After losing her England contract two years ago, Tash Farrant could easily have drifted out of the game. A revamped domestic structure has brought her back into the mix, writes Taha Hashim.
Until recently, if you wanted to earn a living as a female cricketer in England, you had no option but to dream big. At the top end of the game were a handful of contracts for those playing international cricket – but that was it. Fail to make the cut and there would be no cricketing lifeline to fall back on: the county set-up was purely amateur. With no middle ground, a job would have to be found elsewhere.
Then came the introduction of a new eight-team regional structure in 2020, with professionalism finally making its way into the domestic women’s game. While Covid-19 caused delays, the ECB announced 25 retainer contracts in June and 41 full-time contracts in December. You can now be a professional cricketer – and not play for England.
In Tash Farrant’s own words, at one stage “it had all been England, England, England”. A left-arm seamer, she was just 17 when in 2014 she became one of the first women to receive an England central contract. Having made her ODI and T20I debuts in 2013, she spent the next few years as a fringe squad member before the bad news broke in early 2019: Farrant had been left off England’s list of contracted players.
“Tash now has a choice,” said Mark Robinson, England’s head coach at the time. “She can go in a different direction in her life, or she can hang in there and see where she is in two more years.”
Having hung in there, Farrant was back in an England tracksuit earlier this week, addressing reporters over Zoom. Her location was New Zealand, where she’s currently part of an England squad set to play three ODIs and three T20Is. The revamped domestic system has done its job: Farrant was recalled after finishing as South East Stars’ leading wicket-taker in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy last summer, her nine wickets in six matches coming at an average of 19.66. A few months later, her retainer deal translated into a full-time contract. Now, England have come calling once again.
“It was massively disappointing,” said Farrant of losing her contract two years ago. “I loved playing for England, I loved being in the squad, being in the team. I think for me it was the fact that there wasn’t really much to fall back on. It did feel a bit like the end of the world at the time.”
After the initial disappointment, Farrant got back on her feet, finished her studies at university and, with the help of former England batter Lydia Greenway, landed a job as head of girls’ cricket at Trent College. “I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I learnt a lot of stuff about my own game through coaching kids, especially kids who didn’t want to play cricket. So I have had a normal job, and I really enjoyed it, but I can’t lie, I am enjoying being a professional cricketer again because it was quite tough.
“That was a new lease of life for me,” she said of the regional contracts. “I knew deep down that I had some unfinished business and that I wanted to work really hard to get back into the mix.”
Beyond a wage, the new deals are offering hope, too. Farrant added that, upon the news of her England recall, she received congratulatory messages from the likes of Alex Hartley and Beth Langston, both of whom were previously cut from England’s list of centrally-contracted players before earning domestic deals. “I think it gave people a bit of hope that even if they had been in the set-up and they’re now out of it, they know that if they’re performing well in the Heyhoe Flint Trophy and The Hundred, they’re putting their name in the hat. Obviously, the girls in the England team are world-class, but now if you’re performing at the domestic level you are likely to put yourself in the ring for an England call-up.”
But even if that call-up doesn’t arrive, it no longer has to feel like the end of the world. “I did a Zoom for the Stars Academy girls – the younger girls who aren’t in the main squad – and asked them what their plans are, and it was really cool to hear. They were just saying: ‘I want to be in the Stars team, I want to get a contract.’ Before, people would look to England, and that’s where people aspire to be, but I think now it’s so great that people can aspire to be just a professional cricketer and play for their region.”
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but that shouldn’t be the only option available. In men’s cricket, not having that extra touch of quality doesn’t rule out a long and successful career at county level. In women’s cricket, a similar path is no longer off the table. For Tarrant, however, the opportunity is now there to make it back to the big-time with England – a prospect that had once seemed out of reach.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be this soon, to be honest. But I’m just really grateful to get the opportunity again because I didn’t think it wasn’t going to come at one stage.”