Ollie Godden spoke to former England cricketer Laura MacLeod about her new role as Director of West Midlands Cricket Limited & how she hopes to inspire more girls and women than ever before to pick up a bat or a ball.
Stories of early sporting experiences often have a familiar theme. Taken down to a local club by a willing parent and shown the ropes of a new activity for which the rules, tactics and techniques seem far beyond comprehension. If the beady eyed child is persistent enough, a relationship will begin to build – a slow and sometimes painstaking connection that may last a lifetime.
Former England cricket all-rounder Laura MacLeod knows that tale all too well. Cladded in her father’s pads, she made the journey to Crewe Rolls Royce, the club at which her father plied his cricketing trade, and began a long-lasting love affair with the sport.
Aged just 11, she made her debut for the U18 boys team due to a lack of segregation or age appropriate opportunities for girls. It didn’t seem to matter though; the boys were respectful and slowed down for her. That was until she honed her skills with the bat and ball and, four short years later (incidentally around the same time that she discovered women did play cricket after seeing England lift the 1993 Women’s Cricket World Cup), she found herself captaining the same side and the boys would be doing everything in their power to dismiss her.
“As I went through my teenage years getting better and beginning to hold my own, the boys probably gave me the best test that would prepare me for an England career – they tried to knock my head off at times!”, Macleod recalls.
“They just took me as one of them. There were good lads around me who valued my input and respected me as a player.”
It’s a fond memory for MacLeod, who was influenced by wider sporting engagement as a youngster. Hockey and swimming came naturally and helped to shape the young girl who would go on to play 72 One Day Internationals, 13 Tests and 3 T20 Internationals for her country.
Her involvement in the game now comes administratively, as the Director of the newly formed West Midlands Women’s Cricket Limited, after a plethora of roles across the Midlands.
The role follows the restructuring of elite domestic cricket for women in this country, a reflection of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) five-year “Inspiring Generations” strategy released last year. For the first time, the framework for development included women’s and girls’ cricket as a specific growth area, citing the potential to harness enthusiasm to increase representation of women in cricket at every level.
ECB unveils £61m interim support package for professional and recreational cricket
— England and Wales Cricket Board (@ECB_cricket) March 31, 2020
£20million was pledged to the restructuring, which has seen eight new regional hubs established, each of which will award five full-time contracts to players within their region, resulting in 40 new professionals across the country to supplement the 20-or-so Central Contracts given out by England each year. The regions, each encompassing a varying number of constituent counties, will play against each other with teams supplemented by regional talent on a pay-as-they-play basis.
England has taken a leaf out of the Australian system’s book, which has been continually producing talent for some time, indicative of the work done to increase the impact of the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL). If rolled out successfully, the new structure should raise the standard of the domestic game here, whilst providing depth to the national squad.
MacLeod admits: “The Aussies have just got real foresight. They have some really clever, strategic people. We do have to learn from them but be mindful of bringing people along with us on the journey.
“The ECB have really done their homework on this as to how a girl gets from that first feel of the bat and ball right through to being an England player. We recognise that we need girls to fall in love with the game and then we can start working on the fundamentals and bringing in things that they need in order to develop, ideally to a higher level.
“If we start at the top, the hope is that there are more girls knocking at the door for England places. There needs to be an oversupply so if Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole were to retire tomorrow, we have quality players that could step into their shoes that have had not just potential, but good experiences. They have played high quality, under-pressure, cricket so they are ready to get into that environment and not just survive but thrive.”
🏏|KEEP IT UP|🏏
Here is what the Worcestershire Women’s Rapids have been up to whilst they’re not training!
Their version of the ‘keep it up’ challenge!
— Worcestershire Womens Rapids (@WorcsCCCWomen) March 25, 2020
The five contracted players in each region will receive tactical, technical and physiological conditioning training as part of the package lined up for athletes. It’s a far cry from the amateur era MacLeod played in, where she had to coach and work in schools alongside her England career to fuel international representation.
The regional hubs will also provide a platform for increased exposure to the younger audience, though MacLeod is acutely aware of the challenges facing anybody trying to engage new clientele. Previously tasked with increasing participation at the ECB across communities, and now Chair of the MCC Women’s Subcommittee, it is a challenge she is used to, but well versed in dealing with.
Day 1 as Director of West Midlands Women’s Cricket. About to go on a very exciting journey of creating a professional team (name, brand, staff, players, training and match venues, kit) from scratch! 🏏 🤗
— Laura MacLeod (@MacleodLK) February 3, 2020
“I will be working hard with the county board to flood the bottom and make sure that we are giving girls, no matter who they are, opportunities. They must then have a really clear line of sight and they know what they are aiming for at the end of years and years of hard work.
“I know from having two kids myself, they rarely watch TV these days. They spend a lot of time watching other people play a game! We need to understand what kids do in their leisure time, what they are like online, what they like to do, and how we can connect with them in a safe and appropriate way. We have got the right things in place. It is only a matter of time before this will gain traction and it will start to snowball.
“The beauty of the women’s game is that there are not too many steps or rungs of the ladder between grassroots and the international stage. You’ll see the girls signing at the end of the game and chatting away. We have to do more of that to make it a great experience to come and watch.”