As Charlotte Edwards steps down as England captain after a glittering career, Chris Bond looks at the state of women’s cricket and her impact on the game.
When she was 16, Charlotte Edwards paid £50 for the privilege of her first England blazer.
But not in her wildest dreams could she have imagined that 20 years later she would be retiring as captain of the England women’s cricket team following an astonishing, record-breaking career.
Having made her England debut in 1996 as a callow teenager, Edwards went on to spend a decade at the helm during which time England enjoyed three Ashes successes, a World Cup victory and a World Twenty20 double in 2009.
Yesterday, she stepped down as captain and called time on her glittering international career, leaving those who follow with big shoes to fill.
Her individual achievements will certainly take some beating. On top of making more international appearances than any other female cricketer, she’s also made more Twenty20 runs for her country than any other man or woman in the world.
In 2008, she was the International Cricket Council’s women’s player of the year and – following those back-to-back Ashes successes – in 2014 was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year. And just for good measure she was awarded a CBE.
It’s little wonder then that ECB chief executive Tom Harrison was so fulsome in his praise of Edwards whose achievements were, he said, “unlikely to ever be surpassed.”
Rich Pyrah, coach of the Yorkshire women’s franchise in the new T20 Super League which starts in July, also heaped praise on the outgoing captain.
“Lottie’s achievements are incredible and her stats are as good as anyone’s. She put this sport on the map for women and her retirement is going to be a big loss. But now there’s a chance for someone else to pick up where she left off.”
Pyrah, who is also a Yorkshire County Cricket Club coach, says women’s cricket has been boosted by the success of the Twenty20 format.
“It’s in a really good state and it’s in a position now where it can really kick on. There’s a big gap between international women’s cricket and women’s county cricket and one of the reasons why the Super League has been brought in is to try and bridge that gap, which I think it will.”
In the past, women’s sport in general has often had to fight for recognition and has over the years faced a wall of prejudice and disinterest.
But attitudes have changed and though sporting equality has been slow to arrive women’s sport is seeing rising standards, bigger audiences and, perhaps most significantly, greater TV coverage.
The London 2012 Olympics, in particular, was a landmark moment, featuring a record number of women with each nation including at least one female athlete for the first time.
Having good players and a winning team always helps and in this regard England’s cricketers have played an important role in raising the profile of women’s sport – and frequently outperforming their male counterparts in the process.
Recent efforts to promote the women’s game create the impression that it’s relatively new, when women have actually been playing cricket for centuries – the legendary W.G. Grace was apparently taught how to play by his mother.
At one time cricket had a well-deserved reputation for fustiness, but not any more with England now at the forefront of the women’s game.
The success of the England women’s team reflects the current growth in participation in the sport. In 2003 there were 90 clubs across the country with a women’s team, whereas there are now more than 600 clubs nationwide offering cricket to women and girls.
And that’s due in no small part to inspirational stars like Charlotte Edwards.