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Danni Warren on lockdown and the future of women’s domestic cricket

over 3 years ago | Interviews

Lockdown has required innovation to keep people fit and entertained, and Middlesex’s women’s squad have fully embraced the challenge.

Last month, alongside Kent, Surrey and Essex, they began contesting in a London Championship. No, there wasn’t any cricket involved – just plenty of running. The competition involved squads competing to see how far they could run in 30 minutes, with individual distances for each player combining to give a team score. It was Kent who were crowned champions after three weekends of matches, but as Danni Warren explains, “It’s been a nice distraction from not being able to play, but it’s never going to replace playing cricket.”

This is simply a reality of the times we are living in and while the wait to get bat on ball is likely to be a long one, Warren says the time apart has actually brought the squad closer together.

“It’s really surprised me how well the girls have dealt with it and almost become closer as a unit,” she says. “Like everyone else in the world, we’ve discovered the joys of Zoom. A platform like that is great. Half an hour ago we finished an S&C [strength and conditioning] session one of the girls ran with some of the other players. They’ve had to take that on themselves as the majority of our staff have been furloughed, so we’re lucky a couple of the senior girls are happy to run things.”

Head coach Sanjay Patel has also found a way of drilling through some skills in the virtual world.

“Sanjay Patel is brilliant at coming up with new ideas and he’s used his young son as a guinea pig on quite a few occasions to work out how you can hit balls, throw balls and bowl balls in a small area with limited equipment. We’ve set up an online platform where they can download videos that Sanjay and a couple of other coaches have put up some ideas for technical work and skills.”

Like much of the population, quizzes and other social gatherings have taken place through Zoom, and clear communication remains vital for a group that is having to deal with the coronavirus crisis while facing other responsibilities away from cricket.

“We’ve tried to make sure that someone in the coaching or senior leadership team has attempted to reach out to each of the players every week to see how they’re doing,” Warren adds. “A lot of them are at school, a lot of them are still at work, so a lot are busy. There’s a handful that have either finished their education or they’re not working at the moment or haven’t been able to work through this situation. There’s a real disparity in how they’re dealing with it and what they’ve got on, but we’ve tried to reach out once a week to see how they are and how they’re doing.”

Warren admits that “it has hit a few of them quite hard” that the cricketing calendar has been decimated after the hard work of pre-season. This was, of course, set to be a transformative summer for the women’s domestic game with a regional eight-team structure and the advent of The Hundred heralding a new era of professionalisation below the national level. Now players have been left in the lurch, with the announcement of 40 new full-time contracts postponed and The Hundred delayed until 2021.

Nevertheless, small steps forward continue to be made, with Warren’s appointment last week to head up the London and East region – comprising players from Middlesex, Essex, Northamptonshire, the MCC and several national counties – one of the more significant.

She explains where Middlesex will fit in with this new regional structure, one that she has actually been building up over the last few years; players from Essex and Northants joined up with Middlesex and the MCC’s academy to train over the winter.

“We tried to pre-empt the regional structure by putting this academy into place and I guess that’s given us a good idea of seeing the players that are around,” explains Warren.

“Middlesex have a massive role to play from an organisational perspective, but also through the players that have come through our structure – a good number of those I’m sure will play a role in the regional team when that’s launched.”

For Warren, the role of counties themselves remains integral, not least because playing for them remains an aspiration. “Players that come through the system here want to wear the Middlesex badge,” Warren says. “They want to represent the county they’ve grown up in, and I don’t think we can replace that with a new team and blindly think that the pride’s going to go away.

“I’m a massive advocate of the county game and for there being a pathway that you work your way through. It’s going to take internal investment in a way we haven’t seen much of in the past, but I know Middlesex are committed to doing that and ensuring that our female players are looked after, from the county age groups all the way through to the senior team, and given the best opportunity to thrive whatever the playing structure will look like. I see nothing but a positive future for county cricket.”

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