This time last year, England’s women’s cricketers were making the best of a bad situation – working through training programmes in makeshift home gyms and backyard nets, enjoying the prospect of doing something “normal” at the weekends, like going for country walks.
But the novelty quickly wore off and the situation turned increasingly bleak. What was meant to be the best year, building on a surge in energy produced by the T20 World Cup and looking towards a new regional structure and elite domestic competition in the Hundred, looked dangerously like being a year bereft of any women’s cricket in England.
The ECB then made the best of a bad situation, cobbling together a five-match T20I series between England and West Indies and devising the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, the 50-over women’s domestic competition which proved to be a hit with players, coaches and loyal fans.
Now that the domestic women’s season is set to look as close to “normal” as possible within government guidelines as the nation emerges from lockdown, it feels like the dawn of a new era for England batter Tammy Beaumont.
“I had a quick look at my calendar last week and I realised from the end of April I’ve got cricket all the way through to September, maybe even longer,” Beaumont said.
“Last year I probably played about 10 games in total and that’s the first time I’ve ever played that little cricket in a long time. I’m just desperate to get out there and play as much cricket as possible this year and that excitement of early season’s really come back.
“There’s real excitement in women’s cricket in particular, there’s just so much new stuff going on. It’s just so exciting to have so much cricket this summer and fingers crossed the government guidelines stay the same and we get to play as much of it as possible.”
One of the main sources of Beaumont’s excitement is the new domestic structure awarding 41 new professional women’s contracts across the eight regions contesting the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the Regional T20 competition.
“For years I’ve been saying how we need a semi-professional structure, we need as many professional cricketers as possible, and the fact that is actually happening is really exciting,” Beaumont said.
“This is going to be the first year where we’ve got over 40 professionals training throughout the winter and absolutely ready and raring to go in the summer and I just think it’s so good for the game, the standard’s just going to go up and up.
“There’s going to be that real competition for places at the England level but also for those domestic contracts because there’s only five in each region. I’d love that there’d be 11 and the whole team get it but there’s so much competition and so much cricket to look forward to.
“Hopefully we really see that standard kick off now and I feel like this is the start of the next 10 years of growth of women’s cricket.”
One of the beneficiaries of the new contracts is Tash Farrant, captain of regional side South East Stars and Beaumont’s vice-captain at Kent, who was recalled to the England squad for their recent tour of New Zealand on the back of a strong showing in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy two years after losing her central England contract.
“I was really excited and buzzing to be selected for the New Zealand tour,” Farrant said. “It was a bit of a surprise to me because I was enjoying the winter with the South East Stars and wasn’t really thinking too far ahead and then got that call.
“I was happy with how I did, I feel like it’s definitely something that I can build on and I was pretty raring to come back to Kent and the South East Stars and get back into training. I’m really excited to get some games under my belt now and hopefully put in a few good performances and keep my hat in the ring, keep causing a few headaches and pushing for that England spot.”
In New Zealand, Farrant played in both of England’s ODI victories as they claimed the series 2-1, taking 2 for 31 in the first match. She also played in the second T20I as the tourists swept the series 3-0.
“When I went to New Zealand, played those games for England, which is what I want to do, I felt much more relaxed within my cricket because I felt like I had something to fall back on,” Farrant said. “It wasn’t all the pressure on that game, I need to perform or else.
“So it’s definitely made me more relaxed having that base and having the team around me and supporting me and the coaches have been absolutely brilliant.”
International commitments notwithstanding – the women’s schedule is yet to be confirmed – Beaumont and Farrant are looking forward to the second edition of the London Championship, the 50-over competition set up last year amid the uncertainty over the pandemic’s impact on the season which will involve Kent’s arch-rivals Sussex for the first time.
Sussex begin their campaign at Kent on June 1 in the competition also involving reigning champions Surrey, Middlesex and Essex.
“I’ve been in the Kent-Sussex rivalry for 15 years,” Beaumont said. “I love it, I think it’s brilliant because I’ve had some amazing friendships with people at Sussex. It’s not that we actually hate Sussex or anything I think it’s just a big rivalry between two big county teams.
“Some of the most competitive and best games I can remember have been Kent-Sussex games so I absolutely love that it’s back. I hope there’s a few fiery games because I think they’re fun.”
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo