Women's cricket is undergoing major organisational changes around the world. Every ICC Member must now integrate their men's and women's section and, for the first time, the Women's World Cup will come under the official ICC umbrella at the 2009 event to be held in Australia.

Here, ICC Global Development Manager Matthew Kennedy outlines the reasons for the integration and how he sees women's cricket developing around the world in the coming years.

What were the reasons behind the integration of women's cricket into the International Cricket Council?

Cricket is for everyone, not just half the population and it is important that ICC demonstrates that fact. In recent years, ICC has been evolving and we decided it was appropriate that we represented and provided support to female cricketers as well as their male counterparts. Essentially, both the ICC and International Women's Cricket Council saw the benefit of joining forces and integrating international women's cricket under the one banner. We felt that this would broaden the reach of the game, provide opportunities for the enhancement of the women's game through improving access to resources, finances and cricket administration and open up competition structures that were already in place in the men's game.

By having one overall governing body it has helped to make cricket a truly international and integrated sport, ensuring that all 97 ICC members (as opposed to just the 15 members of the IWCC) develop the women's game for the betterment of the sport.

What achievements have been made so far since this new structure was adopted?

Well, in terms of events, we held the first ever regional international competitions in the Americas, Asia and East Asia-Pacific regions while the Africa event will be held in December and the Europe one next year. Through this structure Bermuda, Papua New Guinea and Pakistan have already booked a spot alongside South Africa and Ireland in the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier to be held in Pakistan in March 2008 (with three more places still up for grabs).

Importantly, the ICC has undertaken to fund this entire event which previously had to be paid for by the individual participants which of course put a financial strain on some boards and meant that the best teams did not necessarily have a chance to make it to the World Cup. Funding has been secured for the inaugural ICC Women's World Cup 2009 in Australia and also for the subsequent World Cup, which has been awarded to India in 2013.

As regards policies and procedures for the international women's game, playing conditions, code of conduct, future tours programme, player eligibility and gender recognition policy have all been standardized across the board.

It is great that we now have the ICC Women's Committee in place. It meets twice a year and is represented, through chairwoman Betty Timmer, on the ICC Development Committee.

We have also ensured that the top ten ranked countries in the women's game have been awarded Test and ODI status with minimum playing requirements in place in order to maintain that status. As part of the ongoing integration process we have included a women's category in the annual ICC Awards while we have also commissioned women's cricket research data, developed promotional DVDs and other materials, provided special development grants of US$15,000 to each region and appointed dedicated Women's Project Officers in several countries.

Can you pick out some of the highlights from the women's game in the past 12 months (August 1, 2005 to July 31, 2006)?

It is hugely encouraging for us to note that in April 2005, there were just 15 members of the IWCC (ten Full Members, three Associates and two Affiliates). Integration took place in June 2005 and there are now 42 countries with formal girls and/or women's team playing in structured cricket competitions. A further 23 countries do not have competition teams yet but do have both girls and boys in junior development initiatives. That makes 65 of our 97 members and it is growing all the time.

I think that since integration we have noticed an increased professionalism of the women's game, due in no small part to the standardization of international regulations. In terms of specific highlights, it was great to see the England women's team aboard the same open-top bus through London as the men after both teams won the Ashes in 2005. Some 20,000 people attended a match between India and England in India while the Indians also played a Test match at Lord's.

How important a step in the development and integration of women's cricket is it that the leading female player will be recognised at the ICC Awards for the first time alongside her male peers?

This is very important. The impact this will have throughout the world will be huge as it will demonstrate, in a meaningful way and on the largest of public stages, the ICC's relatively new commitment to the women's game. There has been some great women's cricket this year and the decision is sure to be a difficult one for the Voting Academy. As more and more international women's cricket is scheduled in future years it is anticipated that the interest in this award will grow and its own history will develop.

How do you expect women's cricket to grow in coming years?

The development of women's cricket is embedded in all aspects of the new ICC Strategic Plan 2006-10. The ICC Women's Committee has a vision of "Cricket - the fastest growing international female sport". It aims to achieve this by building the profile and accessibility of cricket for females. In light of all this, women's cricket development has been identified as one of the Top 5 focus areas of the ICC Development Program and therefore built into priority activities of the annual operational plans of each of the five Regional Programs servicing our 87 Associate and Affiliate members. It may well be in the women's game that many of these developing cricket nations are able to make their mark on the world stage the quickest. There are already two Associate members in the Top 10 women's cricket nations.

Full integration of, and support for, the women's game amongst all of cricket's Test nations (men's) will also be crucial. Many have made great strides in this regard. Women's cricket will grow through an appropriate balance of attention to international cricket opportunity/exposure and grass roots junior development initiatives. ICC looks forward to supporting all its members to address whatever women's cricket development needs are appropriate to their current stage of evolution of the sport.

And what's going on in the individual regions?

Europe
I see that the England and Wales Cricket Board have designated Taunton as a dedicated centre for the women's game there and that can only be a positive thing for women's cricket in that part of the world. For the English women to have a permanent home like that, where they will be able to hold regional training camps as well as big matches, is a huge step forward and shows the sort of commitment that the ECB has shown to integrating women's cricket into the sport as a whole in that country.

Africa
It is great to see that Cricket South Africa is really embracing the women's game - I understand good strides are being made in the development. From 8-11 December, the first regional qualification tournament for the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2009 will be taking place in Nairobi with teams from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda taking part. The winner of that tournament will progress to the main global qualifying tournament in Pakistan next year.

Asia
It was heartening to see the establishment of the women's wing of the Pakistan Cricket Board while the Board of Control for Cricket in India has also made big strides in supporting women's cricket, providing the national side with daily allowances and uniforms on a par with the men during their tour of England and Ireland earlier this year. It is worth pointing out, also, that the Asian Cricket Council has established a Women's Committee and is committed to funding and staging future regional events.

Americas
As part of its commitment to develop cricket, the Trinidad and Tobago Women's Cricket Board of Control (TTWCB) will be hosting its second annual Double Wicket Tournament on 4-5 November at the National Cricket Centre Balmain, Couva, Trinidad. Bermuda and Canada, two newcomers to the tournament, will join pairs from Grenada, Jamaica, Guyana, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tobago and Trinidad, and Barbados as they vie for the championship trophy and prize money. Jamaica's winning pair from last year's encounter, Stephanie Taylor and Chadene Nation, return to defend its title. This tournament is a good opportunity to demonstrate to the people of the West Indies the advances made in women's cricket regionally.

Australasia
Two of the great servants of women's cricket in Australia, Karen Rolton and Cathryn Fitzpatrick, have passed the 100-cap mark for their country in One-Day Internationals. This is a marvellous achievement for them - they are fantastic ambassadors for the game and their passion and commitment is an inspiration to young players around the world.