She’s on a mission to make cricket gender-balanced and to champion the game for girls. With our upcoming Girls Cricketing Championship later on this month, what better time to catch up with the cricket legend, Clare Connor CBE. Having captained England to win back the Ashes, she is also Managing Director of Women’s Cricket for the ECB and the first female President of the MCC. We discover how her stratospheric career continues at full pace!
How did your love of cricket emerge?
As a little girl, I was obsessed by cricket. I’m not sure where that obsession came from other than a close relationship with my Dad who played club cricket. I was a tomboy who lived for sport. It was strange as I was the only girl in my school, club and community who played cricket. I went to Brighton College and played in the boy’s cricket teams all the way through. I captained the Boys’ under 10’s and then onto the 1st XI in the sixth form where we played against the big schools like Tonbridge and Cranleigh.
Throughout my school career I was the only girl playing. I didn’t come across barriers as I was picked on merit. I was either Captain or Vice-Captain of every team I was in. I was an all-rounder so I batted and bowled and was really welcomed and included by the boys right from the beginning. I didn’t meet any nastiness or criticism throughout those seven to eight years at school. I was really blessed and had nothing but positive experiences despite being such an oddity!
What do you think are the key skills needed to be a good cricketer?
To succeed in anything you need a certain set of skills. Cricket is very technical so you need to have an aptitude for skill development and have the dedication to hone those skills. It’s a unique sport as it has huge emphasis on individual performance at any one time but within a team setting. So you need to have real self-belief as an individual in your own skills but you also need to be a team player. As an individual you fail a lot in cricket but you need to be able to cope with that, whilst also remaining positive for the team.
From a leadership point of view you are constantly taking decisions, unlike most other captaincy roles. You need to understand how to get the best out of your team, to take decisions and to know when it’s your decision to make alone or collaboratively. These are all important lessons for life and cricket is a good sport to play to understand the realities of the wider world. They are lessons that as a player have served me well throughout my professional life.
How has cricket changed for girls?
I thinks it’s a very special sport for young people to play, it’s a culturally diverse sport and now 30% of young players are female – which is completely transformational! When I was growing up there were very few clubs that had girls’ sections and now 2,700 clubs have a section for women enabling them to play in their own single gender teams. Also, lots of private prep schools have now decided to swap rounders for cricket as they can see a visible pathway to a profession with more of an infrastructure to progress.
Do you still think there are barriers for girls to get into sport?
Even though we’ve made progress there are still barriers, especially for dual gender team sports like rugby, football and cricket. They are still predominantly led by men and coached by men. Boardrooms are changing, but you are still talking about sports with a male history and this has been reflected in the stories, language and symbols surrounding them. This can act as an immediate barrier for girls to feel part of something. We need to make a concerted effort to reduce the barriers – we are making progress but we still have work to do.
Is there now a tried and tested career path for female cricketers?
We are in the middle of a transformative strategy for the womens’ and girls’ game. We are investing £50 million over this five year period and we are in the middle of that now. We want to make sure we connect each part of the pathway as best we can.
So as a little girl you can start playing in a national programme with boys from the age of five. From there we need to provide a girls only club opportunity with competition and coaching that is localised and inclusive where girls feel part of the club environment. For talented girls, all of our Counties now have girls’ programmes for under 11’s, 13’s, 15’s and under 18’s. So every girl should be able to access the sport recreationally and also professionally along a talent pathway. Then we have the Regional Academies where professional female players can thrive in a competitive environment which is paid.
The Hundred that we launched last year is our gender balanced professional short format competition for women and men to really grow the game, to play together on the same day and to increase the diversity of our fan base with equal prize money. Salaries may not be equal but prize money is. Then right at the top is the full professional centrally contracted to the ECB England womens’ squad. We have 18 players who are on central contracts with England, some of which have salaries of six figures. This is big progress if you think that women weren’t earning anything from the game until 2014! All my playing days were amateur, I didn’t earn anything even playing for England!
Tell us about being President of the MCC.
It’s an amazing honour I’m really enjoying. It’s a traditional, exclusive and prestigious club, over 230 years old and one of the last bastions of a male environment within sport. By making me President, it’s shown that the MCC has a progressive agenda – this year will see far more womens’ cricket played at Lords. It’s a lovely opportunity for me to dovetail my day job as Managing Director of Womens’ Cricket for the ECB with trying to influence the MCC agenda, to keep pushing a more exclusive game for women and girls. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable and I thought there would be more challenges than there have been.
What is your proudest achievement?
There are probably two. When I was Captain of England, I retired after we regained the Ashes after 42 years. We’d been completely dominated by Australia for a long time so to lead an England Team as Captain for six years and to achieve that will stay with me forever. It was the pinnacle of my playing days. Then being in this role as President of the MCC for what it represents for the game and its future direction.
As a country are we leading the way?
Sadly not. We probably were in 2014 and that led to us winning the World Cup at Lords in 2017. Australia has since been playing catch up and has professionalised their women’s domestic game much quicker than us. We are not far off but they do have a few years on us. We are on the right track, we were unbeaten for seven consecutive series, until we lost the Ashes but we are the world champions in the over 50 format and we are defending the World Cup in March.
What’s your long term objective for women’s cricket?
My overall strategy is that girls can see that cricket is for them and that they don’t have to play in a boys’ team. That there is a playing pathway, that whilst not perfect, has got every step covered. That the sport has role models for them, female coaches, international players, women in the cricket media and leadership positions they can look to.
Find out more about the fantastic School Notices U13 Girls Cricket Championship happening on Friday 20th May!