England seamer Isa Guha believes MCC’s Young Cricketers (YC) scheme is leading the way for the women’s game as she prepares for the defence of the Ashes in Australia.
Three YC’s - Heather Knight, Fran Wilson and Danni Wyatt - are part of the 15-player squad which plays three One Day Internationals, five Twenty20 Internationals and a one off, four day Test Down Under.
The first ODI in Perth starts on Wednesday 5 January.
The teenage trio are part of the scheme which allows talented young players to develop their skills full-time at the Home of Cricket.
England’s women are currently ICC World Champions in both the Twenty20 and 50-over formats and have held the Ashes since 2005.
However, the vast majority are not full-time cricketers and have to juggle the intense international cricketing schedule with work or studies - something Guha, a part time PHD student, appreciates.
“The fact that MCC do this [the YC scheme] is brilliant. I know that, every year, more and more girls come onto the YC scheme and it’s great that they’re able to train full-time as well as earn money.” said the 25-year-old.
“Funding is hard to come by and over the last couple of years the demands of the women’s game have become increasingly higher.
“There is a lot more cricket being played and because the opposition teams are becoming stronger you have to devote a lot more time to training so that you can be physically and mentally better ahead of internationals.
“A lot of players who have come out of the YCs have gone on to play for their country because they’re able to come in, train 24/7 and do it all at the Home of Cricket. It’s fantastic and a its really exciting for them.
“I known they’re in the nets working hard and improving their game and it's sort of where the women’s game needs to head - where the girls are able to train more and work hard developing their cricket.”
Tests taking a hit
High Wycombe-born Guha starred when England last defended the Ashes Down Under, picking up nine wickets and the man-of-the-match award to set-up a convincing six wicket victory at the Bradman Oval, Bowral in 2008.
England have played just one Test since then – a draw against the Aussies to retain the Urn at Worcester in 2009 – and Guha is eagerly anticipating a rare chance to impress in the longer form of the game.
However Guha, who has played seven Tests, 78 ODIs and 16 T20s for her country, admits the shorter formats are crucial in increasing the popularity and marketability of the women’s game.
She added: “I would love to play more Tests but unfortunately the way the women’s game is going at the moment is, to raise the profile of the game, we're playing a lot more Twenty20 cricket, and I completely understand that.
“In the women’s game there is just not enough time to play a long Test series and people are pushing more for the T20s and ODIs so unfortunately Test cricket does lose out.
“It is great though that we still get to play against the Australians in our own Ashes series.”
Extra special occasion
England play both limited overs series before the tour climaxes with the one-off Test in Sydney starting on 22 January.
The first two T20s at the Adelaide Oval and Melbourne Cricket Ground are played directly before the men’s first and second T20s, ensuring a large crowd and greater exposure for the women.
“The T20s are always extra special because you’re playing on the same day as the men.” Guha added.
“I remember playing at the MCG in 2008 - by the end of our game there were 30,000 people there ahead of the Australia v India match and the ground still looked empty which was weird.
“But there was still a great buzz around the stadium and they’re brilliant adverts for women’s cricket.
“I think that is the way forward for the women’s game to raise the profile because spectators come in a little bit early and see the women’s game in action.”