Up to 24 domestic women's cricketers will receive retainer payments from June 1 as the ECB tries to ease some of the financial hardship of their season being disrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown.
The ECB was due to award full-time contracts to 40 domestic players this year under a plan to transform women's and girls' cricket, with those players involved in a 50-over competition between eight new regional teams in September. Clare Connor, the ECB's managing director of women's cricket, said it was still the intention to award those contracts in 2020, but that the regional retainers were designed to support players financially in the meantime.
"The momentum behind the women's game has been staggering in the last few years and it is still firmly our ambition to build on that," Connor said on Tuesday. "As we emerge from this pandemic, we believe even more strongly that cricket will be a sport that throws its arms around everyone - truly inclusive, diverse and a sport for modern Britain to be proud of.
"This was due to be the most exciting year in the game's history for our leading domestic players. A number of them would have been hoping to sign a full-time contract with one of our eight Regions this summer. While we still intend to award those full-time contracts in 2020, we want to try to support our players as much as we can until that point, hence the introduction of these Retainers to provide an interim solution.
"As the effects of COVID-19 on the rest of the summer and beyond become more apparent, we will continue to support our players to the best of our ability, and we promise them that our drive for a more gender-balanced sport remains vitally important."
Earlier this month, Connor said that while the domestic competition had not been removed from this year's schedule, "we have to plan for it not to happen as much as we have to plan for it to happen". Meanwhile, the decision to postpone the inaugural Hundred competition until 2021 left a host of women's players facing the prospect of not playing - or earning an income from the sport - this season.
The eight regions will recruit players to the retainer scheme and, in turn, the players will take part in strength and conditioning programmes, online education on topics including anti-corruption and anti-doping, and devote time to activities and appearances aimed at supporting the game.