Hollie Armitage and Katie Levick believe England is closing the gap to market leaders Australia in terms of the strength of their respective women’s structures.
The Yorkshire duo have been speaking ahead of this weekend’s start of the Women’s Big Bash League Down Under, a competition Armitage played in last year as an overseas player for Sydney Sixers.
Both internationally and domestically, it is widely accepted the Aussies lead the way in women’s cricket.
Their national side are ranked number one in the world in both one-day and T20 cricket at present – England are third and second in the same lists. They are currently on a 21-game ODI winning streak, equalling the world record (men or women).
Domestically, New South Wales Breakers became the first women’s team to go fully professional in 2016, with all others following.
Seven state teams play in the 50-over Women’s National Cricket League (WNCL). This summer, for example, they have all contracted 14 players excluding the centrally contracted players.
Then, the eight-team WBBL supplements that and gets more exposure both in Australia and globally.
In England, this summer has seen the first steps in a welcome move to professionalise women’s cricket below international level.
The ECB has introduced the eight Regional Centres of Excellence, with Yorkshire represented alongside Durham and Northumberland by the Northern Diamonds.
Three players are now full-time contracted to each region.
Yorkshire women’s captain Armitage, England fringe spinner Linsey Smith and former World Cup winning seamer Beth Langston are with the Diamonds, while there are imminent plans for two further contracts to be added in each of the eight regions.
Things have been complicated somewhat by Coronavirus, with the Diamonds playing in only a shortened 50-over – Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy – competition in August and September. The Diamonds were beaten finalists by Southern Vipers.
“Australia have got a fantastic set-up,” said Armitage, who is currently Down Under preparing herself for a winter of club cricket and coaching with Cricket Tasmania.
“They’ve got 14 or 15 professionals in each state, whereas we’ve only got five.
“But they’ve been professional for the last however many years, whereas it’s only just coming into play for us.
“For us, hopefully we can run alongside them as things develop.
“The Hundred will compare to their Big Bash and our domestic competitions can compare to their WNCL.”
Levick said: “Australia’s definitely leading the way in how much importance they put on the women’s game.
“The Big Bash has been a standalone competition for a couple of years now, and it’s the pinnacle of the domestic game around the world.
“They are probably still a couple of years ahead of us, but the gap is definitely closing.
“They’ve had a professional domestic structure for some time now. Their girls haven’t necessarily had to juggle cricket around other commitments like we have.”
The WBBL will either televise (BT Sport in the UK) or live-stream (cricket.com.au) all of their games between this Sunday and November 29.
This summer, all RHF Trophy games were streamed live on county websites, while the Edgbaston final last month was televised by Sky Sports.
With the Kia Super League T20 competition, between 2016 and 2019, Sky televised selected matches alongside Finals Day.
“The live-streaming of Rachael Heyhoe Flint games this year was a massive bonus,” continued Levick, who juggles cricket with a full-time job as marketing manager for the Pro Coach Cricket Academy.
“We always say, ‘You can’t be it, if you can’t see it’.
“One of the great things about Australian cricket is that their players are well known amongst all walks of life out there. It’s not a niche thing.
“The Australian team are showing there is a gap between themselves and the rest, not just England, with their dominance at the moment.
“But I think we have all the things in place now to try and close that gap, and I think we are seeing signs of it happening, which is fantastic.”
Last winter, whilst playing club cricket in Tasmania, Armitage was handed a late call to replace injured Ellyse Perry. The move came about having impressed Sixers stalwart Alyssa Healy during the 2019 KSL campaign with the Yorkshire Diamonds.
Armitage played five games for the Sixers inside a fortnight, scoring 54 runs.
“It was fantastic,” she recalled. “It was a great opportunity, and I never expected to get the call. I only went over to Tasmania to play club cricket, so I was really grateful to join the Sixers.
“It gives you insights into how other teams and players work, and playing alongside players of the quality I did, it will always push your own game forwards whether you’re with them for two weeks or six.”
While both Armitage and Levick agree that English women’s cricket is moving in the right direction, they also agree the race for the forthcoming WBBL title will be very tight.
“Every team has got world-class match-winners, so I don’t expect it to be a one-sided tournament at all,” reasoned Levick.
A host of England players have travelled Down Under to feature, most notably Yorkshire seamer Katherine Brunt and her England team-mate Nat Sciver.
The married couple played two matches for the Northern Diamonds this summer and will represent the Melbourne Stars alongside Australian captain Meg Lanning.
They will be hoping to end the Brisbane Heat’s back-to-back title dominance.
“It will be interesting to see how they go with putting up camp in Sydney and all the teams travelling there to be in a bubble.
“Brisbane have won it the last two years, but they’ve had a few departures, including Beth Mooney, who I always like to keep an eye on being an ex-Yorkshire player,” said Levick.
“She’s been such a big part of their team, but has gone to Perth.
“The (Melbourne) Stars have got Katherine (Brunt) and Nat (Sciver). Those two are always going to be big pulls on their own, but they’ve also got Meg Lanning. That means they will be ones to watch, for sure.”
Levick and the Diamonds were treated to masterclasses from Brunt and Sciver in the first two RHFT games over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Brunt took five wickets in a dominant opening day win over Central Sparks at Edgbaston before Tokyo-born Sciver hit a sensational 104 in the win over Lightning at Emirates Riverside, dragging them to a total of 226-9 having been 84-6.
“We were on the England Academy together many moons ago, so I’ve known Nat for a while now,” said Levick.
“But seeing how she went about her business at close quarters this summer was great. Players like her add so much to your team.
“That innings she played for us at Durham was amazing while the other end crumbled. And the other end crumbling included some international players as well.
“She just seemed so calm throughout and made it look easy.
“Those kind of performances just rub off on others.
“Katherine’s love and passion for the game keeps shining through.
“She’s a great performer, and her body can still do the job.
“It’s actually quite annoying how much her age (35) gets mentioned because it shouldn’t really be a factor given her level of performance.
“She puts everything on the line all of the time, and I’ve been lucky to play with her my entire career.”
The final word on the forthcoming tournament was left to Armitage, who added: “I feel like the Perth Scorchers could be really competitive this year. They’ve added Sophie Devine and Beth Mooney as well as the two England girls, Amy Jones and Sarah Glenn.
“The Sixers are always strong, and the Hobart Hurricanes look stacked with talent as well.
“I’m sure it will be a very close competition – it should be great to watch.”