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Edwards the constant at a time of transformation

Charlotte Edwards has seen a transformation in England women's cricket and remains at the helm at the start of the multi-format Ashes series which begins with three Royal London ODIs - the first in Taunton on Tuesday

Tim Wigmore
Tim Wigmore
Charlotte Edwards tells the ECB chairman Colin Graves how it is  •  Getty Images

Charlotte Edwards tells the ECB chairman Colin Graves how it is  •  Getty Images

"My first Test Match was in a skirt and now I'm a professional cricketer. And that probably says everything."
Charlotte Edwards' career embodies the transformation in women's cricket. She made her international debut in 1996, at the time becoming the youngest ever woman to play for England. In 19 years since she has become one of the most significant women in the history of the game, being named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, winning an MBE and, perhaps most significantly of all, being included in the first batch of England female cricketers to be awarded a central contract last year.
"Now there is a career in cricket for any young girl," she says. "It's unrecognisable to the game I first started playing. "You just see so many girls now interested which you couldn't have said before. I didn't even know a women's team existed when I was 11 - I thought I'd have to play for the England men's team!
"It's been a wonderful journey and I'm so pleased I've been on that journey. I'm so lucky I can tell young girls about that journey and make them realise how lucky they are."
Edwards' achievements are worth recounting. She has played more women's internationals than anyone else in history. She has captained England in over 200 internationals, including Ashes wins at home and away and World Cup and World T20 triumphs. And, after over nine years as full-time skipper - a longer time span than Andrew Strauss' entire international career - her zeal for the job has not diminished.
"There is so much more I want to achieve in the game - more World Cup wins, more Ashes wins. I wish I had a pound for every time I'm asked about retirement. That is not on my mind at all. You can play for longer these days. Every older player tells me to keep on. As long as I can do the training that's the hard part.
"You've got to have the passion and desire to get up and do the training, and I've got that in abundance. I never thought I'd play for this long and now I'm just enjoying every year as if it's my last."
Now Edwards again has the Australians in her sights. "It's going to be a great series. You've got the two best teams in the world - we're desperate to keep hold of the Ashes, and they're desperate to win them, so it's going to be set up for a great contest. We're on home soil so I'm confident - we've done well against them here in previous Ashes series and I'm confident we can do it again."
2015 marks a landmark in women's Ashes cricket: the first time that every England-Australia clash will be played at a regular county ground. "There's going to be a lot of extra media scrutiny for us around our Ashes which is obviously fantastic."
After winning the last women's Ashes Down Under in 2013/14, Edwards had to endure some unwelcome extra scrutiny when she was criticised for her intention "to get absolutely smashed tonight." She laughs when she is reminded of these comments. "I probably shouldn't have said what I said. It reflects where profile of women game has got to, people were listening to what was being said. I took it as a compliment really."
The latest manifestation of the improvement in the women's game is the success enjoyed by one of Edwards' teammates, Kate Cross, in the Central Lancashire League this season, including taking 8 for 47 in one game.
"I've told her it's great but she needs to save some wickets for the Ashes." Edwards herself is testament to the virtues of the best female cricketing talent playing extensively with men.
"Without a shadow of a doubt me playing boys' and men's cricket until the age of 17 has enabled me to go on and play for England. You have to play some women's cricket, but I'll tell any young girl to play boys' and men's cricket for as long as you want - it only helps you, more mentally than anything, and the step to women's international cricket is quite an easy one once you've had loads of stick playing men's cricket.
"It is a different game - as a batter I wouldn't want to go and play league cricket six weeks before the Ashes," she says, envisaging a battery of deliveries coming through at shoulder height, which she would seldom face in the women's game.
While Edwards welcomes the profile of the women's Ashes, and the format whereby every game across the three forms of cricket counts towards the series result, she would like the format used in all bilateral series.
Yet few other series involve any Tests at all: over 19 years Edwards has managed just 22 Tests, barely more than one a year. She has only played ten Tests against teams other than Australia."We have to play more of it. It just teaches you more about the game. There is too much emphasis on T20 for women. You can learn so much from the longer format."
Edwards, who will play for Perth Scorchers this winter, also thinks that domestic cricket in England, which will include a six-team Women's Super League from next year, could learn from Down Under. "Hopefully we will get more England players in that competition. It's the best in the world at the moment and that is where we should be aiming. I learned a lot out there in terms of my leadership as well as improving as a player and learning a lot about the Aussies."
Australia might not feel inclined to give Edwards any assistance, giving her outstanding record in Ashes cricket: she averages 52.36 in 12 Tests, and needs just 30 more runs to become England's highest ever Test runscorer against Australia. The records change, but Edwards' determination to break them remains undimmed.

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts