“It’s like a bereavement,” she said, standing in the kitchen, stirring a cup of tea. But there is no obvious sense of mourning. Nothing but smiles, briskness, Trojan spirit, a bin-liner of rubbish neatly tied outside the front door. Message: life goes on. Charlotte Edwards is no longer The England Cricket Captain after a decade in the job and nearly twenty years in the team. It was a seismic jolt when the axe fell last month, precipitating headlines, anger, tears, controversy, and messages of consolation from all over the word.
“I didn’t go out of the house for a week. I was in hibernation. When Clare [Connor, the Director of England Women’s Cricket] told me, I fully felt my real hunger to play. I just wanted to play. The real blow for me was that I couldn’t play for England anymore. I didn’t have the option to pull on the shirt again. It was quite … sad.
“The fairytale would have been playing in the final of the World Cup at Lord’s next summer. That’s what’s been taken from me. I had no decision in it. I guess it will be quite hard for me to deal with that for a long time.
“Clare said it was the hardest thing she’s ever done. We both sat here in tears. I truly respect Clare. It was bloody difficult for her. Mark Robinson [the new England coach who made the decision] came the next day to see me. So they handled it well. It was never going to be news I wanted to hear, was it?”
She is dry-eyed and rueful, no longer devastated and just back from a morning jog. Suzie Bates, the New Zealand cricket captain, is staying with her, offering momentous opposition on the tennis court and golf course. “I haven’t got a handicap yet,” said Edwards, “but I can give it a good nudge.” After all the run-scoring records and accolades, this is not hard to believe.
A turning point was a call to her mum, two days after she’d been told about her … displacement, dethroning, uncrowning. It’s hardly too much to reach for those words after such a significant career, only the second woman on earth to be named one of the hugely prestigious Wisden Cricketers of the Year.
“I think, initially because I was crying on the phone, Mum thought there was a health issue, so she started to cry back at me. So when I said, ‘I’m going to retire from England cricket’, she just said, ‘Oh well, all good things come to an end”. That put it in a little bit of perspective for me. She’s obviously hurting for me but she brought home to me that I’m fine, I’m not ill and I’ve had a good 20 years. Thanks, Mum.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done and what I can still do. I was conscious I didn’t want to just fall off the face of the earth. A huge weight has been taken off my shoulders. I now realise how much England cricket consumed my thoughts 24/7. I’ve lived and breathed that job absolutely. So there’s a void, but I’m continuing the season with Kent, I’m captaining the Southern Vipers in the Kia Super League and I will continue. Because I love cricket, I love the people in it and I’ve been so well supported.”
And so the post-Edwardian era of England cricket begins. Today, instead of walking down the steps bat in hand to the wicket, Edwards makes her debut as part of the Sky Sports commentary team covering England’s ODI series against Pakistan. For all the poignancy it brings and pain it may cause, she will be on reporting from the sidelines while Heather Knight assumes the captaincy of a revamped side.
“I felt it was the right thing to do. I needed to move on. Go to the next phase of my life. I’m really looking forward to it. To sit here watching it on TV would have been really difficult but to have a new challenge in the game – a next chapter – is quite exciting. I’ve been warned I might find it hard to criticise my former teammates. But I always prided myself on being honest in the dressing room. It’s not going to be that different.”
Ironically, she believes the vastly increased media attention that gives her this new opportunity may also have hastened her sacking.
“I think I’ve realised how cruel international professional sport can be. We could have blips when we were amateur and no one noticed. Now everything his highlighted. Everything is under the microscope. That’s been my downfall in a way. If we were still amateur I’d probably still be playing. All the extra media scrutiny – for the players and staff it was a whole new ball game. At times we’ve not dealt with it.
“Professionalism changed things. The landscape changed massively. We suddenly went from a group of players – all on the same page – getting a little bit of expenses to play the game. Then, suddenly, you’re professional and it’s dog eat dog then. You’re playing for a contract and all the wonderful things you get because of your contract. I’ve seen younger players come in and get given stuff straight away that we had to work 10 years to receive. But it’s not their fault if they get given a car at 19. It’s for everyone to learn how to deal with these things.
“I’ve never experienced anything like last summer with us losing the Ashes. The cameras, the interviews. People deciding, ‘It’s all your fault’. Whether you agree with it or not, it was just so brutal. They’re telling you you’re the worst captain in the world. But you’re actually not. When you look at it – we just didn’t score enough runs. As soon as you win again, you’re the greatest player in the world.
“But I’m glad I experienced those last two years. I could have played my entire career in the amateur era without that pressure. But it helped me. It’s made me a lot more resilient. I feel very fortunate to go through that process although it’s been really tough. I’ve experienced everything from paying for your own blazer to semi-pro to complete professionalism and utter scrutiny. And I’ve come out the other end having loved every minute of it.
“That’s why I don’t want to walk away bitter, twisted and angry. I’m upset and I’m hurt but I’m certainly not angry.
“I was bitterly disappointed after losing the Ashes. I had a lot to prove going away last winter to play Big Bash in Australia. I really dug deep and was second highest run scorer. I felt like I responded. I proved a few people wrong. So to get that news was a double blow. I felt like I was playing really well. I answered my own doubts. That’s why I’m sad it’s ended like it has.
“Probably if someone had dropped me last summer, I would have been easier for me.” She laughed, hollowly. “I’d have thought, ‘Fair enough’. But when it came, I still felt I had something to offer the 50-over side. But Mark felt they had three series where they could blood the new team in time for the World Cup next year, so that they couldn’t hide behind me anymore and make their own decisions. Maybe I was mothering them. Perhaps that didn’t help my cause. But that’s because you care. I cared enormously about the team and England cricket.
“I saw them all after my press conference when I confirmed I was retiring. I didn’t want it to be awkward when I saw them at a country game. A few had been round to see me anyway. It’s been a hard few weeks for them, too. One of the reasons I announced I was retiring from international cricket for good is that they need to move on. I didn’t want them to think, ‘Is Lottie going to make a comeback’. Or speculation in the media, ‘Why isn’t Edwards being picked when she’s scoring hundreds’. I didn’t want that kind of KP effect [the multifarious calls for former England captain, Kevin Pietersen, to be returned to the England men’s team]. I need closure for me, too.
“I’ve had a couple of chats with Heather. She’ll do a great job. She’s a really confident young girl. She’s got other challenges now. It’s not just about the cricket. But she’s thick-skinned. She’ll be able to deal with all that. It’s not going to be new to her and she knows it won’t be easy.
“As for me, I live for the here and now. I have got aspirations to coach and I want to stay involved with England cricket – of course I do. My love and passion is the women’s game, but I wouldn’t rule out some involvement in the men’s game. I absolutely think I’ve got a huge amount to give back.
“For now, I’m so excited about playing in the Super League and so desperate to do well in it. It’s been a really nice focus after the disappointment I’ve had. I feel we’re going to get a few more supporters because of what’s happened to me. I’m probably training as hard as I ever trained for England …”
That sounds ominous. For bowlers, tennis partners and innocent tufts of grass on the fairways of Berkshire golf clubs alike.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles