Clare Connor: England can close gap on Australia with new £20m investment

Meg Lanning and Heather Knight
Australia, led by Meg Lanning (left), beat England 12-4 in the Women's Ashes series this summer

A new £20m investment in women's cricket will help England close the gap on Australia, says its national director Clare Connor.

England struggled in the summer's multi-format Women's Ashes series, which Australia won 12-4 on points to retain the trophy.

The money will help fund 40 new full-time professional contracts and help grow all areas of the women's game.

"The gap hit us hard this summer in the Ashes," Connor told BBC Sport.

The England and Wales Cricket Board aims to invest £50m into the game over five years to "transform all elements of women's and girls' cricket".

The new contracts will be in addition to the 21 international central contracts that are already in place.

Australia are the world's top-ranked one-day and Twenty20 side, with England third in the first format and second in the other.

Connor described the funding as "unprecedented" in women's cricket.

"What we've seen is the investment Australia made in their strategy four or five years ago is really paying dividends for them across the game," Connor said.

"We need to make sure the growing numbers of professional players at domestic level is really driving the standards of the England team as well.

"This is a long-term view around making sure there are more talented girls in the whole system, and that starts from growing the base."

The plan will be focused on five key areas: participation, pathway, profile, performance and people.

'Serious female contenders' for head coach role

England won the 50-over Women's World Cup in 2017 but were beaten by Australia in the World T20 final last year.

Head coach Mark Robinson stepped down after the disappointing Women's Ashes series, which saw England struggle with the bat in several matches.

Connor said England are in the process of recruiting a replacement for Robinson.

"There are some serious female contenders for that role," Connor said. "We had a really strong field, which I was really pleased with."

'A huge drive to close salary gap'

There has been criticism of the pay disparity between the men and women competing in the new Hundred competition.

There are seven salary bands for men and women. The lowest-paid man will receive £30,000 while the lowest-paid female player will receive £3,000.

"I think there is a huge, collective drive to close the gap," Connor said.

"The salaries we will be paying our female players are very competitive and I think they are in line with the economics of the game more widely.

"I really am confident we'll be continuing to tell a positive story about pay."

England captain Heather Knight said the new investment would be used "to grow the game commercially as well".

"You look at where we were sort of four years ago and we were nowhere near the level we are now," Knight added.

"Women's cricket has only been professional for four years - the men's game has been professional for 60 years.

"It's about being patient and trying to make progress all the time, but also being realistic and knowing how far we've come in such a short space of time."

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