It’s impossible to imagine women’s cricket without Charlotte Edwards. Entering the international side at the tender age of 16, she was the youngest cricketer to ever play for England. Twenty years later and with a decade’s captaincy under her belt, she has nearly 10,000 international runs to her name. The only woman to score 2,000 runs in T20 internationals and ECB cricketer of the year for the second year running, it’s tempting to let Edwards’ stats speak for themselves. However, I do manage to hear from the leading lady herself, catching a chat with her a couple of days before she flies down under for the winter.
“I’m having the time of my life,” Edwards tells me proudly. From the age of 12, she focused solely on cricket and now reflects upon her sporting career as “a dream” – “from my first game when I played in a skirt to being in an England blazer now, a professional cricketer travelling the world, it’s an unbelievable journey.” A hard-hitting top order bat, she has led from the front in bringing the England Women’s side to the top of their game. As World Cup winners in 2009 and back to back Ashes victors in 2013, Edwards and her squad have had success after success on the international stage.
“We’ve shown that we can beat anyone in the world, we’ve just got to do it more consistently and that’s the challenge to us”
This summer was the first to mark a definite disappointment for the side. Losing the Ashes for the first time, Edwards admits her team were “completely outplayed” by a formidable Australian attack. “We batted very poorly,” she admits, only managing to average 15 herself across the tournament. “If we batted 20 per cent better than we did we would have won the Ashes.”
Subsequent defeats provoked a number of serious questions about Edwards’ captaincy. A press furore interrogated her failures with the bat and her seemingly stalled tactics. Now 37, the media at large accused her of lacking the freshness required to lead an international side. Defiant in her responses back in August, I asked her if she puts these accusations down to ageism.
“Yes I would, it comes with the territory I think and the scrutiny we’re under now. But yeah, I’m sure they wouldn’t be saying that to me if I were 27. That’s something I’ve got to deal with now.” Quick to champion the support and encouragement from the dressing room, she puts a lot of the rumblings down to ignorance: “I think a lot of people write about women’s cricket but don’t have any idea what’s going on. It’s important that I keep grounded, believe in myself and draw support from those people around me.”
They say that ‘form is temporary, class is eternal’, a mantra Edwards is no doubt repeating as she continues to train hard. She talks of being as determined as ever to get the side, not to mention her personal form, back to where it should be. Working tirelessly to silence her critics, she cites her “limitless desire and determination” to succeed in the international game. “The great thing about experience,” she says, “is that I’ve encountered knockbacks along the way and I’ve come through the other side stronger. I have no doubt in my ability that I’ll come through stronger this time.”
With newly appointed head coach Mark Robinson set to arrive in the Spring, Edwards is sure that the squad will be keen to impress. “It just takes a bit of fine-tuning,” Edwards explains, “we didn’t become a bad team overnight. We’ve shown that we can beat anyone in the world, we’ve just got to do it more consistently and that’s the challenge to us as a group.”
In the time Edwards has cricketed for her country, there has been monumental progress for the women’s game. “A few years ago girls didn’t play cricket. Now it’s just accepted that they do. It’s changed massively,” she asserts proudly; “perceptions of the women’s game weren’t great before. We now have all this media scrutiny and most people in the cricket media are talking about us – that’s what we want, we welcome it. There are so many wonderful opportunities now.” As well as the rapid rise in coverage and publicity, in 2014 Edwards’ team became the first recipients of a tranche of ECB central contracts for women players.
Even with the ladies receiving funding from the ECB, there is little to no financial parity between the men and women’s game. Half a world away, the film industry’s gender pay gap has been coming under intense scrutiny. Does women’s sport face similar financial problems? Does Edwards demand more? No, it seems, as she dismisses the negatives: “We’re very fortunate, the current 18 players are supported. No way to the level of the men but we don’t expect that, we know that the men’s team bring the majority of the revenue into the game. If we attracted crowds of two or three thousand to the games we played then we could be earning far more money. We’re very appreciative of what we get. It’s made a huge difference.”
“I DON’T THINK I’VE SACRIFICED ANYTHING. I’M JUST DOING WHAT I LOVE DOING.”
Sacrifices are always going to have to be made to reach the pinnacle of any profession, let alone in an under-represented international sport, but Edwards is forever thankful. “You probably think I’m quite boring”, she laughs, “anyone who knows me or has played with me knows that I wouldn’t give this up for anything. I absolutely love cricket, I absolutely love international sport. I don’t think I’ve sacrificed anything. I’m just doing what I love doing and I’ve travelled the world meeting wonderful people while doing it.”
Brimming with motivational buzzwords throughout even a short chat, Edwards is not only an impressive ambassador for her own sport, but an inspiration to every young girl out there with the talent to go out there and beat the boys. Her recent difficulties stand immaterial to her unstoppable desire, drive and determination to continue with what has already been an undeniably illustrious career.
Edwards has a hectic few months ahead, with the Women’s Big Bash League kicking off in Australia this month and a trip to South Africa for ODI and T20 head-to-heads in February. There ain’t no rest for the cricket.