Mahika Gaur takes giant step up in a seismic fortnight for women’s cricket in England

Delightful debut: Mahika Gaur marked her first England appearance with a wicket against Sri Lanka at Hove  (PA)
Delightful debut: Mahika Gaur marked her first England appearance with a wicket against Sri Lanka at Hove (PA)

A £3,500 payday represents an unlikely windfall for your average 17-year-old, but had become the norm for England cricketers representing their country in T20 matches — so long as they were male.

On Thursday night, though, that all changed, as teenager Mahika Gaur marked her debut with a wicket as part of the first England women’s side to receive match fees on an equal footing with the men.

Gaur’s impressive bow was the highlight of a 12-run victory over Sri Lanka in a heavily rain-affected First T20 at Hove and added to the feeling that the past fortnight has represented something of a changing of the guard.

The final throes of the Hundred brought the retirements of England greats Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Sciver-Brunt, two titans who straddled eras as part of the first cohort of female cricketers to be handed fully professional central contracts by the England & Wales Cricket Board nine years ago.

While the value of those central contracts remains dwarfed by the men’s equivalents, on Wednesday the ECB took another landmark step, following the example of the FA and several other cricketing nations by raising match fees across all three formats to achieve parity with the men’s international side.

Match fees are effectively pro-rata payments delivered in addition to whatever annual salary players already receive, and levelling them was one of the signature recommendations of June’s Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket report, which stated that England’s women were being paid about a quarter of the men’s fees for white-ball matches and even less in Tests.

There is a gargantuan amount of work to be done to achieve another of the ICEC’s targets — for pay parity in terms of average salary by 2028 — particularly given men’s match fees and central contracts are expected to rise in value in a bid to stave off the threat of franchise leagues in the coming months.

Even so, the environment into which Gaur stepped last night is a little more equal than it was a week ago.

And she readily charged into it. At 6ft 3ins, one would not have to have seen a great deal of Gaur in domestic cricket to suspect she would prove a handful and two overs either side of a lengthy delay were enough to confirm as much.

Her first, bar a nervy first-ball wide, showcased the swing and bounce that already has the left-armer being talked up as one of the most exciting prospects in world cricket, while her second brought the key wicket of Chamari Athapaththu, as Sri Lanka fell short of a DLS-adjusted target of 68 from six overs.

“She’s fitted in perfectly,” said fellow teenager Alice Capsey, whose 51 from just 27 balls put England in command on 186 for four before the downpour brought their innings to a premature close after 17 overs.

“I’m not surprised with how well she went out there and bowled today. We all told her to go out there and express herself, be herself, she doesn’t need to change.”

Almost with each passing week, though, the game is.