Cricket interview

Charlotte Edwards, England Women's Captain

This month we are delighted to speak to someone who has been at the forefront of women’s cricket for over 20 years. With over 10,000 international runs to her name, Charlotte Edwards is England’s cricketing rock. Can you imagine an England side without her?

We spoke with Charlotte, 24 hours before she boarded a plane to India, for the women’s World T20 tournament. The team headed into the tournament under the guidance of a new coach, Mark Robinson, and on the back of a successful T20 and ODI series in South Africa. Sadly, the team were knocked out of the tournament at the semi-final stage, falling just short of chasing Australia’s 132/6. However, on a personal level it was another successful tournament for England's captain who ended the competition with 202 runs, the second highest.

So where did the journey from schoolgirl cricketer to England captain begin. Born in Cambridgeshire, Charlotte grew up in a cricket loving family. Her Dad and brother’s love for the game meant a bat and ball were never far away. “If I wasn’t at a local cricket ground, I was playing in the back garden. Living on a farm, there wasn’t a huge amount else to do!”

Her talent with both bat and ball, was obvious for all to see, and from a young age she was encouraged to play the game by everyone that was close to her. “My Dad encouraged me to play and I was very lucky that I had two parents that gave their all to me and allowed me to go on and ultimately play for England. I was also lucky that my school and local cricket club didn’t see it as an obstacle that I was a girl. They knew I was as good as the boys.”

During this time, women’s cricket was nowhere near the level that it is at now and as a child, Charlotte thought that if she was to fulfil her ambition to play for England, it had to be for the men’s side! “I didn’t know women’s cricket existed. All I had played was boys’ cricket.”

So how did Charlotte suddenly become the youngest player to ever play for England? “I was just in the right place at the right time. I was playing for my boys’ team, when a guy that knew an England women’s selector was watching the game and he passed my details on – and that’s how I stumbled across women’s cricket.”

In 1993, the England women’s team won the World Cup and from that moment on, it became Charlotte’s ambition to both play for, and captain, her country. “From a very early age I was always pretty determined in what I wanted to do.”

Charlotte was quickly selected to play representative cricket for East Anglia. However, all county cricket consisted of at the time, for women, was a 5 day tournament held each year in Cambridge. “It was pretty amateur, but I was lucky that I got spotted early.”

Such was the early impression that Charlotte made, she was playing for England under 19’s at just 12 years of age and went on to make her full England debut at the age of just 16.

“I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t of played cricket with the boys I know I wouldn’t have played so soon. I felt ready at 16 to put on an England shirt. Nothing fazed me.”

Despite feeling ready, news of her selection was a shock. “I was shocked! I remember I was at home one evening, knocking a ball against the wall and my Mum ran out saying there was a lady on the phone and I’d been picked for the 3rd Test against New Zealand at Guildford and that I needed to report there on Monday night. It was just amazing to think that my dream had come true. Can you believe I made my debut in a skirt! Thankfully that was the only game in a skirt and we quickly changed to trousers! I was just over the moon, to finally get the opportunity.”

Charlotte went on to make 34 and 31 in that debut Test match. “I was really nervous, but at 16 you could kind of take it in your stride. If I had been older, I suspect it might have been worse. Nothing really fazed me at that age and I felt ready to play. I had some great senior players around the group who helped me and I felt I fitted in well from the beginning. Playing a Test match in my first game was hard though; I’d never played in a four day game before so it was a long four days, but four days I’ll never forget.”

Charlotte quickly became a run machine for both club and country. In 1997, she enjoyed a golden year where she reeled off 12 centuries for her respective sides. “It was one of those years. I just wish I could have another one! I was always pretty ruthless in how I approached my cricket and every time I went to the middle, I knew I had to make the most of it.”

Within that golden run was her first century for England, off of just 118 balls against the touring South Africans.

The day before her 18th birthday, Charlotte went on to score a then-record ODI score of 173 not out in a World Cup match against the Ireland and her maiden Test hundred came in 1998/99 against India.

It was a rapid rise for Charlotte, and in 2005, when Ashes fever was hitting the men’s game in England, Charlotte’s second childhood ambition was fulfilled, when she was named England captain. “Initially, I was asked to stand in for Clare Connor, who due to injury, was unavailable for the tour of India. After 9 years of playing for England, I felt ready and I loved it.”

The role became permanent, the following March. “When I got the call I was over the moon. Of course it was disappointing when one of your close friends decides to step down, but it was a dream come true for me.”

I asked Charlotte what it was like making that transition from player in the ranks to captain. “It was tough actually. And if I’m honest, it took me 12 months to get my head around captaincy. I was given one of the biggest jobs in cricket and suddenly I felt I had to do things differently. I put too much pressure on myself to lead from the front, make all of the decisions and be the one to score runs. It probably affected my batting more than anything else, but once I adjusted to captaincy, I felt more relaxed. I learnt that when I’m batting I must be Charlotte Edwards the batter and when I’m in the field I’m Charlotte Edwards, England captain. Once I was able to separate the two roles, I felt captaincy became a lot simpler to me and I started to enjoy it.”

Under Charlotte’s guidance the team has enjoyed tremendous success. Ashes series were won and retained, the World Cup was won in 2009 and the final of the World T20 was reached. “Winning the World Cup in 2009, in Sydney, will always be the biggest highlight of my career. It was my first major world trophy and to win it in Australia, made it even more special.”

On an individual level, Charlotte was winning many accolades. She was named ICC Woman’s Player of the Year in 2008 and was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2014, only the second time a woman has won this award. “Sometimes I do have to pinch myself about some of the stuff I have achieved because when you start playing the game, you have no idea what will happen and how your career will span out.”

But with all of the plaudits for Charlotte’s captaincy and batting, we shouldn’t forget about her abilities with the ball. “I’ve got the best golden arm going! No wants to get out to me!”

Charlotte laughs, but through the years, her bowling displays have been invaluable. Her 4 wickets against New Zealand in the 2009 World Cup got England into the final. “I do love bowling, but the biggest issue for me was having the time to put into it. I was always a part time bowler. The reason I’m not doing it now, is I haven’t the time and energy to put into it. And you have to have that at international level. I used to love it though, as I always felt I was in the game. If I hadn’t scored runs it was nice that you could have a bowl and try to pick up some wickets. I do really miss it, if I’m honest.”

But of all the games Charlotte has played thus far for England, it was an Ashes winning knock in Hobart that she lists as her most memorable. “I would have to say the 92 I made in a T20 in Hobart, which won us the Ashes. I have scored a number of 50s 60s and 70s against the Aussies, and sometimes they can feel more valuable, but that game in Hobart stands out for me just because it was one of those series that kept swinging from one team to the other. They scored 160 or so batting first, which is a really high score in women’s T20 cricket and we just went out and chased them down in 18 overs, which was unbelievable.”

On the subject of T20 cricket, Charlotte played in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash T20 league in Australia this winter, a tournament that ran parallel to the men’s competition. “It was brilliant, I really enjoyed it. I played over in Perth, where they really looked after me. Some of the games were double headers with the men’s games and they were great events to be part of. Especially Adelaide on New Year’s Eve when there was over 20,000 in the ground at the end – I’ve never experienced that before in domestic cricket. Everyone in Australia bought into it and it’s a fantastic thing for the women’s game.”

This summer, the ECB launches its own franchise T20 competition, with the introduction of the women’s Super League. “Having experienced the Big Bash in the winter you realise what a difference a domestic competition like this can do for the women’s game. One of my biggest concerns over recent years is the strength of the domestic game, so introducing the women’s Super League is going to be huge for us and will help prepare our players for international cricket. It will give county players a better level of cricket and it will hopefully generate a lot of interest for girls wanting to play the game. Hopefully the six teams will deliver a great product.”

Both T20 and ODI cricket have always been the pinnacle of the women’s game, so where does Test cricket stand? “Test cricket is hard for us, because we don’t play much of it, so we don’t get the opportunity to practice our Test skills. We don’t play four day cricket domestically, so it’s always difficult for players making their debuts, as they won’t have played four day cricket before and it can be hard to adjust. ODI’s and T20’s are the two formats we are most comfortable with, but we do love playing Test cricket, we just wish we could play more of it so we can understand the game better and get more out of it.”

One recent change in women’s cricket was the introduction of a points system in Ashes series. Previously, the women’s Ashes series were won or lost based upon one, one-off Test match. Now points are collected for winning Test matches, ODI and T20’s, so every contest counts. “We found that Test matches were becoming a bit negative. With a one off Test, whoever held the Ashes wouldn’t necessarily play a positive brand of cricket as they only needed to draw to retain the Ashes, so it became a bit of a non-event. Adding the other two formats has been a fantastic introduction, it has allowed the two best teams in the world to really fight it out and the series has become a true test of our abilities.”

And what of the old rivalry, is it as intense as the series played by the men? “It’s no different whatsoever. Any contest in cricket between England and Australia will always be competitive. They are our biggest rivals, and I’m sure we are theirs. Every contest we have with them is tightly fought, but played with a huge amount of respect. Every run you score, or wicket you take, always seems to be worth more when you play Australia.”

The old enemies have definitely been at the forefront of the huge development of women’s cricket, globally and Charlotte hopes other countries’ boards will support their players as much as the ECB have done here in England. “Us and Australia definitely lead the way with the financial backing from our boards. Players from most of the top countries now have some form of contract, but many are still part time. We have had enormous support from the ECB. They have been absolutely amazing. I never thought I’d be a professional cricketer in my time, but that’s happened.”

Charlotte also gives a lot of kudos to Sky Sports and the BBC. “The media support has been absolutely fantastic. Both Sky Sports and the BBC cover most of our games. There’s a real momentum behind women’s sport now in this country. We’re playing our games in front of lots more people and there’s a whole new audience watching women’s cricket. We’re selling out grounds at Chelmsford and Hove - with fans of the women’s team, not just supporters’ piggy backing on the men’s game.”

It’s obvious the pride that Charlotte quite rightly feels. “I’m proud of seeing all of this happen and where the women’s game now stands. 20 years ago I was playing for England in a skirt, I’m now a professional cricketer. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself. I’ve been on a wonderful journey – I just don’t want it to end!”

Charlotte’s achievements haven’t just been recognised by the cricketing hierarchies. She has been a proud recipient from the Queen of both an MBE and a CBE. “I’m immensely proud. I’m the luckiest person in the world to do what I do.”

As Charlotte heads into her 20th year of playing international cricket, what are her aims for 2016? “We have an important series against Pakistan in the summer and of course the Super League. Then at the back end of the year we head to Sri Lanka and the West Indies for two important tours as we prepare for the ICC World Cup next year.”

Charlotte has become an icon of women’s cricket and she encourages all young girls to give the game a try. “The great thing now is that there are all girls cricket teams which wasn’t the case when I was younger, so there’s lots of opportunities for girls to play the game now, so give it a go!” and she urges parents to give their daughters the chance that her parents gave her. “Give them the opportunity. If they get half the pleasure out of it that I have, they’ll be very happy.”

As cricket fans we owe Charlotte so much. Her journey is inspirational and she has been an ambassador for not only women’s cricket, but women’s sport in the UK. She tells me that she “owes the game more than it owes me.” I beg to differ. England cricket owes Charlotte Edwards a huge amount because women’s cricket would not be in the position it is now, if it wasn’t for her.

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