We’re catching up: we’ve got Australia in our sights

Former England Captain and now ICC Women's World Cup Ambassador Charlotte Edwards looks on ahead of the Royal London One-Day Cup match between Somerset and Kent at The Cooper Associates County Ground on May 2, 2017 in Taunton, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

The country may be in lockdown but Charlotte Edwards has been busy.

But she’s not doing what she would really want to be doing at a time when the cricket season should be shifting into top gear.

“I’m painting my garage because I’m going to convert it into a mini-gym,” she tells The CC. “I’ve had a bit of a brainwave over the last five days – and some helpful neighbours who have given me a bit of inspiration.

“I’ve never spent this much time at home. I’m even looking at landscaping my garden. This is costing me a fortune.”

As exciting as these house modifications maybe, the former England great and current Director of Women’s Cricket at Hampshire, was hoping to have other things occupying her mind at the start of what should have been a seminal season for the women’s game in this country.

Significant ECB investment, coupled with the introduction of a new regional competition and the start of The Hundred threatened to turn 2020 into perhaps the biggest year in the history of the women’s game.

The frustration for Edwards is that the momentum that had started to build on the back of these developments has been lost. Temporarily at least.

“This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the domestic game,” she says. “Having had the investment that the ECB have given to the game in the past few months we were all ready to hit the ground running.

“The pandemic has stopped us in our tracks.

“The ECB have said that the money is still guaranteed. We’ve missed the T20 competition in May and June, but I think everyone is really hopeful that the new domestic competition will start in August and September – so hopefully we can get this new domestic structure underway.

“It was going to be a funny period with it being introduced at the back-end of the summer and with The Hundred before that. It was going to be busy, there was going to be a lot on. Now hopefully it can take centre stage.”

Earlier this week, the ECB announced that up to 24 women’s domestic cricketers would receive a regional retainer from June 1 – a signal of the governing body’s intent to professionalise a greater proportion of the women’s game.

“Everyone speaks about the Hundred being so important for the men’s game, but it was going to be absolutely crucial for the women’s game, having lost the KSL. We had built so much momentum from that tournament over the last four years, we’re absolutely gutted about that not being in place this summer.”

And despite being forced to postpone the introduction of The Hundred until 2021, Edwards is hopeful that this move represents another giant step forward following on from the alignment of the men’s and women’s teams for world cricket’s newest short-format edition.

She does, though, admit a pang of regret that the tremendously successful Kia Super League was removed from the calendar at the end of last summer.

“Everyone speaks about the Hundred being so important for the men’s game, but it was going to be absolutely crucial for the women’s game, having lost the KSL,” she says.

“We had built so much momentum from that tournament over the last four years, we’re absolutely gutted about that not being in place this summer.

“It was so important that they were aligned. That was probably the one thing missing from the KSL – there wasn’t that identity with a men’s team.

“Having been out to the WBBL and the BBL for the last four or five years I’ve seen what an impact that can have, having those teams aligned. I was already starting to see how you can gain momentum by doing that through things like social media in the lead-up to the tournament.

“Everyone was really excited. We had attracted the best players as well too, which was something the KSL hadn’t really done. I know having spoken to a lot of international players at the (T20) World Cup and they were very excited by The Hundred. It’s such a shame we’re now going to have to wait another year.”

Charlotte Edwards

Despite the 12-month hiatus, Edwards can at least put her paint brush down and reflect on just how far the women’s game has come since she first played domestic cricket for East Anglia as a teenager.

“I could write a book on this,” she says, laughing at the memory.

“I was 13 at the time and the County Championship was basically a five-day tournament in Cambridge. I played for East Anglia, there were about seven or eight counties who fed into that area. And I played for them for four or five years before I moved to Kent.

“You played five days on the trot at the various college grounds at the university – five 50-over games. I’m not even sure that would still be allowed to do that now!”

“Back when I first started, all the players I played with were having to take five days’ holiday to play in the competition. There are plenty of very, very good cricketers who have fallen by the wayside along the way.

“It’s only the last ten years that the best players have been paid to play cricket, certainly at the highest level. I was lucky enough to play for England but in the last four or five years there has only been 22 players contracted, whereas in Australia they’ve had 100 people on really good contracts.

“This has come at the right time for women’s cricket in this country, but we’ve still got a fair way to go to make up the ground we’ve lost to Australia.”

Edwards herself played 23 Tests and 191 ODIs for her country. She also played 95 T20 internationals before calling time on her career following England’s semi-final defeat to Australia – by an agonising five runs – in the 2016 World Cup in India.

“Hopefully this new structure will align everything better, and young girls will be able to see a progression from their county to their regional team and then onto the England side.”

That day in Delhi must have seemed far removed from her formative years, playing primarily boys’ cricket in Cambridgeshire. A sporting education which ultimately laid the platform for her to become one of the most recognisable figures in the global game.

“I was quite lucky growing up,” she says. “I was good enough to play with the boys and I put a lot of my success down to playing boy’s and men’s cricket.

“Had I been born 20 years later I may not have played as much boy’s cricket. Mentally it made me a lot tougher. I was put out of my comfort zone at an early age, so playing for England was quite easy in many ways.

“It (girl’s cricket) wasn’t as accepted then as it is now. When I was playing, generally, I was the only girl. There just wasn’t the provision – I really had to go and search far and wide to find opportunities.

“I was really fortunate that my parents were just as dedicated as I was. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I played tough cricket growing up and it prepared me for playing at the higher level.”

Edwards’ retirement came just 15 months before England became World Champions on a sun-drenched day at Lords against India in front of a near-packed house.

Some three years on, she’s confident that the recent changes to the domestic game can help English cricket produce the kind of players needed to ensure that Heather Knight’s side can continue to keep pushing the likes of Australia on the biggest stage.

“The new domestic structure, with eight teams across the country, means there’s a good even spread,” she says.

“We’ve had too many girls playing across 39 counties for the last however many years. To streamline that means we should reap the benefits in the next few years.

“Our talent pool was spread so far and wide. Hopefully this new structure will align everything better, and young girls will be able to see a progression from their county to their regional team and then onto the England side.”