Edwards attempts to rise from the Ashes

Charlotte Edwards took a double battering during the summer – first from the triumphant Australian women’s cricket team, then from a particularly critical Press. England’s long-standing captain recognises it comes with the territory, especially in these embryonic days of professionalism. But, as she tells Sue Mott, that doesn’t make it any easier. Now Edwards is packing her bat for a restorative winter’s cricket out of the spotlight Down Under.

The family are forbidden to speak about it. Taboo subject: cricket. The gardener tried, but barring one quick reference to the Australian all-rounder, Ellyse Perry – and you can imagine how well that went down – he drew an icy blank. Charlotte Edwards, England’s cricket captain, is everything wonderful – decent, determined, resolute, record-breaker, leader – but there glimmers an inner core of steely Downton duchess about her just the same. Perhaps there has to be after 10 solid years of world-renowned international captaincy.

“I don’t let my Mum, or any of my family, talk about cricket. It’s just a no-go area,” she said, fresh from a six-week break from the sport after the dreadful tumult of a losing Ashes series. She watched the Rugby World Cup in the local pub, caught up with friends, took her niece swimming, went for long cycle rides and grabbed a holiday in Dubai. She did not, on the other hand, pick up a bat. She doesn’t say she’s brooded darkly. Perhaps she didn’t. But there has never been any doubt that she cares devotedly about cricket – and winning. It hurt.

Lottie 2England batted poorly, including Edwards herself. “That’s the thing I struggled with most. That I wasn’t scoring the runs.” But there were still tantalising chances they could fight their way back when trailing 8-4 in the series. It came down to a T20 match at Hove. England had bowled well. The Aussies were dismissed for 107. In front of a passionate home crowd they needed just 108 to win.

Instead, they collapsed to 87 all out.

“It was horrendous in the dressing room. We felt we’d let a lot of people down. We played nowhere near our best. It was particularly gut-wrenching because we bowled so well. We only had to bat half-decently and we’d got this. That made it doubly disappointing. Our dressing room was so silent that we heard the Aussies through the wall in theirs. They were saying, ‘How did we win that game?’ Even they didn’t think they could win it. We knew we’d let it slide. It was horrible.

“It’s as disappointed as I’ve ever been. It was quite a struggle for the people around me to pick me up. I was determined to go out on a high in the last match in Cardiff even though we’d already lost the series. But winning there almost made it more painful. But those are the moments that spur you on. You want to play cricket. You move on. I am desperate to get back to where we should be.”

Ironically, as the pendulum swung so sharply down for Edwards, her opposite number, Meg Lanning, was uplifted to become, at 23, the youngest captain to win the Ashes (male or female). Edwards, though, is the highest profile woman cricketer on the planet, a prolific run scorer, only the second woman to be named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year – and 35 years old. Few in the media would resist hitting that stat away to the boundary.

“You know what, I am 35. Some people were saying it was time for me to retire,” said Edwards, defiantly. “But it didn’t undermine me. I’ve never quit on anything in my life. People said as soon as we lost at Hove, ‘Are you going to step down?’ That was hurtful in terms of how successful I’ve been as a captain. It’s tough to deal with. But I am pretty tough.”

This is a new world for women’s cricket. Their largely amateur status and the spartan respect in which all women’s sport has been traditionally held, especially team sports, have meant that victories have been celebrated by a rarefied audience. Likewise defeats slid by unacknowledged. Those days are over. Women’s cricket is professional – marvellously so – with sponsors and photoshoots and real money. The downside is the unflinching spotlight when things go awry. Straight questions and sleepless nights added to Edwards’s burden.

“But in a way it’s great we are at this point. Someone’s bothered to write about me – cricket is in the news – and you’ve got to take the good with the bad. I guess with my profile I’m the story. That’s something I’ve got to accept. It’s great for the game, but sometimes it’s difficult if things aren’t going as well as you’d like.

“In the Test match, we were dreadful and I was getting a nailing. Then we won in the T20 at Chelmsford and everyone said we were the best thing since sliced bread. It was changing game to game. You think, ‘Oh my God, this is so fickle’. Sometimes you just have to chuckle. But you’ve also got to be pretty tough to get through it. When it happened to the men’s team captain, Alastair Cook, it was almost a personal attack. I really feel for him. I had it for six weeks, he had it for 18 months.

“I have got to accept with the new media scrutiny that people are going to write stuff. It comes down to my position and stature in the game. But it does kind of upset me – no, not upset, infuriate. You don’t suddenly become a really bad player in five games.

“I’ve taken some of the stuff on board. I believe in myself. That’s the most important thing. I’ve had 100 per cent support from the people around me. That means a lot. Good friends would tell me when it’s time and I would get a feeling if I was no longer the right person …”

She means ‘to lead England’. “I would do the right thing,” she adds, and fleetingly you get a vision of a stiff-upper-lipped and honorable army officer, large whisky at his side, handing his weapon to a subordinate. In pain privately, but doing his duty.

But there is nothing doom-laden about Edwards’s genuine anticipation of another winter in Australia playing for the Perch Scorchers in the League and the Big Bash T20 competition. She flies out in mid-November after first seeing the installation of a new England women’s head coach. “I loved it there last year. Here I’m always busy, there I seemed to be relaxed. I’m not captain this time which will be quite a nice change. I’m actually looking forward to it in a silly way. I think the other players will be quite mean to me, to be honest, because I’ve been quite mean to them. ‘Edwards, get out of the ring!’ if I try to interfere. It will be good and there’s eight of us from England going. Just what we need before South Africa next year and the World Cup in 2017.”

But steady as she goes. “Before the Ashes I probably did have half an eye on the 2017 World Cup, especially as it’s in England. It’s exciting. It’s what you want to be part of. But because of how we played this summer I’m desperate to get back to where we should be. So the South Africa series has become an absolute focus for me. And then we go to India. We’d be wrong to look any further – because I know this game’s got a tendency to bite you on the arse.”

There speaks a straight-talking women. Even one with perspective. “There’s nothing better than whacking your bat against something to bust stress, but I’ve mellowed quite a lot as I’ve got older. You do get consumed by cricket sometimes. You’re in this bubble. But then you remember the real world. Someone close to me got cancer at 30. And I thought, ‘Jesus – and I’m worried about whether we’re 8-4 down in the Ashes’.

“So I’m going to enjoy the next couple of years. Get the most out of it. I’m going to give it absolutely everything I’ve got, but I’m not going to become obsessed by it. I’ve loved what I’ve done for so long, I don’t want to have the last bit of it in anyway dampened by worry. And I definitely want to be part of 2017. ”

So the gardener had better keep it buttoned for another couple of years yet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This article was written by Sue Mott.

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