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    Essex focused on future-proofing after being awarded Tier 1 status for women's cricket
Essex focused on future-proofing after being awarded Tier 1 status for women's cricket
Bangladeshi supporters came for the ODI series against Ireland at Chelmsford last summer. Source: ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Essex focused on future-proofing after being awarded Tier 1 status for women's cricket

John Stephenson, the CEO of Essex, believes that the club has an opportunity to 'future-proof' itself by redeveloping its home ground in Chelmsford. The ECB recently designated the county as one of eight Tier 1 clubs in the new professional structure for women's cricket. Stephenson even suggests that the club could aim to host a Men's World Cup fixture in 2030.

Essex's joint bid with the University of Essex received support from the cricket boards of Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Suffolk, and Norfolk. This enabled the club to be selected over other local bids in the South East of England, including Middlesex, Kent, and Northamptonshire. As a result, Essex joined Surrey in securing Tier 1 status in the London region.

Stephenson told ESPNcricinfo:

"For Essex to be chosen as one of the eight is huge for us, just in terms of perception. The partnership with the University will enable the team to make use of their expertise in sports science and also use their facilities to train, and that takes a little bit of pressure off us financially.”

Apart from Somerset, whose home ground at Taunton has had long-standing connections with women's cricket, Essex is the only non-major match venue among the eight Tier 1 clubs. Chelmsford's current capacity of approximately 5,000 is comfortably the smallest.

Stephenson believes that the intimate nature of the ground will be an advantage in the short term as the club seeks to grow alongside the women's game. However, in the longer term, he expects the announcement to kickstart their redevelopment plans. Consultation with local residents and Chelmsford City Council has already begun. The aim is to double capacity to 10,000 by the time of the men's T20 World Cup in 2030.

Chelmsford's infrastructure has remained largely unchanged since the club first moved into the ground in the 1960s. Due to being boxed in on three sides by the River Can, a major road, and a housing estate, expansion opportunities are limited to the southern corner around the pavilion and indoor school.

However, the club's ambition was sparked last season when it successfully hosted an Ireland-Bangladesh ODI series. The event drew enthusiastic support, particularly from East London's Bangladeshi community. With their Tier 1 Women's status secured until 2028 and the Women's World Cup scheduled to be held in England in 2026, Stephenson is confident that the ground will be prepared to host more major matches in the near future.

Essex's reputation has been tarnished by allegations of historic racist abuse, which were confirmed in December by a report from Katherine Newton KC. The club was fined £50,000 by the ECB in 2023. While Yorkshire's bid for Tier 1 women's status has been deferred until 2027 due to their own high-profile racism scandal, Essex's successful bid is a vindication of the action the club took to confront their past mistakes.

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