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Update 41 women cricketers sign contracts with ECB's regional hubs
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[Image: the-southern-vipers-winners-o.jpg]

In a move described as "the most significant step forward by the women's game in recent years" by Clare Connor, 41 cricketers have now signed full-time domestic contracts with ECB's eight regional hubs, taking the total count of professional women cricketers in the country to 58.

It is a major shot in the arm for the women's game that had been hit particularly hard by the Coronavirus pandemic immediately post a restructure to the regional system. In June, 25 cricketers had signed regional retainer contracts to take through the season, which this year was the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. It was then revealed that those deals would be converted to full-time contracts with another 16 players now added in a symbol of promise that women's cricket is a viable career to pursue.

Jenny Gunn, among the 16 now awarded annual retainer deals, is a significant case in point. The 34-year-old World Cup winner had admitted she was on the brink of retiring from the sport before the 2020 season before she was asked to reconsider by Northern Diamonds head coach Danielle Hazell. The Southern Vipers who beat the Diamonds in the final have themselves offered retainers to Lauren Bell and Maia Bouchier, both of whom played key roles in Charlotte Edwards' team emerging as unbeaten winners.

Alongside the 17 centrally-contracted England players, there are now 58 professional women's cricketers in the UK. Seven of the eight regional hubs have awarded five contracts, while Western Storm and Glamorgan County funding the sixth between them.

Commenting on the major development, Connor, ECB Managing Director of Women's Cricket, said: "We're delighted that these 41 young women are able to call themselves full-time professional cricketers and we wish them every success.

"In terms of the health of women's cricket in England and Wales, we cannot overestimate the importance of these 41 players having the opportunity to train and work on their skills full-time, with access to high-quality coaching and facilities across the eight regions.

"Today's news is not only wonderful for the players themselves, it represents a step change for our whole domestic game and for young girls who will now be able to see more opportunity and aspiration in front of them.

"When you add in the profile opportunity of The Hundred next year, the landscape looks even more exciting. After a challenging year in the wake of the pandemic, I'm really pleased with the progress we've made in 2020, just one year after launching our action plan to transform women's and girls' cricket."

New full-time contracts:

Northern Diamonds: Hollie Armitage, Beth Langston, Linsey Smith, Phoebe Graham, Jenny Gunn

Thunder: Georgie Boyce, Alex Hartley, Emma Lamb, Ellie Threlkeld, Hannah Jones

Central Sparks: Evelyn Jones, Marie Kelly, Issy Wong, Emily Arlott, Gwenan Davies

Lightning: Kathryn Bryce, Sarah Bryce, Bethan Ellis, Lucy Higham, Abbey Freeborn

Southern Vipers: Georgia Adams, Tara Norris, Paige Scholfield, Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier

South East Stars: Alice Davidson-Richards, Sophia Dunkley, Tash Farrant, Bryony Smith, Aylish Cranstone

Sunrisers: Naomi Dattani, Cordelia Griffith, Amara Carr, Jo Gardner, Kelly Castle

Western Storm: Dani Gibson, Sophie Luff, Fi Morris, Georgia Hennessy, Nat Wraith, Alex Griffiths (Sixth contract funded by Western Storm and Glamorgan CCC)

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