England A tour opens up life-changing opportunities in women’s cricket

With few call‑ups coming from beyond the contracted squad of 17, the England women’s team has sometimes felt like a closed shop since professionalism was instituted in 2014. That, however, could all change this winter: for the first time, a women’s “A team” will take on the Australia A team in a series that will include 50-over and 20-over matches and run concurrently with the senior team’s Women’s Ashes series.

“We’re trying to grow and expand our squad,” the England head coach, Lisa Keightley, said on Sunday. “I think it [the A tour] will help us – we probably don’t have to make a huge amount of decisions too early.”

Two of the players whose names are sure to be in the mix for A tour selection wrapped up excellent seasons this week at the Professional Cricketers’ Association awards voted for by their peers. The 29-year-old Eve Jones, an opening batter and captain of the Central Sparks, was voted the cinch PCA Women’s Player of the Year, while the 17-year-old Alice Capsey, a prodigy who has won silverware this season for South East Stars in the T20 Charlotte Edwards Cup and for Oval Invincibles in the Hundred, picked up the first cinch PCA Women’s Young Player of the Year award.

The announcement came as no surprise to anyone who has followed the women’s game this summer. Jones was the leading run-scorer in the Charlotte Edwards Cup, with three half-centuries in six innings, hit an unbeaten century in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, and was fourth on the run-scoring tally for Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred. Capsey, meanwhile, came to prominence with a half-century in her first match at Lord’s in the Hundred, and hit 40 not out from 26 balls as her team won the Charlotte Edwards Cup final.

Despite that, there is a certain irony in both awards. Jones, whose senior county debut was for Shropshire in 2007, spent the first 13 years of her domestic career ineligible for PCA membership – she was an amateur, working as a cricket coach to make ends meet. Capsey, meanwhile – the youngest winner of a player‑voted PCA award – is not yet a full-time professional (the PCA Women’s Committee voted for non‑members to be included in the voting).

Eve Jones with her cinch PCA Women’s Player of the Year award
Eve Jones with her cinch PCA Women’s Player of the Year award. Photograph: Barrington Coombs/Getty Images for PCA

Between them, the pair represent the past challenges and the present opportunities of English women’s cricket. Jones attributes much of her recent success to the professional contract she received in October 2020, one of 41 new domestic contracts awarded by the England and Wales Cricket Board. “Becoming a professional cricketer has taken my game to another level,” she said.

It has also been instrumental in Jones bagging her first Women’s Big Bash League contract: she flies out this week to join the Melbourne Renegades. By contrast, Capsey is part of a new generation who can, if she wishes, walk into a professional contract – be it with England or with the Stars – the minute she turns 18.

The exposure Capsey has experienced this summer, playing in front of crowds of thousands in the Hundred, has meant her name is being mentioned in England press conferences by Keightley, while preparations for her likely selection in the England A tour have begun. “I’ve already started having discussions with my teachers,” Capsey said. “I’m looking to get as much work done this side of Christmas as possible. All of my work’s done on my laptop and all the lessons are recorded, so when I’m out there I can still do some schoolwork. As much as it’s probably not what I’d want to be doing, it’s something that’s quite important!”

Jones, meanwhile, has plugged away for years in low-profile domestic cricket without so much as a nod from England. “There is a little bit of frustration there,” she says. For her, and others, the A tour could be an unprecedented opportunity to break through to the international stage.

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“I feel like I’m just coming into the peak of my career,” Jones says. “If I can go out there and and perform in that, then it will put me a big position to get called up into the squad if anything happens. Obviously there’s Covid around, injuries can occur, it’s just being ready if it happens for me.”.

The only shame, perhaps, is these kind of life‑changing opportunities have been quite so long in coming.

Eve Jones and Alice Capsey were speaking after the 52nd cinch PCA awards, the biggest awards ceremony in English cricket.

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