Former captain Clare Connor is taking women's cricket in England to new levels
Clare Connor has overseen an astonishing period for the women's game in this country.
Last Updated: 29/10/13 12:33pm
Then, in September 1998, with the 21st century approaching, the MCC's members finally voted to allow female membership and so took a tentative step into the 20th.
Fifteen years later, women's cricket is thriving, the national team is on top of the world, participation is on the rise and Clare Connor, head of women's cricket at the ECB, is being talked up for one of the most senior jobs in the organisation - as a possible replacement for outgoing ECB managing director Hugh Morris.
That she should even be considered for such a role in the corridors of Lord's demonstrates the great strides the women's game has taken, but for Connor, the timing was wrong.
"I did think about it," she told skysports.com. "But I decided it wasn't the right time. I have lots I still want to achieve within the women's game and women's sport in general. It's a really exciting time in women's sport and I have a real affinity with the whole movement and the progress we're making.
"Maybe one day," she added. "It would be the ultimate role and we're all waiting to see who it is going to be.
"Hugh's role is an overarching one across all the England programmes but he heads up our whole strategy. He will be a huge loss. We're all going to miss him massively. He's a fantastic person. The England teams' success over recent years speaks volumes about him and his impact."
As a player, Connor captained England for six years and led her side to Ashes glory in 2005 before retiring shortly after at 29 because of injury.
In 2007, she was named the head of women's cricket at the ECB and since then she has overseen an astonishing period for the women's game in this country.
Figures released on Tuesday revealed more than 60,000 women are now playing cricket, with 600 clubs now offering the game to women and young girls, compared to the 90 of ten years ago.
Seven thousand schools have taken part in the Chance to Shine initiative which is set to reach its one millionth girl by Christmas.
Playing cricket was always Connor's ambition - she was the first girl to play for a public school boys XI and played in boys teams until she was 17 - but hers was not the normal route and she admits the challenge is making cricket a viable alternative to hockey and netball for schoolgirls.
"It's about normalising cricket, so both boys and girls get to play cricket and it be nothing different or weird. That's where it's a slow burn, because it will take while to spread and for those girls to go to their clubs in the same way that boys do.
"All the evidence suggests that you have to inspire girls when they are young, so in that regard the importance of Chance to Shine can't be underestimated.
"It's difficult because netball and hockey are the traditional mainstream sports for girls, but what we want to see is girls doing lots of sports and having a wide diet of sport - both summer and winter - so that they are physically healthy. Boys have got a lot of choice and girls have had less choice, so putting cricket into the mix with netball, hockey, tennis swimming, that gives them more choice."
Seeing the England Women team play in front of 10,000 people - as they did in Durham in their third T20 international against Australia at the end of August - should help persuade more girls to take up the sport.
"The girls really enjoyed it," added Connor. "It's what they play for, playing in front of 10,000 at Chester-Le-Street or 9,000 at the Ageas Bowl. Lots of people said the game was much more enthralling as a sporting contest than the men's game on the same day and so that is really important platform.
"The challenge is about converting an unbelievable summer into further growth at grass roots level.
"It's been a big area of focus since I've been in my role. We have a top national team and once we added some additional specialist coaches, a bit more time and financial reward for the players, once that was place, we've spent a lot of time looking at our academy programme which sits just below England, and our U19 and U15 programme."
England's U19 women are currently on tour in South Africa and the academy will travel to the sub-continent in February.
"I don't think there is any other set-up that's giving as much competitive opportunity to its younger players, so that's something we're priding ourselves on and resourcing as heavily as we can, so that when we lose the likes of Charlotte Edwards, Lydia Greenway, Katherine Brunt, who have all been in and around the team for at least 10 years, players are ready to fill the gaps."
Not resting on what has already been achieved, Connor continues to look ahead and aim high.
"In 2014, we want to retain the Ashes in Australia and win the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. We really want one of those world titles back that we lost to Australia. The players would say the pinnacle trophy is the 50-over world cup, but for our profile of being at a world tournament, alongside the men, it's really critical we do well there."
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