At least four women cricketers will be awarded part-time contracts by Cricket Ireland next year as preparations begin for an increased number of matches for the team.

Currently ranked 10th in the world, the Ireland Women’s side are outside the International Women’s Championship, but that is set to be enlarged from eight to 10 and, if Ireland keep their place in the top 10 will guarantee more regular matches against the world’s best – initially, nine three-match ODI series from 2021-23.

“To prepare for our potential inclusion will require further investment and improvements to be made in the women’s game – and a need to call on players’ availability more regularly,” said CI Performance Director, Richard Holdsworth.

“When relying on players who are juggling work and study commitments, availability for international games can quite often become a challenge. We believe that offering a small number of contracts, at least initially, will begin to ensure improved playing standards and better availability of our first-choice squad members.”

The plan is to double the number of contracts in 2020 and by the time the Championship starts, more will be added to give the Women’s team a complete squad of contracted players.

Following the CI Board’s decision last week to endorse the funding and development of a strategy for girls’ and women’s cricket, captain Laura Delany and star players Kim Garth and Gaby Lewis are certain to be the among the first intake to receive professional contracts.

Following the retirements of Ed Joyce, Niall O’Brien and John Anderson, there are only 19 central contracts awarded in 2019, one down from this year after Jacob Mulder did not have his contract renewed.

The three newcomers are Tyrone Kane, who made his Test debut in May without a contract, Ireland Wolves captain Harry Tector and Waringstown batsman James McCollum (right) who, like Tector, remains uncapped.

Three of the 19, Paul Stirling, Tim Murtagh and Stuart Poynter will be on part-time contracts as they are still playing county-cricket but Gary Wilson, Boyd Rankin and Barry McCarthy, who are all returning to club cricket, will, along with the other 13, have their club commitments dictated by their full-time Cricket Ireland contracts.

Their first action of the summer will be in La Manga from April 22-25 when three 50-over inter-provincial Cup matches will be played, two each for Northern Knights, North West Warriors and Leinster Lightning, meaning each side will play six 50-over games, up from four, during the season.

If the Board gives the go-ahead for a third T20 festival – there will be one in Dublin and one in Northern Ireland – it will take place in La Manga from September 20-23.

A further six-seven Emerging Player contracts (former inter-pro contracts) will be announced early in the new year.

Men’s central contracts: A Balbirnie, P Chase, G Dockrell, T Kane, A McBrine, B McCarthy, J McCollum, T Murtagh, K O’Brien, W Porterfield, S Poynter, B Rankin, J Shannon, S Singh, P Stirling, H Tector, S Thompson, G Wilson, C Young.