Meet Kirsty Bashforth, the new chair of Northern Superchargers with sport in her blood
“Anything with wheels excites me,” she quips.
Bashforth spent her childhood watching the TT races, the Southern 100 (another motorcycling event on the south of the island) and various car rallies.
She goes back each year for her motorsport fix to that lovely land in the Irish Sea, where her parents still live and her sister too, and where she still has a cottage - an equally lovely complement, no doubt, to the family home in Harrogate.
Bashforth, 53, is the new chair of Northern Superchargers, the men’s and women’s franchise based at Headingley in cricket’s Hundred competition.
Last Sunday, there was no prouder member of a vast crowd of 21,636 at Lord’s - a record for a domestic women’s match - as Superchargers’ better half capped their best season yet with a runners-up finish to Southern Brave.
Bashforth has always loved the game and used to watch her father, Adrian, in recreational matches. When he wasn’t busy teaching maths, Adrian was master in charge of cricket at King William’s College on the island and he also played football, hockey, rugby and squash; twice he was Isle of Man squash champion in the early 1980s.
The family links with sport do not end there.
Bashforth’s grandfather, James, was a scrum-half good enough to win a wartime cap for Ireland, also playing for the North side in Belfast and the province of Ulster, while she herself played hockey, tennis and netball at school, along with a little squash given the paternal influence.
Her sporting credentials then firmly established, links continued today by two cricket, hockey and football-loving sons (one at Loughborough, the other about to start at Exeter), Bashforth - who is married to a Yorkshireman - finds herself at the vanguard of significant change sweeping through the summer game.
None is more significant or sweeping, perhaps, than the Hundred itself, a competition now three seasons old and one which pretty much everyone agrees has been great for the women - raising profile and prestige - and, depending on one’s viewpoint, great or less than great for the men, with its knock-on effects on the wider schedule.
But Bashforth is adamant… “The Hundred is here to stay”, she says, adding that she envisages little change to it next year but more potential for evolution from 2025, as conversations take place between the various stakeholders, the England and Wales Cricket Board and, of course, the franchises themselves.
At present, there are eight franchises (that’s eight pairs of men’s and women’s teams), with Bashforth one of three female chairs alongside Claire Taylor (London Spirit) and Aileen Richards (Welsh Fire).
There is a male chair at Manchester Originals (Mark Chapman), at Southern Brave (Mark Nicholas) and at Oval Invincibles (where the co-chairs are Greg James and Felix White). Trent Rockets and Birmingham Phoenix have no chair at present.
For Bashforth, whose Superchargers association has been “a brilliant whirlwind”, given that she only applied for, and was offered, the position in June, this is a chance to grow and broaden the game. When Heather Jackson, the previous chair, contacted to ask if she fancied applying, a woman who describes herself, in layman’s terms, as “a corporate girl” did not procrastinate.
“I’ve always loved cricket, and the opportunity to be involved in something where you’re growing access and engaging audiences who may have been ‘oh, I don’t understand cricket… it’s a bit slow… why is there not really a result… why can nobody tell me whether somebody is winning or not…’, was too good to turn down,” she says.
“Also, my corporate background is all around culture and change, and change can be bumpy and you always have the people who are excited about change, and you always have the people who are not so excited about change, or sceptical about change.
“It was ever thus - any organisation, any change. When they brought in the pound coin, people didn’t like the pound coin but then they adjusted; then they didn’t like the 20p coin but they adjusted too, and so it goes.”
Bashforth, a lifelong Manchester United supporter and an avid Irish rugby fan, who takes in the Six Nations each year in Dublin, comes across as highly impressive: articulate, insightful, and, given that she has only been in her Superchargers role for just over two months, all over the competition and its future possibilities.
Her CV is enough to make one feel rather inadequate; this “corporate girl” spent 24 years with BP in various global commercial roles, has lived and worked in such as the United States, Denmark and Belgium, and built up a ‘Footsie’ board career of which to be proud; among myriad distinctions, Bashforth is on the board of PZ Cussons, a Manchester-based manufacturer of personal healthcare products and consumer goods, and also on that of Serco Group, which delivers services to governments and other institutions which serve the public or protect vital national interests.
If that was not enough, she has an MA in economics from the University of Cambridge and is the author of Culture Shift: A Practical Guide to Managing Organizational Culture, published by Bloomsbury in 2019.
At Superchargers, Bashforth heads a franchise that is managed by Andy Dawson, the Yorkshire CCC commercial director, who is effectively its CEO.
With her on the board are the highly-respected Tim Bostock, the CEO of Durham, and Stephen Vaughan, the CEO of Yorkshire, with Bashforth - who describes her role as “ambassadorial as well as governance” - wanting to construct through her various networks and connections a broader board going forward to enable more links with the wider community.
As part of her vision for the Hundred she says: “I want franchises to be more connected into the community as inspiring and as opportunity areas, and for it to be engagement not just at the time of the short season, but throughout the year, which is what happens in the United States if you look at Major League Baseball and the NFL, which is a phenomenally short season.
“Over the next year, I would like to build out my board to get some people who may not be in the specific cricket world, but are in the sporting and community world, to help hold that engagement with, and identity and belonging with, the Northern Superchargers as a sporting event brand.
“People like to belong to something; they like to belong to something positive. We’ve been stunned by the amount of merchandise people have been buying, and Headingley was slowly turning a tinge of purple (the team colours) across the month just gone; indeed, as you went to the other grounds it was just the same.
“Trent Bridge was slowly turning yellow, Edgbaston was turning orange and gold, so it’s about getting creative and how does this inspire inside the community across the year?”
Bashforth, who will soon conduct “wrap-up meetings” after a fine campaign for the Superchargers women, but one in which the men’s side finished bottom of the table, believes that one of the competition’s strengths is the way it unites the genders.
“It’s unique in the fact it’s a men and women’s competition, and I’d say it needs to hold together like that as that’s what attracts audiences,” she says.
“The brilliant thing about this competition is that it’s been built from market research, and the public love the double-headers - families come and they want to watch the women’s game and also the men’s game.
“Split it up, and I think the tournament loses credibility. It’s about ensuring the competition is successful, hitting the market research, growing access to cricket and excitement in cricket generally.”
For Bashforth, the statistics are proof that the pudding is well worth the eating.
“There were more tickets sold this year,” she says. “At Headingley, we had three sell-outs, 94 per cent occupancy. The diversity of the audience that the market research said was there has been borne out. We had 24 per cent of U16 tickets, 31 per cent female ticket-buyers, and a record attendance for a women’s home match at Headingley of 10,828 against the Originals.
“It’s taken hold, the general public is getting pretty excited about it and we want it to grow.”
With Bashforth at the wheel locally, expect nothing less.