ECB owes women’s and girls’ cricket in Yorkshire a tier one rethink

PRIOR to 1930 there were eight known planets in the solar system - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

No one could seriously argue that the addition of a ninth that year in Pluto (controversially demoted to “dwarf planet” status in 2006) had an adverse effect on the growth of astronomy.

Similarly, Yorkshire’s suggestion - as revealed today by The Yorkshire Post - to fund a ninth tier one women’s team out of their own pockets makes absolute sense in principle and practice.

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It is a strong statement of the club’s commitment to women and girls’ cricket after it was overlooked as a host for one of the eight new professional women’s teams starting next year, which will see control of the Headingley-based Northern Diamonds pass to its satellite offshoot, as it were, of Durham’s Chester-le-Street venue.

Upheaval: The Northern Diamonds will be based in Durham from 2025. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.comUpheaval: The Northern Diamonds will be based in Durham from 2025. Picture by Allan McKenzie/
Upheaval: The Northern Diamonds will be based in Durham from 2025. Picture by Allan McKenzie/

If anyone doubts the impact of that decision by the England and Wales Cricket Board (an organisation which appears to operate in a universe of its own), then they have not been talking to those connected.

One is Jane Powell, the Yorkshire president and former England captain, who was heavily involved in Yorkshire’s “Project Darwin” application for tier one status.

Powell, along with Yorkshire chief executive Stephen Vaughan, head of marketing Sam Gascoyne and head of performance pathway James Martin, went to Lord’s to present the club’s bid.

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Powell remains incredulous that, despite Yorkshire boasting the largest playing base of women and girls in the country, and more teams than you could point a telescope at, the club was awarded only “expansion” status by 2027, when tier one will rise to 10 teams ahead of a planned increase to 12 by 2029.

Yorkshire president Jane Powell. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.comYorkshire president Jane Powell. Picture by Allan McKenzie/
Yorkshire president Jane Powell. Picture by Allan McKenzie/

“I’ll be really honest, I don’t know why they’ve made that decision,” says Powell, Yorkshire’s first female president. “Any logic or facts, in my opinion, just seem to have been ignored. The fact that we’ve got 313 women’s and girls’ teams… you know, it’s like where does that young girl aspire to go now? It’s all very well saying, ‘oh, you can have it (tier one) in 2027’, but there’s going to be a two-year gap where your 16-year-olds are aspiring to do that now, so you’re cutting them off really.”

As a former player who faced barriers throughout her career, in the days when women were not even allowed in the Long Room at Lord’s (good grief, we can’t have that, old boy), Powell’s sympathies are naturally with the players.

The decision to relocate the Diamonds 90 miles north would seem to take scant regard of player welfare and individual circumstance, with at least two players understood to have recently bought a house in the Leeds area.

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“There’s no guarantee that the Diamonds’ girls will go north to play tier one if Yorkshire don’t have a team,” says Powell. “There’s quite a few of them that may want to drift south to Nottingham, because it’s less distance for them, or they might want to - dare I say it - go over the boundary to Lancashire because, again, it’s less distance. There’s no guarantee that people will want to travel from either Leeds, or south of Leeds, for two hours to go to Durham. Some of them might go to Durham - two of them are Durham girls, Lizzie (Scott) and Jess (Woolston), but Jess is at university in Leeds, and some of them have chosen university courses to be based in Leeds, and it’s not as easy for a student to up sticks.”

Mo Hussain, Yorkshire’s equality, diversity and inclusion manager. Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.comMo Hussain, Yorkshire’s equality, diversity and inclusion manager. Picture by John Clifton/
Mo Hussain, Yorkshire’s equality, diversity and inclusion manager. Picture by John Clifton/

As Yorkshire await a response from the ECB to their offer to self-fund a tier one team for next year (Powell is not confident but says “if you’re serious about wanting to grow the game, then the compromise position that we’ve offered has surely got to be one that you would take”), there could be further repercussions of this purblind decision.

In a worst-case scenario, Powell fears some players could even be lost to the game.

“You know, there may be some casualties,” she says. “Will somebody like Katie Levick, for example, be lost to the women’s game when she’s consistently got the most wickets? She’s a wonderful player and an older player compared to some of the others. Would she really want to up sticks and move to Durham, Nottingham or Manchester, and would she be able to afford to do that? They don’t get the men’s salaries, these girls, so just to pull up sticks and go somewhere else isn’t easy.”

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Powell feels the tier one blow acutely given her own groundbreaking appointment last year, describing it as “a tough pill to swallow”. The rejection has been felt deeply throughout the club - including at men’s first-team level, with the Yorkshire men’s and women’s teams having never felt more aligned than they do at present.

“All of our guys supported us,” says Powell. “Ottis Gibson (the Yorkshire head coach) stopped me at the start of the Middlesex game and said, “‘Pres’, what can we do? What can we do for the girls?’ Because he felt it. The men’s team felt it. It’s very much a family club. Because the girls have trained all winter and for the last goodness knows how many years at Headingley, the girls and boys do a lot together. There is no division between the men’s and women’s cricket at Yorkshire. They get equal access. They’re treated equally.”

Powell, 67, does not believe the talent pathways will be affected - “we’ll just carry on with the excellent talent pathway programmes that we’ve got in place, with excellent full-time coaches”. However, she acknowledges that you can “lose momentum” - a feeling shared by Mo Hussain, the club’s equality, diversity and inclusion manager, who has worked tirelessly to help the club navigate the choppy waters after the racism crisis.

“It just stunts the momentum, really, it stunts the energy,” he says. “People were like, ‘well, what else can we do?’ That’s been the feeling. We’ve done so much fantastic work in the last two or three years. There was a real sombre mood when the decision was made and even now, to be honest.

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“We lost everything as a result of what happened, and everyone has worked so hard to get it back. We had to move very, very quickly and we demonstrated the new vision, values and culture that were needed going forward.

“This (tier one) would have given that work the endorsement it required. It felt like we were shunned, to be fair. It’s devastated the club.”

Hussain’s frustration is magnified by the hard work undertaken to enlist and encourage women throughout the organisation, through the efforts of such as Jessica Platts, the director of people and culture, to everyone who has bought into the journey on which Yorkshire have embarked.

The club is ahead of the game in so many areas having, ironically, worked especially closely with the ECB itself.

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“We’ve worked very well with the ECB; they’ve almost worked in partnership with us,” says Hussain. “The culture and values, matchday experience and governance, and so on - we’ve done it all alongside the ECB, who were saying to us, ‘you guys have got to do this, that and the other.’

“This would have been a real endorsement of that collaboration, so we feel a bit kind of let down.”

Yorkshire are deeply committed to growing and developing women’s and girls’ cricket. As a cursory glance at Northern Diamonds’ results in recent years would confirm, they are pretty darn good at it, too.

Powell concedes that does not give them a divine right to be a tier one operation but there must surely be scope for the county with the biggest women’s and girls’ playing base, with all its experience and expertise in those fields, to be at the top table of an exciting movement.

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“It’s ended up being Yorkshire v Durham in this case when it’s not Yorkshire v Durham at all,” says Powell. “It’s Yorkshire v the system. That’s what it boils down to. I’m all for Durham having a team. I’m all for Somerset having a team. I’m all for Essex having a team. Also for Kent, Sussex and Middlesex, who also missed out. But how do you compare an apple and a pear would be my question? We’ve got the things that are needed already in place whereas, if you’re brand new to it, anyone can say, ‘yeah, we’ll do this, we’ll do that, we’ll be all-singing, all-dancing.’ Where’s the check and challenge on these things?”

Powell thinks that Yorkshire are fortunate in having, in chair Colin Graves, a man who cares passionately about the women’s game.

“Bless him, Colin Graves said, ‘I’ll pay for it myself if I have to’,” says Powell. “I have to say – I mean, I didn’t know the chap at all – I’ve only seen positive things from him.

“I think he’s a good chap. I haven’t seen anything but good from him. I’m really happy that we’ve got somebody like that behind women’s cricket in Yorkshire.”

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