CLITHEROE World Cup winner Alex Hartley is among 25 players to be handed regional retainers as part of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s process towards professionalising the domestic women’s game.

Left-arm spinner Hartley, who played in all-but one of England’s matches in their 2017 50-over global triumph, lost her central contract last year.

But the 26-year-old – along with Lancashire team-mate Emma Lamb, from Hoghton – are among those who will link up with eight regional hubs.

All-rounder Lamb was recently handed an ECB rookie contract following her fine performances in the Lancashire setup and has also been involved in a senior England squad, with the 22-year-old eyeing up a maiden Three Lions appearance.

The 25 players will progress onto the 40 full-time contracts that the ECB intends to award this year, having had to delay plans to do so this summer because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Clare Connor, the ECB’s managing director of women’s cricket and recently-appointed MCC president, said: “In what has been a challenging year for the whole game, it is pleasing to be able to support 25 women’s domestic cricketers by offering them regional retainers.

“In doing so, we are taking another step towards contracting our first cohort of full-time, professional players in the women’s domestic game.

“We know that in order for the women’s game to continue to grow, we need a strong and thriving domestic set-up to enable more women to be able to make a living from the game.

“Girls need to see visible role models and to know that a talent and performance system exists for them to fulfil their potential.

“I’m excited to see how these players progress with greater support over the next couple of years – it’s another significant step forward for our sport.”

Those on the regional retainers will follow strength and conditioning programmes and once the 40 full-time deals are awarded, there will be five players in each of the eight regions.

The North West Regional Centre covers Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire, for which David Thorley, from Burnley, was recently appointed as Regional Director to oversee the programme.