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Nicholson column: Counties rescued after ECB u-turn

In yet another twist in the ongoing saga of what exactly the women’s domestic structure will look like next season, the ECB have done an about-turn and agreed that counties outside of the top eight will still be permitted to run senior women’s county sides.

Previously it had been suggested that many counties’ women’s sides would effectively be abolished, with the ECB concentrating all their resources on the new eight semi-professional regional hubs (likely to be based in the same locations as the Hundred), which will provide the focus of 50-over cricket for women come 2020.

This had met with criticism across the board, both from existing county players who would have been forced into playing club cricket, and from county executives. Surrey CCC chief executive Richard Gould stated in a BBC interview that the county would continue to run a women’s county side, no matter what.

In response, the ECB have admitted in consultation meetings with the counties that there is nothing they can do to stop counties below the top-tier continuing to play county cricket.

The caveat is that counties will need to fund this themselves, which may place an even greater strain on women’s set-ups which are already heavily reliant on volunteer labour in order to function. County boards currently receive approximately £4,000 annually from the ECB to run their women’s sides, which will need to be replaced by fundraising and increased sponsorship come 2020.

Amidst the latest revelations, the on-pitch action in the Women’s County Championship (WCC) continued apace last Sunday. Kent and Lancashire remain top of the table in Division 1, with both taking maximum bonus points in their wins against Surrey and Nottinghamshire respectively.

At Reed’s School, Kent bowled Surrey out for 148, and Tammy Beaumont then hit an unbeaten 79 to steer Kent home in 30 overs for the loss of only three wickets. This was a despite a half-century from Surrey’s Bryony Smith, who has made an exciting start to the season after being awarded her first England contract over the winter, with scores of 37, 86 and 55, plus six wickets across the three matches. Smith in fact comes out as overall Most Valued Player so far this season, according to a new ranking system formulated by Women’s Cricket Blog (@womenscricblog).

Lancashire also won big, hitting 241 thanks to a quick-fire 72 off 70 balls from Ellie Threlkeld, with Notts restricted to 195-9 in reply. At the other end of the table, reigning champions Hampshire have now probably thrown away their chance of retaining their title, with three straight defeats. Charlotte Edwards’ side will no doubt be kicking themselves after Sussex limped across the line against them by one wicket, with England bowler Freya Davies saving the day for them (hitting 29 not out) after their top order failed again.

Another quick bowler making waves in county cricket is 17-year-old Issy Wong, who took 4-25 for Warwickshire against Yorkshire on Sunday, though the Bears eventually fell agonisingly short of their first win of the season by a mere five runs. Wong has come up through the Worcestershire age-group system, but moved to Warwickshire this season to play in Division One.

England coach Mark Robinson, who recently bemoaned the dearth of young fast bowlers in women’s cricket – saying that “every country in the world is desperate for them” – will no doubt be keeping a close eye on her.

Two former England seamers, meanwhile, showed they have still got it – Beth Langston taking 5-8 for Yorkshire, and Tash Farrant chipping in with 4-26 in Kent’s win against Surrey.

Both lost their England contracts last winter and have been left facing a tricky future as they work out what life after professional cricket might look like. They are prime candidates to benefit from the ECB’s planned restructure, which promises to provide payments to the top domestic players, on top of those contracted for England.

In Division 2 news, Devon have now topped the table thanks to a maximum-point win against Worcestershire – spinner Becca Silk taking 5-12. For second-placed Berkshire, Heather Knight again starred, making 75 and taking 3-12 in the Beavers’ match against Somerset.

History was made in Division 3, meanwhile, with two of the best bowling performances in Championship history achieved on the very same day – Cumbria’s Laura Jackson (on loan from Lancashire) taking 7-9 against Scotland, and Staffordshire’s Kathryn Whyle finishing with 7-14 in Staffordshire’s 156-run thrashing of Leicestershire.

Whyle, whose twin sister Charlotte hit a century for Staffs in the last round of the Championship, had a phenomenal match – scoring an unbeaten 88, taking two catches and enacting a run out on top of her seven wickets!

The Championship reaches its halfway point next Sunday.

RAF NICHOLSON / Photo: Getty Images

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