(Photo: Getty Images)
By Richard Edwards
Only three England captains have known what it feels like to lift the World Cup – but Charlotte Edwards is backing Heather Knight to follow in some very impressive footsteps this summer.
Edwards, who called time on her international career back in May 2016 after two decades of almost unbroken success, won women’s cricket’s greatest prize back in 2009, when she inspired England to victory over New Zealand in Sydney.
That win followed on from a triumph on home soil in 1993, when Karen Smithies’ side beat New Zealand at Lord’s, and a ground-breaking triumph under Rachel Heyhoe-Flint in the first Women’s World Cup 20 years earlier.
England will be defending that 100 per cent home World Cup record over the next month and will find themselves under huge scrutiny, with interest in the women’s game at an all-time high.
The spectre of Australia also looms large on the eve of the tournament.
That, though, is a pressure they can cope with, according to a cricketer who is no stranger to the spotlight.
“England have a hugely talented side,” says Edwards. “They’re at a good age as well too. There are girls in there who have had 30 or 40 games of international cricket behind them but a lot of them are still only in their mid-20s.
“They have match-winners, too, and that’s what you need to win a World Cup. England have got match-winners in the bowling and batting department and that will really stand them in good stead. They just need to put it all together.
“A lot of people have talked about home pressure but there’s pressure every time you play for England, that’s a given really. I think they’ll be absolutely fine.”
As has been the case for almost every tournament since 1973, England’s main threat is expected to come from Australia, a team which has been relentlessly successful since their win in India four years ago.
In that final, the Aussies walloped the West Indies by 114 runs in Mumbai, making up for the disappointment of missing out on home soil at the Super Six stage in 2009 – a year that has gone down in English women’s cricket folklore.
“I had a few disappointments in the World Cup but it also gave me the highlight of my career,” says Edwards. “Winning that World Cup in 2009 was without doubt my biggest highlight. It’s the pinnacle of the women’s game and the tournament that everyone wants to perform in as a player.
“Australia will be the biggest challengers, they’re coming in as favourites and rightly so, because their form in the past 12 months has been exceptional.
“England haven’t played them in two years so it’s quite hard to gauge where both teams are at. When they meet on July 9 then we should find that out.
“I don’t think you can discount the West Indies, New Zealand or even India.
“There are a lot of teams that will think they can come here and do well and the ICC Champions Trophy will probably have given a few of those other sides a bit of hope and extra motivation.”
The women’s game has come a long way since Edwards first represented her country in the summer of 1996.
In contrast to the $2m pot on offer at this summer’s World Cup, Edwards had to buy her own blazer before reporting for international duty. All the players also needed sympathetic bosses to allow them the time off that a cricketer requires.
Now, in an era of professionalism that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, the England players are able to focus entirely on cricket. And the blazer? Well, a trip to the High Street is no longer required.
“I’ve obviously been asked if I’m envious but I’m not at all,” says Edwards. “I’m so pleased that I played when I did. It’s just a sign of the times. These are exceptional players, they’re paid to play and they get everything given to them. That’s not their fault. I just feel so lucky to have played in the time that I did.
“I had to work and then became professional in the last three or four years. It just shows how the game has evolved and that’s great for women’s cricket.”
Ticket sales, particularly for England games, are reported to be going well, with the opening match against India in Derby tomorrow a virtual sell-out.
Edwards, and the rest of the nation, is hoping for some show-stopping performances.
*This article originally featured in The Cricket Paper’s 23 June 2017 edition.