Will England play this summer? And what next for women’s cricket?

England are the current 50-over world champion

In February, 90,000 people crammed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the Women’s T20 World Cup final. This summer was about building on that success.

The hopes in England were that The Hundred would take the game to a new audience, alongside a £20m investment to fund 40 new professional contracts.

That money – described as “unprecedented” at the time – was part of a huge £50m funding plan aiming to close the gap between England and Australia, at international and domestic level.

England had a full international summer planned before they set about defending the 50-over World Cup in February 2021.

But the coronavirus pandemic has prevented any cricket until at least July.

So what happens now? What cricket will we see this summer? And what next for the women’s game?

Will England play this summer?

England were due to host India from 25 June to 9 July, with South Africa arriving in September.

The series against India – consisting of four one-day internationals and two Twenty20s – has been postponed, but the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is in talks with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to hold it later in the summer.

As it stands, the South Africa series from 1-16 September is still going ahead, although it could be held without fans. England women’s managing director Clare Connor has floated the idea of a tri-series also featuring India.

In the men’s game, the Test players returned to training this month, while the women will resume on 22 June.

There would need to be about 250 players, staff and employees – the same as the men – for a behind-closed-doors game to take place, but Connor says she would understand if, for one summer, the men’s game took precedence.

Finances aside, England women need to play. They have not stepped on the field since February and are set to begin the defence of their World Cup title in nine months. If there is no cricket at all this summer yet other countries manage to play, England could be heading into a global tournament undercooked and underprepared.

What about The Hundred?

Whether you love, hate or are indifferent to The Hundred, the competition was important for women’s cricket.

Not only would it have given the women’s game a higher profile – some matches would have been on free-to-air TV and would have featured younger players competing alongside established international cricketers – but the winning side would have received equal prize money to the men, from a pool of £600,000.

As it is, everything must wait until next summer.

With the contracts – worth £15,000 for the highest-paid stars – cancelled, many players will be without money they had factored in for the year.

While the men had been drafted to teams, the women’s selection was done differently, and there were still some contracts to be filled.

Talks are ongoing with the Professional Cricketers’ Association about financial remuneration for those who have lost contracts.

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Will there be any domestic cricket this year?

If all goes to plan, then yes.

A 50-over competition, based around eight new regional hubs, is set to take place in September. The regional hubs have replaced the previous county system, cutting the number of teams from 34.

The Kia Super League (KSL) was a success but made way for The Hundred, and the concern was there was a fall-off in the standard of cricket played below that.

In theory, the new competition, with fewer teams and a higher concentration of the best players, should make matches more competitive.

But there are concerns about ensuring the £50m investment finds its way throughout all the levels of the game.

What are the financial implications?

The ECB still intends to introduce the new full-time professional contracts, which would have created a bigger pool of financially secure players. It would have strengthened the domestic scene and, crucially, stopped players from walking away from the game because of money concerns.

They have awarded 24 regional retainers, understood to be worth £1,000 per month, to tide players over until the 40 contracts are awarded. These will be allocated by the hubs on 1 June.

Left-arm spinner Alex Hartley, who lost her England contract in 2019, said she “might be stacking toilet roll in Tesco” by the end of the summer if there was no cricket.

“I don’t think it’s too difficult to believe that some girls will get into careers and having families, or even have a summer off and think ‘I didn’t miss cricket all that much’,” Yorkshire leg-spinner Katie Levick told BBC Sport.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if girls had to take a full-time job and step away from cricket.”

What next for the women’s game?

At international level, the World Cup is still scheduled for February in New Zealand.

There was momentum with women’s cricket following the T20 World Cup final, and ex-England captain Charlotte Edwards says she worries that could be lost with The Hundred’s postponement.

The regional retainers from the ECB is a positive move. There were worries among players about the lack of communication after The Hundred was cancelled, but the retainers show the governing body is aware of the dangers of losing women from the game.

Participation has increased steadily since England’s World Cup win in 2017, but if no international cricket is played – or there is but it is not visible to a wider audience – that could have a knock-on effect at grassroots level.

Connor told BBC Sport that this period would be looked back on as a “test of leadership in sport”.

“We are as serious now as we were when we built the plans two years ago,” she said.

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