Poised for leap before pandemic, women’s cricket limps into future

South Africa's Dane van Niekerk bats during a match against England in Worcester. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 30 May 2020

Poised for leap before pandemic, women’s cricket limps into future

  • While the final financial cost of the coronavirus shutdown will not be known for months, perhaps years, the early signs for women’s cricket are relatively positive

LONDON: Women’s cricket appeared poised for a great leap forward when Australia beat India in the Twenty20 World Cup final in front of a record 86,174 crowd at Melbourne Cricket Ground in March.

Less than three months since that heady night, though, it risks slipping back into the shadows cast by the men’s game after being grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cricket boards are staring at financial losses ranging from significant to severe as a result of the coronavirus shutdown and there is a danger the women’s game will bear the brunt of the cost-cutting.

“This is a concern across the game, and in particular in countries where there isn’t an agreed model in place ensuring gender equity principles are built into the game,” Tom Moffat, the CEO of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA), told Reuters.

“We are urging the ICC and the boards to continue to invest in sustainable foundations for the women’s game around the world.”

While the final financial cost of the coronavirus shutdown will not be known for months, perhaps years, the early signs for women’s cricket are relatively positive.

That does not mean there will be no pain, but it may not be overly inequitable compared to cuts the men’s game faces.

England’s centrally contracted women players volunteered a three-month pay cut and their board has put on hold plans to introduce 40 domestic contracts as part of its 20 million pounds ($24.72 million) investment in the women’s game.

Several uncontracted female cricketers have also been denied what was to be their only source of income after the launch of The Hundred competition was postponed to next year.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) will pay up to 24 domestic players a regional retainer starting on June 1 as an interim solution.

“The momentum behind the women’s game has been staggering in the last few years and it is still firmly our ambition to build on that,” Clare Connor, the ECB’s managing director of women’s cricket, said earlier this month.

“While we still intend to award those full-time contracts in 2020, we want to try to support our players as much as we can until that point.”


Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

Updated 07 July 2020

Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

  • Marcelo Bielsa’s side look odds-on to secure the place among English football’s elite

LONDON: After 16 years in the wilderness, Leeds United are on the brink of an eagerly awaited return to the Premier League — as long as they can hold their nerve with the finish line in sight.

A 3-1 win at Blackburn on Saturday moved Leeds a step closer to the promised land from the long purgatory of the lower leagues.

Marcelo Bielsa's side sit one point clear at the top of the Championship heading into their last five matches.

With third-placed Brentford six points behind, Leeds look odds-on to secure the place among English football's elite that their legion of fanatical fans used to regard as their birthright.

But Leeds were in a similar position last season and squandered a chance for automatic promotion before imploding in the playoffs.

When Leeds beat Sheffield Wednesday on April 13, 2019, a capacity crowd at Elland Road serenaded their jubilant team as if promotion had been secured.

Just 15 days later, after losses to Wigan and Brentford and a mad-cap draw against Villa — in which Bielsa told his team to deliberately let their opponents score following United's controversial opener — ended the Leeds top two challenge.

Leeds lost their nerve and Derby took full advantage in the playoff semifinal second leg, winning 4-2 to leave the Elland Road faithful in tears.

From the ashes of that bitter evening, Bielsa has dragged Leeds back into promotion contention.

But, with last season's collapse in mind, Leeds fans might have been alarmed to hear Bielsa admit he is feeling the strain of the run-in.

"Yes," Bielsa said when asked if he felt anxious during the Blackburn game.

"Every match in this period is very important. If we get distracted we will pay for that so we need to keep focused in every match."

With English football being played behind closed doors for the rest of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps Leeds will benefit from playing in silence, rather than in front of their anxious fans.

"I'd love to be there more than anything. But it's such a nervous time and I do think that could impact the players," Leeds season-ticket holder Simon Sanders told AFP.

"Nothing feels quite right with this virus and the way the world has changed but if we make it the party will go on for weeks."

Three of Leeds' remaining games will be played in the empty stands of Elland Road against struggling trio Stoke, Barnsley and Charlton.

Win those games and taken a point from one of their two away games at Swansea and Derby and Leeds will be assured of promotion.

It would be a moment to savor after such a long period in the shadows.

Champions of England in 1969 and 1974 under Don Revie, then in 1992 when Howard Wilkinson called the shots, Leeds have a rich history.

But since being relegated from the top tier in 2004, Leeds have stumbled from financial disaster off the pitch to despair on it.

Describing the club's ascent to the heady heights of the Champions League in the early 2000s, former chairman Peter Ridsdale claimed he had "lived the dream."

Their subsequent fall was a never-ending nightmare that hit its lowest ebb in 2007 when Leeds went into administration and were relegated to the third tier for the first time.

No wonder the much-travelled Bielsa is so beloved after just two years in charge.

The former Argentina, Lazio, Marseille and Bilbao boss has turned the tide at a tortured club infamously labelled the 'Damned United' by novelist David Peace and forever remembered as 'Dirty Leeds' in the minds of fans who saw their no-holds-barred style in the Revie era.

Now Leeds' Italian owner Andrea Radrizzani is embracing that checkered past in a bid to secure promotion at last.

"For Leeds, we have a history of being 'Dirty Leeds' and we actually channel that," Radrizzani told FIFA's Professional Football Journal.

"All of our boys are willing to fight for the shirt every week and having that character is important to being a Leeds player.

"I want to help Leeds return to the level our history and fans deserve."