With her mind-boggling batting records and incredible longevity and success as England captain, Charlotte Edwards had a colossal impact on women’s cricket. She was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2014.
Meet the England captain: an all-time great who has lifted the World Cup and the World Twenty20, won the Ashes home and away, and broken the world record for the most international appearances. And yet there are still some cricket lovers who would not recognise her if she sat next to them at Lord’s.
It may, alas, be necessary to translate her achievements into the masculine. In terms of success, Charlotte Edwards is Andrew Strauss and MS Dhoni rolled into one. In terms of longevity, she is verging on Sachin Tendulkar: after making her Test debut at 16, she remains at the top 18 years later. In terms of talent, she is Mark Waugh, a natural strokemaker, Test No. 4 and one-day opener. In terms of stats, she is Geoff Boycott, averaging 47 in Tests. In terms of history, she is Nasser Hussain, the first England captain to benefit from central contracts.
Edwards has captained England for eight years – longer than the men ever last. The calendar year 2013 was a cross-section of her career. At the World Cup in India, England beat some good teams (India, New Zealand, West Indies), but suffered tantalising defeats – by one wicket to Sri Lanka, and by two runs to Australia, the eventual winners. England’s slender chance of making the final evaporated when the Aussies conveniently lost to West Indies. They ended up in the third-place play-off, where Edwards despatched New Zealand with an unbeaten hundred. Back home, it was an Ashes summer, with a difference: all three forms of the game counted. England saved the Test, lost the first one-dayer at Lord’s, then won five matches in a row. Under the new points system, they went 2-4 down, before winning 12-4. “It was like playing seven finals,” Edwards said. “I loved it.”
Five months later, in Australia, England had to do it all again. They won the only Test, shot into an 8-0 lead, then wobbled twice as the Aussies were lifted by Ellyse Perry, the rising superstar of the women’s game. Edwards told herself she wasn’t going to give up the Ashes without a fight. In a Twenty20 match on a spanking pitch in Hobart, England restricted Australia to 150, then breezed to victory. Edwards made 92 not out off 59 balls, surely the fastest captain’s innings in Ashes history.
One Monday in December, she was at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough, better known as the Academy. We met at 11, an hour after the selection meeting for the Ashes tour (Edwards is not a selector, but “I say my piece”). She had been in the nets at eight after leaving home, in Berkshire, at six. Glamorous life, eh? “Oh yes.”
Charlotte Marie Edwards was born in Huntingdon on December 17, 1979. She grew up on a farm in nearby Pidley, playing cricket with her elder brother, Daniel, in their own net. Their father, Clive, a potato farmer, captained Ramsey, and his wife, Yvonne, made the teas. “As soon as I could walk,” Charlotte says, “I was on the boundary edge playing cricket with my brother and his friends.” She became Ramsey’s scorer, and would take her kit along hopefully. “I was a terrible scorer, but I was fascinated by captaincy and would question my dad afterwards – ‘Why did you put that bowler on?'” When she was nine or ten, Ramsey were a player short, so she fielded for 50 overs. “I loved every minute. They even gave me one over at the end.”
Unlike many of today’s England cricketers, she went to a comprehensive school – Ramsey Abbey. “I was lucky,” she told the Daily Telegraph in 2006. “It was a state school which was heavily into cricket.” A batsman and leg-spinner, she captained the First XI and all the Huntingdonshire Boys teams up to Under-17. She was the only girl; the boys didn’t object, but some of their parents did. She made her debut for England Women Under-19 at the age of 12. Her first Test, four years later in 1996, was a test of nerve more than skill: “I believed I was good enough. I was incredibly nervous, but I did OK, got a couple of thirties. I felt comfortable and just wanted more.”
The next year she proved it by making regular hundreds. Had she been male, she might even have been one of the Five Cricketers of the Year in Wisden 1998. But this high was followed by a cruel low: a group-stage exit in the 2000 World Cup, then a snapped cruciate ligament, picked up on the hockey field, which kept her out for a year. “Suddenly it was like, slap bang, oh no, am I ever going to play again? But actually it was a real turning point for me, because I’d taken quite a lot for granted in terms of my natural ability. I look back on it with fond memories. I’m a stronger person for going through it.”
When she started, players needed a day job – hers was with Hunts County Bats – and rare was the woman cricketer who went on past 30. She took over as England captain when Clare Connor retired at 29. Edwards’s father had died of cancer in March 2006, aged 55, having lived to see her lead England as Connor’s understudy. She found her first summer tough as official captain, perhaps because she was grieving. “I was desperate to lead from the front, and I put too much pressure on myself. But I turned it around by the end of the summer. I went down the order and it really helped.”
“Charlotte Edwards poured every ounce of herself into the English game and did it not for money, because there wasn’t any, or fame, because there wasn’t much of that either, but for love.”@Phil_Wisden on why Charlotte Edwards surely deserves a damehood. https://t.co/2Uz0I5A92i
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) January 2, 2019
To an outsider, Edwards is friendly, sending quickfire emails with plenty of exclamation marks, and smiling at the end of each spoken answer. But it is the guarded smile of the well-known; she seems polite – endlessly so – rather than curious. With her team, who call her Lottie, the smiles go deeper. “We have an enormous amount of fun. I really try and instill that in the players – and, on the more serious side, honesty and trust, always challenging each other to be better. But underpinning all that is enjoyment.”
Once the baby of the team, half as old as Barbara Daniels, she is now the elder stateswoman, twice as old as Tash Farrant. “I see myself as quite a mentor to the younger players. When they’re struggling, they just need that comfort of someone else having gone through that process. ‘Just hang in there.’ I guess it’s having a positive mindset, sometimes a bravado. Sometimes you’re low in confidence, but you’ve got to walk out there like you’re about to score a hundred.”
At Port-of-Spain in November 2013 she became the first person to captain England in 100 one-day internationals – the most by a man is Strauss’s 62 – and she has scored more 50-over and Twenty20 international runs than any woman in the history of the game. Although she calls herself “a cricket geek”, loves listening to the TV commentators and relishes the titbits the team analyst slips her, she says she leads by instinct, and kicks herself only when she doesn’t follow her gut. “But I’m adaptable, I’ve learned to be more flexible. More aggressive as well – you’ve got to be in their faces.”
The first time she played at Lord’s, women were not allowed in the Long Room unless they were players, cleaners, or the Queen. Now Edwards sits on the MCC World Cricket Committee, and England Women have a 12-strong management team, although the players still share rooms on tour (she enjoys deciding who should go with whom). At the start of 2014, the leading players became full-time professionals. Offered the chance to say something militant, she declines. “I don’t get too bitter and frustrated. I feel incredibly fortunate to do what I do, and we are starting to get the crowds in to watch us. You always want more, but you’ve got to be realistic.”
Has she had to make sacrifices? “People think I have, but I don’t. All I wanted to do was play for England. People say you can’t go on a summer holiday, but I don’t want to – my holiday is to go and watch the Perth Test. I’ve chosen to play cricket, I know what comes with that. I’ve travelled the world doing something I absolutely love. No regrets.”
In a glittering two-decade-long career, Charlotte Edwards scored 10,273 international runs – 1,676 in Tests, 5,992 in ODIs and 2,605 in T20Is. No other women cricketer has crossed the 10,000-run mark.