Edwards bows out on her own terms
Fifteen months ago, Charlotte Edwards had not just the England captaincy removed from her, but her chances of playing at the 2017 World Cup – a long-cherished ambition – ignominiously snatched away.
In front of a roomful of press at Lord’s, she shed tears as she spoke about new coach Mark Robinson’s decision: “[He] spoke to me honestly that he saw the next series as an important series for him to develop players and take the team in a new direction…there isn’t a place for me in the team.”
Here, on the day that she finally announced her retirement from professional cricket, there was no such distress – just the happy contentment of someone who, having led Vipers to two consecutive KSL finals, knows that the time is right, now, for the next generation to take over the mantle.
It was not – quite – the fairytale ending for English women’s cricket’s greatest servant. Ultimately, it was Western Storm who triumphed in the final of the 2017 Kia Super League at Hove – Vipers’ title gone begging amidst an onslaught of runs from Rachel Priest, Stafanie Taylor and Sophie Luff. Nonetheless, Edwards’ last innings in a Vipers shirt did not disappoint: a quickfire 20 not out from eight balls, including four glorious boundaries, fittingly made with firm friend and former England team-mate Arran Brindle looking on from the other end.
“I just wanted to enjoy today, and I have,” Edwards said afterwards, ruefully conceding that Vipers had simply been outplayed by their opponents. In any case, her decision had already been made, long before tonight’s final. “I kind of knew at the start of the season,” she said. “It just felt right.”
This was a very different Edwards to the one of last summer. During last year’s inaugural KSL it was obvious to everyone, not least herself, that she had something to prove. Still England’s leading run-scorer, it was her 24 off 18 balls that laid the foundations for Southern Vipers’ successful run chase in the 2016 final. “It’s been an emotional tournament. I’ve had to deal with quite a lot this summer,” she said after raising the trophy aloft. “But I kept backing myself.”
Two weeks later she was celebrating the unique achievement of the “treble”, as the county she had represented for 16 years – Kent – took home both the T20 Cup and the 2016 Women’s County Championship crown. Asked about her plans for the future, she was unequivocal that she was going nowhere: “I’m playing next year. Why wouldn’t you?”
England’s 2017 World Cup win, including the sellout final at Lord’s, was made on the backs of Edwards and players like her
She was, it seemed, determined to declare to the world that she had damn well still got it.
Plenty has changed, for Edwards and for England women, in the past 15 months. Six weeks ago, England triumphed over India at Lord’s in a memorable World Cup final, built on the back of performances from those – not least Player of the Tournament Tammy Beaumont – who under Edwards had struggled to step up. It was a win that seemed, in many eyes, to vindicate Robinson’s decision.
Nonetheless one would not have begrudged Edwards had she felt, watching the final from the Sky commentary box, a trace of bitterness, or regret, that she was not out there in the middle. But of either emotion there was no trace. Nor had there been as, in her role as World Cup ambassador, she headed up the pre-tournament Trophy Tour, accompanying the World Cup around the country and into schools to lead coaching sessions and assemblies. Edwards was simply tireless as ever in her promotion of the women’s game.
Indeed, interviewing her during the tournament for a piece on women’s cricket commentary, it was noticeable how relaxed and content she seemed. Asked whether there was any lingering sense of resentment, she replied: “None.” It seemed that a winter Down Under, and some time to reflect, had done its magic.
“Probably about a year ago I’d have said, watching the World Cup and not playing in it is going to be difficult,” she said. “But after the winter I spent away in Australia, I came back and now there’s not one bit of me that wants to be playing for England now.
“I just genuinely am enjoying watching the cricket and am excited about how the game is evolving. I feel like I’m in the best place.”
There will be those who will suggest that she will come to rue not going at the end of last season, instead of now, with Vipers having failed to defend their KSL title. The numbers from this year’s competition do not exactly cover her in glory. Last year she sat atop the Vipers batting order; this time around she has been relegated to No. 7, and before the final she had batted just once, and was promptly sent back for a five-ball duck.
But those people may be missing the point. Edwards has taken back for herself what she was denied last year: the retirement of her own choosing. The numbers reflect the fact that the hunger to constantly drive herself on to new heights – the very thing that ensured she remained England’s premier batsman for the whole of her career – had disappeared, replaced with that newfound sense of contentment. That is no bad thing.
Fifteen months ago I wrote that no one had done more for women’s cricket in the whole of its history than Edwards. That remains the case. She led England into the professional era. She captained her country over 200 times: more than anyone else is ever likely to. She won two World Cups and five Ashes series. Above all else, she fought for the opportunities that future generations will enjoy. She may not have been out there in the middle, but that World Cup win, that sellout final at Lord’s, was made on the backs of Edwards and players like her.
There is no doubt that she will continue to work for the women’s game. “Women’s cricket is my passion,” she told me recently. There is always more to do. Appointed to the Hampshire board last September, she has this season overseen promotion for Hampshire Women to Division One of the Women’s County Championship, and she made it clear tonight that she will continue playing county cricket. As mentor and coach, her work with Southern Vipers will also continue.
But for the first female cricketer of the modern era to become a household name, other lucrative opportunities will no doubt abound, in England and around the world – not least up in the commentary box. Perhaps now, as she puts her bat back in her kitbag after her long service to English women’s cricket, is finally the time for Edwards to take something back.
Nobody, surely, could begrudge her that.
Raf Nicholson is an England supporter, a feminist, and has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the history of women’s cricket. @RafNicholson
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