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The path is clear as Women's Cricket continues to grow

David Morton
NCU PRO

The victorious Lurgan Ladies Cricket teamThis year has seen Women's Cricket in the Northern Cricket Union continue to grow at an unprecedented rate with the number of clubs now offering Girls and Women's Cricket having doubled since the 2013 season.

In 2013 there were only four clubs that offered Girls and Women's Cricket (teams) within the NCU, however through the increased awareness and development work being carried out by Nigel Jones, Cricket Ireland’s Regional Development Officer in the NCU that number has now doubled to eight - as a direct result of this increase the NCU Women’s Premier League has been given the much needed push that was required in terms of player, club and union engagement, so as to establish it as an official NCU competition.

The 2014 season saw six of the eight club teams enter into the newly established league, these teams included; Armagh, CSNI, Lurgan, North Down, Templepatrick and Waringstown. The remaining two clubs CIYMS and Muckamore both decided to opt out of competition in 2014 due to wanting to build their respective player base and general development needs before taking the leap. However, both clubs managed to arrange a number of friendly fixtures throughout the season, this bodes well for their inclusion in the 2015 Premier League Title race.

Lurgan captain Hannah Grieve lifts the NCU Women's Premier League TrophyThis year’s final (NCU Women's Premier League) came to an exciting conclusion at The Green in Comber back on the 7th of September where North Down played host to Lurgan. North Down batted first making a fighting 98/7 from their allotted 20 overs, with A Millar top scoring with 35 (retired) and the pick of the Lurgan bowlers, Hannah Grieve returning figures of 3 wickets for 13 runs. In reply to North Down’s total, Lurgan got off to a flyer with both of their in-form batters throughout the league campaign, Hannah Grieve and Julie Morrow taking the attack to the North Down bowlers – both batters eventually retired on 35 a piece by which time the result was merely a foregone conclusion with Lurgan going onto win by 9 wickets. However North Down never gave up the fight pushing Lurgan all the way to the 18th over before the winning runs were scored - Stacy Maxwell was the pick of the North Down bowlers picking up 1 wicket for 18 runs.

Like all teams and clubs involved in the 2014 competition, both Lurgan and North Down should be commended for their commitment and skill levels throughout the year. On reflection of the 2014 season, 2015 already promises to be another exciting step forward in the development of the NCU Women’s Premier League with whispers starting to circulate of additional clubs wanting to offer Girls and Women’s Cricket as part of their membership in 2015.

The continued growth of the Girls and Women's game over the past two years can be largely attributed to Cricket Ireland's Regional Development Officer, Nigel Jones, whose determination and tireless work in delivering this key strategy within Cricket Ireland’s Strategic Plan. His development work has led to plans to introduce a Women's Cricket Committee in the NCU and this has been identified by Nigel as a crucial development if the game is to move forward and remain sustainable. This committee will act as a working group to further underpin and support the player pathway environments which have been established over the past 2-3 years as well as to plan and further develop playing opportunities from participation right the way through to performance levels.

The current player pathway within the NCU for Girls and Women’s Cricket includes; Girls Kwik Cricket, Schools U13 Super 8’s, NCU U17 RDS Squad and the NCU Women’s Premier League.

Girls Kwik CricketAt the beginning of the player pathway (competition based), Kwik Cricket is starting to flourish with a number of new to ‘Cricket’ Primary schools taking up the sport, this is mostly due to the activation of Cricket Ireland’s School Club Link delivery programme and the increased delivery support from local Active Communities coaches working across the union. The additional support has meant that Nigel has been able to expand his work programmes and as a direct result, successfully establish a Northern Ireland Girls Kwik Cricket ‘Finals Day’ Tournament which has now run successfully on an annual basis in-conjunction with the traditional Northern Ireland Kwik Cricket Tournament since 2013. Since the inaugural Girls tournament (2013) there have been over 15 Primary Schools from across the NCU take part in the Girls event. This number looks set to increase further in 2015 due to the overall growing awareness of Girls Cricket and the engagement from schools and clubs to provide playing opportunities for Girls.

The next step on the players pathway within the NCU is Schools U13 Super 8’s Cricket, this is an exciting new format of the game which has been designed to encourage participation but equally increase player development through its integration of Cricket Equipment and the ‘type’ of playing ball which is uses. Super 8’s like Girls Kwik Cricket has been established since 2013, however this year (2014) saw the competition and format really come to life with the expansion of participating schools increase from 6 to 11. Due to its successes as a format through player engagement and the ease of playing interpretation, there are plans now to expand the Super 8’s competition to a ‘Club’ League where those that are already engaged and playing in the Schools format can also move sideways on the pathway to a club environment where increased playing and development opportunities are provided. The benefits of such a club competition will not only increase club membership but equally provide another development step which in turn will further underpin the Women’s game which it so desperately needs.

Girls prepare for the Super 8'sStepping on… back in late 2012 the NCU U17's Girls Squad was introduced due to the need to provide a window of opportunity for girls across the region to showcase their skills to the Irish selectors at U17 level – the view then was basically to provide this opportunity and build a programme from there. Since then the programme has developed into a Interprovincial match programme where the NCU U17 Girls squad play against their North West Cricket Union equivalents on an annual basis – in addition, Ulster and Irish selection camps have also been introduced at U17 level. 2015 promises to see further development around ‘resources’ to ensure increased training/playing camps lead directly into a ‘bulker’ match programme.

With all these newly formed and now established competitions in the NCU, 2015 promises to be another exciting year of opportunity for Girls and Women's Cricket throughout the region. Cricket Ireland’s Regional Development Officer, Nigel Jones will undoubtedly once again play a major role in continuing to strive to strengthen the current player pathway which will help to ensure the continued growth and development of the Women’s game. Although the speed and desire to grow the Women's game within the NCU will ultimately depend on the continued and improved engagement from primary and secondary schools, clubs and the NCU itself.

Talking about Women's cricket in 2014 and the opportunities that 2015 may present, Nigel said: “2015 will hopefully prove to be another exciting year for women's cricket here in the NCU. Now that a clear player pathway has been established, girls can start to develop their skills from a much earlier age within a pathway that not only encourages participation but development too. I’m excited about the expansion of current competitions and the opportunity to develop more, however I realise that it is vital that whatever is put in place has the foundations and support to ensure its sustainability. This may be my biggest challenge for 2015… however it’s not one I’ll be shying away from!”

For further information on any of the Girl’s or Women’s competitions, please contact Cricket Ireland’s Regional Development Officer, Nigel Jones on either - email: nigel.jones@cricketireland.ie or telephone: 075 8540 0121.