The icon of women’s cricket has taken to the international crease for the last time. Charlotte Edwards, who first played the game at 16 years of age when women were still expected to play in skirts, has retired from international cricket. The individual who inspired a generation of girls to take up the game and flawlessly captained her country for a decade has closed the curtain on one of the finest careers English cricket has seen.
In the fall-out of England’s departure from the World Twenty20, head coach Mark Robinson indicated to Edwards that she may not be selected for future matches, publically identifying a need for the side to become more athletic and dynamic with an injection of youth in order for them to dominate once again. This was Edward’s cue to reluctantly, and emotionally, announce her parting from a team she has defined for so long. The improvements and pursuit of excellence that Edwards was striving to achieve in the women’s game has ultimately caused her to be its first major casualty. Her hopes of a fitting farewell after the 2017 World Cup on home soil have been ended.
She departs the international arena with a set of achievements that you need to read twice to properly take in. The 36 year-old is the leading ODI and Twenty20 run-scorer of all time, scoring 5,992 runs in 191 ODI appearances and 2,605 in 95 T20 games. The latter is a record for both men’s and women’s cricket. Only one person has scored more than the 1,676 Test match runs she has to her name. The 220 times she took to the field as captain of her country is more than any other. She has a personal cabinet full of team and personal honours that include World Cup and World Twenty20 wins in 2009 and three Ashes triumphs. Not only is Edwards a CBE but was named IIC world player of the year in 2008, player of the tournament at the 2012 World Twenty20 and, most recently, the 2014 Wisden cricketer of the year. That Edwards's retirement after 309 caps and two decades comes when she is still one of, if not the, best batsman in the side is testament to her ability and longevity.
It was not just Edwards's talents with bat in hand that set her apart during her career but the attitude, commitment and fervour she brought to every match that either further enthused teammates during the good times or dragged them along during the bad. Through thick and thin she has been the beacon of English women’s cricket, the glue that has kept it all together and enabled it to become the success story that it is as she departs today. A Captain needs to set exemplary standards and stick to them. Edwards did it with aplomb for years. She has been England’s figurehead and most towering influence for two decades. She has been the one, through her determined performances, who has driven an improvement in the national side that continues to filter down to the lower levels of the game. She has been orchestrating the show for a decade and more. Indeed for a long time it was felt that if Edwards didn’t deliver at the crease, England would lose.
During her career Edwards has led the changes in perception of the women’s game and encouraged others that they can make a career of it. She has been integral to the developments and progress that has enabled the game to become professional with central contracts. No one has contributed more to an expansion that is now actually spreading faster globally than the men’s game. Young female players want to be the next Charlotte Edwards. Many involved in the sport hope that she can now go onto be an equally as respected national coach once she decides to call time on her playing career altogether, something that doesn’t look likely just yet, with her set to play in domestic T20 tournaments here and in Australia.
Charlotte Edwards will rightly go down as the most significant woman to have played cricket, being the most prolific batsman in the women’s game and its longest, most successful captain. Should she be viewed as the finest captain England have had, for both genders and across all sports? Those arguing so would have a very strong case.