England captain says women’s game would get a huge boost from extra exposure
For all the success Charlotte Edwards has had as captain of the England women’s cricket team, she will feel wretched as she watches the London Olympics.
“I would be lying if I said I’m not gutted that I’m not involved in the Olympics. In years to come, Twenty20 cricket will be in the Olympics. But, by then, I won’t be involved. I just have to accept that I will have missed the home Olympics. Cricket at the Olympics would have raised the profile of women’s cricket in this country.”
The lack of profile is despite Edwards leading one of the country’s most successful sporting teams. England are holders of the 50-over World Cup, they won the Twenty20 World Cup in 2009 and go into the first match of the NatWest T20 series against India at Canterbury today on a winning streak of 14 matches.
Edwards herself does not lack recognition: she is the first woman to sit on the MCC World Cricket committee and received an MBE. On the sport as a whole, though, she says: “Women’s cricket as a game has not had the recognition. [But] we don’t play cricket for recognition, we play because we love playing for England.”
What encourages her is that, with women’s cricket regularly on television, more girls will be attracted to the game. “I got into tennis when I was young because my female role model was Steffi Graf,” she says. “The 1993 World Cup Final, when I was 14, was the only time I saw women’s cricket on television. So I know how important it is for young girls to see us play on TV.”
Not that Edwards is unaware of how far women’s cricket has come since 1996 when, aged 16, she became England’s youngest player to be called up to the Test team.
“The game is unrecognisable from the one I first played. For my first cap, I played in a skirt, my first and only game in a skirt. Trousers look so much better when you are batting and, when you are bending over in a skirt, it did not look great at times.”
Edwards had to pay for her own blazer and all her kit. But, since then, ECB backing has made England the best supported women’s cricket team in the world. And their contract with Chance to Shine, the charity that promotes cricket in state schools and for which Edwards works as an ambassador, has allowed the squad to be flexible with working and playing commitments.
“It has made a huge difference to a number of the girls,” she says. “They are lucky they get everything they want. It is really important that we appreciate what we get. I cherish everything I’ve got as I had to go through those early years.”
Her own appreciation of the game was nurtured by accompanying her father and brothers as they played club cricket in Cambridgeshire. That background meant she was brought up with no fear of the men’s game. “I did not play women’s cricket until I was 12 or 13 and then played a limited amount. I captained all the boys’ teams I played in. They did not make fun of me.”
However, she admits: “I had to be better than the boys. It was the hardest phase of my career. I was quite single-minded in what I wanted to do. For a girl who was not as good as I was, it would have been difficult.”
Her self-belief was evident early. In 1997 she scored 12 centuries for England, including one off 118 balls against the touring South Africans, and followed it the day before her 18th birthday with a then record ODI score of 173 not out against Ireland.
But then she set her standards high: her two heroes are Shane Warne and Steve Waugh. Watching Warne made her bowl leg spin but now, with a roll of her wrist, she says: “I once had a nice little wrist action but then lost it.”
She laughs out loud at the thought she could ever have emulated Warne’s ball of the 20th century with which he bowled Mike Gatting in an Ashes Test. But she still hopes her captaincy has something of Waugh.
“I was drawn towards Waugh because of his captaincy skills. What I liked about him was that he always seemed to perform when his team needed to.”
This has not stopped her from having sleepless nights while leading England to success, particularly during the 2009 World Cup triumph in Sydney. She says: “I didn’t sleep well at all the whole tournament. I was desperate to win the competition. I’d go back to my room and lie awake, worried sick we might not win. As captain, I take it very much to heart how the team performs.”
Not surprisingly, the loss of the Ashes after three successive triumphs rankles and the desire to regain them in 2013 drives Edwards forwards. “I would love to go to Australia next year and win an Ashes series.”
Before that, England have the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka in September followed by the 50-over World Cup in India next March. Edwards admits that, like the men, English women have not always played well on the subcontinent. “We’ve never beaten India in India. But there is no better time to put it right than in the World Cup. The signs are good, we are playing good cricket.”
With England in such fine shape, all talk of retirement is taboo. Indeed, for the first time in our conversation, Edwards reacts sharply when I suggest she might quit next winter having won the two limited-over world titles and regained the Ashes.
“If you are interviewing a bloke at 32, you would say he is in the prime of his career. Just because I am a lady, you are asking me about retirement. I can keep going until I am 37.”
That age is important because that would take her to 2017 when she says: “I’ve been told on the grapevine the World Cup will be in England. That is a huge carrot that would keep me motivated. I love the game too much and I’m playing too well to think of retiring.”
This means putting family life and motherhood on hold but Edwards’s answer is one many a professional woman would admire. “I have chosen to do what I do and I love it. I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I have a huge passion to play cricket. I’ve got the rest of my life to become a mother.”
And, whenever she does give up the game, the memory she will carry with her will be of that day in 2005 when, with the men and women having won back the Ashes, there was a joint victory parade in London followed by a reception in Downing Street.
Recalls Edwards: “Winning back the Ashes in Worcester after 42 years was a special moment. But what will always stick out for me about that day is how drunk Freddie Flintoff was.”
As for her team, Edwards says firmly: “Our girls were not drunk.”
Sky Sports will broadcast live coverage of England Women’s NatWest series against India beginning today, part of a year-round schedule of women’s sport shown on Sky.