By KIT SHEPARD
Ebony Rainford-Brent believes it is time for cricket to stop talking and take meaningful action to eradicate discrimination.
Allegations of institutional racism, most notably by Azeem Rafiq towards Yorkshire, have tarnished the sport’s reputation in 2021.
Rainford-Brent, the first black women’s cricketer to play for England, admitted at the SJA British Sports Awards that she was tired of only talking about change.
She said: “I’m going to be honest, I’m a little bit exhausted by a lot of these conversations. What I think is key is action.
“One issue is the lack of black players. There are so many direct actions we could be taking.”
Rainford-Brent considers her ACE Programme Charity, set up in 2020 to identify talented young cricketers with African and Caribbean heritage, to be an example of such action.
The 37-year-old has become a leading voice on racism within cricket and was recognised for her efforts with a Sport for Social Change Award at last year’s British Sports Awards.
She added: “We’ve got to get to the solutions and we’ve got to get to them quickly because clearly our game needs to open up.
“The number one message is about inclusivity and opening up the sport.”
The Hundred looks set to be at the centre of those solutions, with this year’s inaugural season of the competition seeking to attract new cricket fans.
For Rainford-Brent, the new tournament was the defining feature of cricket in 2021.
She said: “The standout was the Hundred, which bought a new audience into the game.
“That’s the direction we need. Families, more diverse groups, young people with disabilities, we saw a lot more inclusivity.
“What I saw there is excitement and the role models that we have at the top of the game.”
The Hundred was the first English domestic cricket tournament to run men’s and women’s competitions concurrently.
The result was increased exposure for the female game, with the final played in front of 17,116 spectators at Lord’s, a domestic record for women’s cricket.
And the players’ value is being acknowledged, with women’s salaries for the 2022 Hundred expected to increase by 108% across the board.
Rainford-Brent commented: “It is going to be a game-changer and really good for the players.
“Salaries have to reflect where the game is. They were maybe a little bit low early doors but what this shows is the commitment and the commercial plan behind it.”
After a hectic year where she juggled work as a broadcaster and Director of Women’s Cricket at Surrey, the former fast bowler is hoping for some respite in 2022.
She said: “I’m thinking of having a break, I need a holiday.
“It’s been pretty full-on, everything from the Hundred to Covid broadcasting, the Surrey work, there’s been a lot going on.
“For me now, it’s just about seeing the Hundred kick on and the women’s game really grow.”
Rainford-Brent will keep up with both Ashes series this winter and believes the sudden resignation of Australia men’s captain Tim Paine following sexting revelations could prove crucial.
She said: “If England have a good run, especially with the destabilisation of Australia, they could just sneak an outside victory.
“Both teams have come in with a few dramas, it’s great to see Ben Stokes back which gives England a lift.”
The former fast bowler is slightly less optimistic about England women’s chances in Australia, though.
She added: “Australia women at home are tough, but I think England could go toe-to-toe.
“Though knowing Australia women, they might just stamp it on, but it will be an incredible series to watch.”