England news May 11, 2016

'There was hunger to carry on but it's not to be' - Edwards

Play 02:13
Dobell: Edwards provided the perfect role-model

Charlotte Edwards has announced her international retirement, bringing an end to a 20-year career, in which she captained England for ten and became one of the most influential women in British sport, after being told she was not part of coach Mark Robinson's plans for the season ahead.

Edwards, who will continue playing at domestic level including the forthcoming first edition of the Women's Super League, took the decision following England's 2016 World T20 campaign, where they went out in the semi-finals against Australia.

That exit was followed by strong criticism by Robinson about the team's lack of fitness and, having declined at the time to confirm that he would endorse Edwards continuing as captain, he recently told her she would be replaced as captain and would not be selected against Pakistan this summer or West Indies later in the year. She had previously hoped to continue until at least the 2017 World Cup, which will be staged in England.

Her retirement marks the end of an era. Not only has Edwards, the state school girl from Huntingdon, set a host of records - no woman has scored more ODI or T20I runs - and won just about every series available - the World T20, the World Cup and the Ashes five times - but she has been at the forefront of the move into professionalism and modernity.

In fact, the term BC could easily be used to mean 'Before Charlotte'.

Before Charlotte, women weren't allowed in the Long Room at Lord's unless they were cleaning, the queen or playing in a match.

Before Charlotte, women's cricket was an amateur sport to such an extent that she had to buy her first England blazer.

Before Charlotte, women cricketers were expected to wear skirts or culottes.

Before Charlotte, cricket wasn't a viable option for the most talented female athletes at school level; it was an unusual pastime of a few who almost entirely came from private schools.

In a career stretching back 20 years - John Major was Prime Minister in 1996 when Edwards first played for England - she became the first woman to join the MCC World Cricket Committee, won a CBE, was made one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year and became the first player, male or female, to captain England in 200 internationals. Her achievements are immense. She has been a cricketing pioneer. The word "inspiration" crops up often when she is mentioned.

Recognising, like her mentor Clare Connor, that those who rock the boat at the ECB tend to be thrown overboard, Edwards has made progress through quiet persuasion and her own example. Her excellence insisted upon respect and recognition. Her bat did the talking; her example set the standard. She made it easier for other young women to become professional cricketers. All who follow will owe her much.

She referred to the past week, during which she weighed up the decision to retire, as "the hardest of her life" and at one stage broke down during her retirement press conference. But there's nothing wrong with that. To have retained such passion for the game despite 20 years of hotel rooms, airports, shuttle runs and knees now held together with bit of string and a sense of habit, is admirable in itself.

But it is not the on-field records that she most values.

"My personal record and team record stands for nothing, really," she said. "But being a role model for young girls... I did not have a female role model as a cricketer growing up so to think I have done that is really special to me.

"I started playing in skirts and had to pay for my own blazer. It has been incredible. When working for Chance to Shine, you see the power of what you do at the top end to what you can deliver at the grass-roots end. It has been an unbelievable journey."

She admits the decision to remove her as captain was no surprise. But she retained hopes of playing in the World Cup - to be played in England next year - and, as England's top run-scorer at the recent World T20, could have expected selection on merit.

For Charlotte Edwards the team always came first, something that was exemplified by the selfless and dignified manner of her retirement © IDI/Getty

In the end, though, her own dominance counted against her. It was noticeable at the World T20 that, when Edwards fell, her team followed in alarmingly fragile fashion. 67 for 0 became 117 for 7 against Australia; 63 for 1 became 106 for 9 against West Indies; against Pakistan she scored more than half of the runs and against Bangladesh 127 for 4 became 153 for 7.

Robinson, the coach for six months now, noted that nothing seemed to grow in her shade. While that is no reflection of Edwards, he knew he had to act and made what Connor, the head of women's cricket at the ECB, called "a ballsy decision".

Some of Edwards' team-mates - her former team-mates now - may want to reflect on their part in this scenario. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that England's batsmen, extended the sort of advantages of which she can only have dreamed in her formative years, have let her down.

"I was comfortable with the captaincy decision," Edwards said. "I know we underperformed over the last two years and I knew there would be questions about that. I was more than happy to step down as captain.

"But I'm really happy where my game is at. There was a real hunger to carry on as a player. But it's not to be. It has come as a big shock to me."

Robinson only informed Edwards that she would not considered for the next three series. Relatively low-profile encounters against Pakistan (at home) and then Sri Lanka and West Indies (both away) offered, he believed, a chance for the team to rebuild.

While Edwards' talent and good intentions are not in question, her status in the game is such that her very presence might be seen to intimidate the younger players or the new captain. They might, Robinson reasoned, flourish more in an environment without their revered former leader.

But the door was not completely shut. She could have resolved to fight for her place. She could have reasoned that, with her record, it would be desperately hard to leave her out of the World Cup team in a year's time.

But, knowing that her availability might put pressure on younger players trying to make their way in the England side, knowing her own ambitions could became a distraction for the team she has done so much to encourage, knowing that her personal aims had to be secondary to the good of the side, she has decided to withdraw entirely. It is a typically selfless decision, and entirely in keeping with the way she has conducted herself throughout her career. The team always came first.

"Mark spoke to me quite honestly and told me how he saw the next series as an opportunity to develop players and take the team in a new direction," Edwards said. "He said the girls are hiding behind me sometimes and that they needed to develop.

"We have a number of younger batters who have not shown their potential at that level. Mark sees the next couple of series as an opportunity to give them a chance with a new captain as well. He thinks there is not a place for me in the team.

"With all that in mind I did not seem to feature in the immediate plans, I went away had a big think about things. I knew I had a decision to make.

"For me to get closure and the team to move on, which is the most important thing, the decision had to be made. It is poor timing for me but right timing for the team. They are the most important people right now.

"I have loved working with Mark and I do think he will take the team to where we need to be taken. I am just really disappointed and upset I can't be on that journey with the players. I invested a lot of time in those girls and I am desperate for them to prosper on the international stage. It has happened quickly but I am getting more comfortable with the decision. I have had a wonderful career."

She is not the first prominent player to feel she has been discarded early. But while some have raged and ranted, it is a measure of her commitment to the team that she has reacted with dignity, with humility and with acceptance. She could see the umpire's finger was up and, steeped as she is in this great game, she knew it was time to go.

She will continue to play at domestic level. As well as continuing to represent Kent, she will also captain Southern Vipers in the inaugural Super League this summer and play in the Big Bash this winter. Catch her while you can; she may one day be viewed as the WG Grace of women's cricket.

It's not quite the ending she wanted, of course. But to have represented her country with distinction more than 200 times, to have won every trophy, to have left the sport bigger and better than she found it and emerged as a role-model to generations of followers… she has done her family, her clubs, her nation and her sport proud. She has played a magnificent innings.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments