Kate Cross: 'This is the biggest time for women's cricket'

By Andy DonleyBBC Sport
Kate Cross and England team-mates celebrate a wicket against Australia.
Kate Cross (centre) and team-mates hope that the Super League will raise standards in English cricket

As far as popularity barometers go, the Super League is likely to be one of rare importance to the future of a sport.

Six teams have had the best female cricketers from our shores and beyond shared between them before the Twenty20 competition starting on 30 July. The hope is that the success, and the profitability, of the men's game can be emulated.

At the forefront of the competition will be Lancashire Thunder's Kate Cross.

The 24-year-old bowler is one of the brightest talents in the English game, and will be aiming to grow into a key figure under new coach Mark Robinson's regime, which has already dispensed of the services of iconic captain Charlotte Edwards and fellow stalwart Lydia Greenway.

Achievements such as her 8-47 for Heywood CC, the month after she became the first woman to play in the Central Lancashire League in 2015, have helped raise the profile of the women's sport higher than it has ever been.

But while the hope is that competitions such as the Super League will help cricket become a viable career for young sportswomen, the sport's current flagbearers could never have hoped for such developments at a similar age.

Kate Cross international bowling stats
*stats correct before the start of England's ODI series with Pakistan

"For girls like me, when we were 10 we could never consider cricket as a career, cricket always came second," Cross told BBC Get Inspired.

"Now, if a girl at 10 has the mind state that she's going to play cricket for England she can just work towards that.

"I was the first girl accepted into the Lancashire academy and I remember there was so much media around.

"I remember reading an article online and someone had commented on the bottom saying 'women should be in the kitchen', saying that because I couldn't play first-team cricket for Lancashire then their investments were wrong and I was taking the place of a boy.

"There was always that stigma about me being in the academy.

"But now you're seeing the likes of Deandra Dottin from the West Indies and Australia's Meg Lanning who are getting close to comparing to the men - Dottin can hit the ball further than some men I know.

"So I do think that it will always be a different game, but I think that the comparisons are getting smaller and smaller."

'This is going to go down in history'

Kate Cross dives for the ball during a Women's Big Bash League game
Cross turned out for Brisbane Heat in the Women's Big Bash League earlier this year

As that gap gets smaller, so interest in the women's game grows.

Cross was one of just nine English players to compete in the inaugural Women's Big Bash League in January, an experience she described as "absolutely brilliant".

That came hot on the heels of England's first central contracts for women in 2014 and the BBC and Sky's groundbreaking live broadcast of every ball of the 2015 Ashes.

And the Bury seamer believes that the increasing willingness to invest in women's cricket is ample proof that it is a sport that has its best days before it.

"A lot of people I've spoken to didn't even know that women's cricket existed, so for the Women's Big Bash and the Super League to be created it's just such a big move," she said.

"When we look back at this in another 20 years we'll think 'this is where it all took off'.

"I think what makes this such big news is people are willing to invest so much time, funding and interest into the women's game.

"This is going to go down in history as the biggest time for women's cricket."

"A dream come true"

Kate Cross celebrates a wicket in an Ashes match, 2014
Cross made her Test debut against Australia in January 2014

For Cross and her peers that will, all being well, mean two things are likely to change in their lives.

First, their level of exposure to cricket - and its spectators - will increase exponentially.

Currently, there is concern over the gap between the domestic circuit and the international sport.

And with the international calendar looking sparser than some would like, and certainly more frugal than that of their male counterparts, the chance to spend more time on the pitch is certainly welcomed.

But more than that, it is the hype the Super League is raising and the appetite to be involved in big events that has the Lancastrian excited.

"As a player you have certain things that you want to tick off," she said.

"If you look at the fixtures, Lancashire are playing Yorkshire at Old Trafford. I've always wanted to play at Old Trafford, so that'd be a dream come true.

"Things like that are big news, and when I talk about it, that's when it hits me just how big it is.

"I know all the girls are really excited and the main thing is, it's just an opportunity to play more cricket. We love playing cricket and we don't feel like we get to play enough of it.

"It's another opportunity to be getting on the field, learning and showcasing our abilities.

"Fingers crossed, people will really get on board with it, come along and watch women's cricket."

'If we don't perform, we lose our jobs'

My Morning - Kate Cross - Cricketer

If the prospect of "dreams coming true" is one for the romantics, the second thing the Super League could change is strictly business.

Before the Big Bash and the Super League, the only money available to English female cricketers was through a central contract or outside marketing - slim pickings for those for whom a career in the sport is the ambition.

In its first year the Super League will offer match fees and travel expenses but the hope is that, somewhere down the line, something more substantial could be promised.

"If we can develop this league and it sustains itself then suddenly we might be offering professional contracts to girls to play Super League," she said.

"It's the way forward and that's what is going to make the standard better. Obviously the more money we can earn through cricket the better, because the more money we earn, the more time we can commit to getting better.

Kia Super League opening fixtures
FixtureVenueDate & time
Yorkshire Diamonds v Loughborough LightningHeadingleySaturday 30 July, 14:30 BST
Southern Vipers v Surrey StarsAgeas BowlSunday 31 July, 14:00 BST
Western Storm v Lancashire ThunderSomerset CC31 July, 14:30 BST

"The big thing for the England girls at the moment is, if we lose our England contracts where do we go? If we lose that contract we have to go looking for jobs outside of cricket.

"You don't want to feel safe, but it's having that security. This is probably the most difficult time we'll ever have as professional cricketers because we're in a time when we're trying to generate interest.

"People think that because we're professional now we should be successful all the time but you still need to remember that these are our jobs at the end of the day, and if we don't perform at the top level we could lose our jobs."

While the threat of retaining your income is hardly ideal sporting motivation, it's certainly better than knowing your skill and commitment will go forever unrewarded, as was the case for yesteryear's top female cricketers.

It is the achievements of Cross' generation that are making the futures of others that much brighter, so they can be forgiven for hoping they can reap the benefits sooner rather than later.