The woman who changed the face of English cricket

Amy Lofthouse pays tribute to the pioneering England captain Charlotte Edwards, who announced her retirement from international cricket today

It is January 2014, Perth is in the middle of a heatwave and Charlotte Edwards is walking gingerly to the crease. Edwards always walks gingerly; it’s the easiest way to spot her on the field, the only giveaway that her knees aren’t as sprightly as they used to be. She’s been absent from the field for almost a day after picking up a knee injury fielding against Australia. Usually opening, she’s batting at number seven. England are in a pickle, Australia looking to turn the screw. What happened next sums up Edwards’s international career to a tee.

That career was one long fight to prove people wrong. From paying for her own kit when she started out, to working hard to prove that female cricketers can be every bit as athletic as their male counterparts, women’s cricket in England would not have seen the advances that it has without her contribution.

The Ashes in 2014 will be remembered as the peak of Edwards’s career. On the pitch, Edwards captained her team to a superb victory. She led from the front with her runs and her captaincy was superior to that of Australia’s Jodie Fields. Back home, England’s women were awarded central contracts. The women were recognised as professional cricketers for the first time, and Edwards’s influence cannot be overestimated.

However, her biggest achievement has also ended her career earlier than she would have wanted. Since the introduction of the central contracts, results have not gone England’s way. Six months after the contracts came in, they lost a Test match to India, a side who hadn’t played Tests for six years. Then the Ashes series in 2015 went from bad to worse. That was followed by the World T20 where England failed to make it through the semi-finals.

Over the last few years, Edwards’s own form has mirrored that of the team. If she did well, they did well; if she failed, they were prone to collapsing into a heap. England had, by the end of last summer, become over-reliant on her. Her captaincy, too, struggled. As other countries picked up the pace in international cricket, captains became more innovative. Edwards, now 36, stuck to the plans that had served her in the past, but they were less and less effective. Meg Lanning, the present Australian captain, highlighted that last summer.

When England crashed out of the World T20, Edwards sat with new coach Mark Robinson alongside her. She listened as he told the press that the players “aren’t fit enough”. Edwards is not the quickest between the wickets, true, but her batting had changed throughout the tournament. She was finding the boundaries more, but the quick two runs, the fielding that can change the course of a T20 game, were both lacking.

It is ironic that the thing Edwards strove for the most, a professional women’s set-up in England, has ended her career before she was ready. She made it clear in her post-retirement press conference that she had wanted to continue as a player, but recognised that a “fresh start” was needed. Edwards has changed the face of women’s cricket in England. It couldn’t have asked for a better role model, a better person to show how tough and resilient women’s cricketers can be. England will have to adjust quickly to life without Edwards. She will be a tough act to follow.

Read Sue Mott’s interview with Charlotte Edwards here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Lofthouse is a freelance cricket journalist for the Guardian and the BBC. She has covered England’s women at home and away for three years, as well as reporting on men’s county cricket. She was a finalist in the 2012 David Welch Student Sportswriter competition. Amy’s latest articles.

 

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