One of the most pleasing things about associate cricket over the last few years has been the rapid growth of women's cricket, with more teams than ever playing international matches, especially since the introduction of universal T20I status.

One of the reasons for this is the inclusion of women's T20I ranking as part of the performance aspect of ICC funding for associate members, with some member nations now in a position where the women's team is contributing more to their funding than their men's team.

The women's teams from 73 ICC members have played T20Is over the last 12 months, just short of the 87 men's teams that have played. By comparison in 2019, the first full year of universal status, 58 women's teams played matches compared with 71 men's teams. The women's game is clearly growing faster than the men's game.

Despite this though, the ICC aren't keeping pace with this expansion when it comes to their main women's events, which fall way behind the men's equivalents. The next women's T20 World Cup will be a ten team event, compared to the 20 team comparative behemoth that is the men's event next month. An expansion to 12 teams is planned for 2026, as will the 2028 and 2030 tournaments but this still falls short.

The women's ODI World Cup will be eight teams in 2025 before expanding to ten teams in 2029, but still short of the 14 teams for the next men's edition, and not even as many as the 11 teams that took part in the 1997 tournament prior to the ICC taking control of women's cricket from the IWCC.

The ongoing qualifier in the UAE has shown how more teams are becoming compeitive in women's cricket. Associate members Vanuatu and Netherlands both beat full member Zimbabwe during the tournament, Scotland beat Ireland to qualify for the main event and UAE and USA both pushed a strong Sri Lankan side close. Papua New Guinea, ranked 11th in the world, didn't even make it to the event.

Twelve teams in 2030 simply isn't ambitous enough for an organisation that outwardly promotes its commitment to gender equality. Last year the ICC was very keen to promote the fact that the winners of the men's and women's tournaments this year will receive equal prize money. But as long as there are different numbers of teams, the total prize pool remains greater for the men's tournament.

The rapid growth of women's cricket in all regions but particularly in Africa and Europe, is poorly served by the ICC's lukewarm expansion of their premier women's events. Whilst the expansion to twelve teams in 2026 is welcome, a commitment to further expansion in 2028 and 2030, with an eventual goal for equal numbers of teams in both genders (for both ODIs and T20Is) within the next ten years. If the ICC truly care about gender equality, it's the very least they can do.