesex confirmed a bid on Monday, which had received “the full support of Marylebone Cricket Club”. MCC, which owns Middlesex’s home ground, Lord’s, and was also invited to bid for a team, have not submitted a proposal of their own.

It is understood counties will be notified imminently of interview slots for the next stage of the process, with those interviews to take place by the end of March.

In February, the ECB invited all 18 first-class counties plus MCC to tender for one of the Tier 1 clubs in a move away from the current regional structure which began in 2020. Currently, teams contesting the 20-over Charlotte Edwards Cup and 50-over Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy fall under central ECB control and largely encompass more than one county. By aligning teams more closely with existing counties – and their men’s teams – the ECB is seeking to address an identity crisis that has afflicted some of the regional teams with ownership, responsibility and governance shifting to the clubs.

First-class counties not awarded Tier 1 status, plus all National Counties, will be invited to take part in a process to determine the make-up of Tier 2 and 3 competitions, comprising 10-14 teams and 16-20 teams respectively.

Despite there being no plans for promotion or relegation from 2025-28, Derbyshire have taken a longer-term view, electing to “pursue the establishment of a sustainable Tier 2 women’s structure, one which will hopefully grow into Tier 1 status” in future. Derbyshire have hosted training for existing regional women’s team the Blaze over the winter and staged at least one England Women’s international fixture every year for the past seven seasons. In 2020, Derby hosted all five T20Is against West Indies which comprised the England Women’s international season amid the initial wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Explaining the club’s position, Derbyshire chief executive Ryan Duckett said: “Derbyshire makes up 9% of the population of the Midlands, yet 26% of women’s cricket that was played across the region in the last year involved a team from the county. There are also three players in the current senior England squad who have come through the Derbyshire pathway, which has been led by the Derbyshire Cricket Foundation, and we will continue to support further success in this area.

“Our ambitions for ground development include enhanced training facilities underpinning a robust pathway structure, as well as increasing seating capacity to meet demand and ensure the club retains its status as a host venue for international women’s cricket… After honest assessment, we felt that in the short term, as a standalone county, it may have been essential to compromise what is currently being delivered as a collective across the region and therefore believe this decision is in the best interest of the game.”

Worcestershire CEO Ashley Giles told the club’s podcast: “At this point it would just be more a funding and a resource issue for us. Even in ground facilities, changing facilities, practice wickets, it would be really challenging for us.

“But the next process from here will be Tier 2 and even Tier 3 and certainly we’ll be into that. And, for us, we host the Central Sparks right now, which is the regional team, but we also have the Women’s Rapids and I’m very keen that we start to develop that team so that when we come to those next levels, Tier 2 for example, that we’re ready to go.”

The ECB will invest a minimum of £1.3 million per year into each of the eight Tier 1 teams, a proportion of which will be ring-fenced for player salaries, sports science and medicine and talent pathways. There will be no mandated minimum financial commitment sought from the counties, who are expected to outline their projected investment as part of the tender process.

The existing regions – South East Stars, Thunder, Sunrisers, Central Sparks, Western Storm, the Blaze, Northern Diamonds and Southern Vipers – will remain for the 2024 season.

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

Leave a Comment