Charlot­te Edwards took women’s cricket to a whole new level

Alison Mitchell pays tribute to Charlotte Edwards after she said farewell to international cricket

The Charlotte Edwards era is over. After an England career spanning 20 years and a captaincy reign of a decade, it seems scarcely believable to say it, but the most iconic figure in the history of the women’s game has retired from international cricket.

When the announcement came, it felt right for the future of the team that she was being moved aside, even if she desperately wanted to play on.

Edwards’ future became uncertain when new coach Mark Robinson stated in the wake of their World T20 semi-final defeat to Australia that the team needed to “get fitter and toughen up”. Edwards was sitting alongside him at the time. She didn’t read anything into that herself; she was still masterful with the bat and had finished the tournament as England’s leading run- scorer despite being less than fast between the wickets and less than mobile in the field on her renowned dodgy knees.

She described it as “a huge shock” when her ECB boss and former team-mate Clare Connor visited her home last week and told her that her time as England captain would be over. Worse was to come, as Robinson, who had instigated the change, didn’t want her to continue as a player either. Edwards found this much harder to accept.

“I was comfortable with the captaincy decision,” she said. “I know we under-performed over the last two years and I knew there would be questions about that, but I felt we were starting to turn a corner at the World Cup. I was more than happy to step down as captain, but there was a real hunger to carry on as a player.”

It was an emotional Edwards who sat in a hospitality box at Lord’s contemplating how her career wasn’t ending the way she had envisaged. She had always been clear that she wanted to play in the 2017 World Cup, which is being held in England, and even after the Ashes defeat of last summer, when her captaincy was questioned in the media for the first time, she retained the backing of the ECB. That was before Robinson took over.

“That (the World Cup) has been the heartbreak for me. That’s been my goal and it’s been taken away from me, but hopefully it’s something I’ll come to terms with soon,” she said.

“I just feel I’ve got a lot to give as a player still, but I guess that’s not good for the team.”

Edwards retires at 36 as the leading ODI and T20 run scorer in the history of the women’s game. She is second only behind compatriot Jan Brittin in terms of Test runs.  Her golden year was England’s golden year of 2009 when she led the country to both the 50 and 20-over World Cups, plus a drawn Ashes Test to retain the trophy that had been successfully defended Down Under in 2008. Two more Ashes victories were to come, including away in 2014 in the new multi-format system where she took it upon herself to strike a nerveless, unbeaten 92 from 59 balls to win the first T20 in Hobart and retain the trophy.

The team’s results waned in recent years yet Edwards continued to score heavily, including at the aforementioned World T20. It makes the decision to leave her out of future plans look perverse, but Robinson is sound in his view that the younger players will develop faster with Edwards out of the side, as he believes they have been hiding behind her in recent years. Moreover, it would be incredibly difficult for a new captain to put their own mark on the team with a former captain of Edwards’ stature still in the side after being in charge for ten years.

Edwards’ retirement undoubtedly leaves a huge hole in the batting line-up, meaning the team is likely to go backwards before it goes forwards, but that too is probably necessary if the side is to evolve under new leadership with new faces. Edwards’ influence on team selection was perceived to be resulting in the same tried and tested players being recalled time and time again with little room for fresh names even in the face of poor results.

Edwards intends to keep playing domestic cricket for Kent in the County Championship, for the Southern Vipers in the new ECB Super League and in the Women’s Big Bash in Australia. She insists there will be no coming back to the national side, even if England struggle and she scores heavily in the lead-up to the World Cup. She did add “never say never”, but she realises it won’t be healthy for the team if questions keep being asked as to whether she might be recalled.

Listening to Edwards’ voice break with emotion, it was impossible not to reflect that her England career deserved a greater send-off than a cluster of journalists in a small box in the Tavern Stand, with tea being served in brown cardboard cups. Women’s cricket is now a professional sport though, and it is rare for professional sportsmen and women to retire entirely on their own terms.

Doubtless there will be appropriate presentations and accolades in the coming weeks and months to celebrate Edwards as the legend she is, but rather than wax lyrical about the trophies and awards she has won in her career, she preferred to focus on another aspect when asked about her proudest achievement: “Being a role model for young girls. My personal record and team record stands for nothing really, but some of the messages I’ve had, I’ve been overwhelmed by.

“My twitter feed has been unbelievable and to think I’ve had that impact through my career. I didn’t have a female role model as a cricketer growing up, so to think I have done that is really special to me.”

Edwards’ achievements in the game are paralleled only by her unstinting enthusiasm and appetite for cricket. I once accompanied her on a Chance to Shine coaching day, where she travelled between three different schools, squeezed in a net session with her own private coach and raced into a petrol station to grab a sandwich for lunch. This was the England captain making a difference away from the spotlight. She did this work tirelessly and she loved it.

Edwards is the most recognisable figure in women’s cricket. Hailing from a potato farm in Pidley, Huntingdonshire, she has battled and trail-blazed every step of the way from captaining Huntingdonshire boys at the age of 12, being the youngest player to represent England when she was 16, to being the first woman to win two Ashes series Down Under as captain.

She began her England career in a skirt and blazer that she had to pay for herself, but she finishes it 20 years later as a paid professional, having played a significant role in the advancement of the sport that has given her so much.

Her story is unique, and we won’t see the likes of her again.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 13 2016

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