Women's competitive domestic cricket will return with a new 50-over competition later this month in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, honouring the former England captain who died in 2017.
The England and Wales Cricket Board finally announced details for the much-anticipated tournament, which will see the eight teams from the new elite domestic structure play in two regional groups.
Beginning on the August Bank Holiday weekend, all teams will play six group games each, with the tournament culminating in a final on September 26 between both group winners.
“I’m delighted that, despite the obvious challenges of Covid-19, we have been able to continue to build the new women’s elite domestic structure to the point that we’ll see the eight regions playing 50-over cricket this summer," ECB managing director of women's cricket Claire Connor said.
The news was welcomed widely on Tuesday, especially after Connor voiced concerns in May that women's cricket may not return to action in any capacity this summer due to the impact of coronavirus.
Plans for a game-changing 2020 for the women's game, including the launch of The Hundred, a restructured domestic competition and 40 professional domestic player contracts, were put on hold due to the global pandemic, but the ECB have worked to bring the domestic game back in an altered format.
The result is the RHF Trophy, a one-off event which will be replaced by a similar tournament — unconfined to the regionalised structure due to coronavirus — next summer. Following on from awarding retainers to 25 domestic players in June, the ECB confirmed that all players (except centrally contracted England players) would be paid to participate in this tournament.
England players will be available for their regional teams, subject to international fixtures for their home series against South Africa, which are set to be announced imminently.
Connor said the decision to name the tournament after Heyhoe Flint, a World Cup-winning captain and then-ECB board member, who contributed to a landmark moment in women's domestic cricket by helping formalise the Kia Super League in 2015, was a fitting tribute.
“Rachael Heyhoe Flint would have been proud to witness the professionalisation of the domestic women’s game," Connor said. "She did so much for our sport and without her work, passion and dedication, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s therefore fitting that this special edition of the competition will be played in her honour. I’d personally like to extend my thanks to Rachael’s son, Ben, with whom we collaborated on the logo for the competition.”
Heyhoe Flint's son, Ben, added: "We are honoured that this competition has been named after her, but I know mum would only have cared that female cricketers had yet another opportunity to play the game they love in difficult times, which is something she was very used to."
A full list of fixtures is set to be announced on Wednesday morning along with the men's Vitality Blast schedule. The matches will likely take place behind closed doors, and plans are still in the works as to where matches will be broadcast, and are likely to be streamed on team websites.