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Charlotte Edwards: 'Girls now trust that they can hit sixes down the ground'

Southern Brave coach admits she's tempted by England role as Hundred climax looms

Charlotte Edwards speaks to her Southern Brave squad ahead of their match against Oval Invincibles  •  Getty Images

Charlotte Edwards speaks to her Southern Brave squad ahead of their match against Oval Invincibles  •  Getty Images

Charlotte Edwards is laughing because she knows what's coming. Near the end of a thirty-minute interview about Southern Brave's campaign in the women's Hundred, flawless until defeat to Northern Superchargers which means they face Trent Rockets in the Eliminator on Friday night for a place in Saturday's final against defending champions, Oval Invincibles, the subject of England comes up.
At the start of August it was announced Lisa Keightley would be leaving her position as head coach of England Women at the end of the season. Naturally Edwards, who captained the team to three Ashes victories (2008, 2013 and 2014) along with 50-over and T20 World Cups in 2009, has been linked to the job. A job, she tells ESPNcricinfo, she wants.
"All I'll say is I'm definitely interested," says Edwards. "And who wouldn't be? It's one of the most prestigious jobs going around. The team are in a good place and ultimately they've got a world-leading domestic structure now, which I've been part of.
"I'm hugely passionate about England. I think there's a good crop of young players coming through. It's incredibly exciting, isn't it?
"I have massive ambitions to coach internationally because, like I was when I was a player, I want to coach at the highest level. Whether that's right for me right now… I think I've got a bit of thinking to do, post the Hundred."
That she has not given it too much thought until now was due to the surprise of Keightley's departure, whom she had expected to be in position at least until the end of the T20 World Cup in South Africa, which takes place in February 2023. Like many, Edwards was caught off-guard.
Since international retirement in 2016 after 20 years at the top - 10 of them as captain - before totally stepping away from the crease in 2018, Edwards' move to coaching has been seamless. So much so, in fact, that she has a full calendar comprising domestic commitments with Brave and Southern Vipers (back-to-back Rachel Heyhoe-Flint Trophy winners, along with the 2022 Charlotte Edwards Cup, of course), a new role as head coach of Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash League, and whatever may come with the women's Indian Premier League. Giving those opportunities up will be the only circle to square for a job she truly covets.
"You know what, I feel like I have the best job in the world doing what I'm doing," she says. "That's going to be the hardest thing: I've loved doing the Southern Vipers, I've loved doing the Southern Brave and I've got the Sydney Sixers role in Australia, so there's a lot going on. That's why I've not really thought about it, and why I need to think long and hard about what the next step is for me.
I don't normally have a meeting before training, and they thought it was a crisis meeting about something else, like they'd done something wrong. Don't worry girls - it's just about us being better
"I feel like I'm ready to do something like that, since I've had six years since I've stopped playing. The Sixers was a big role to take on because I wanted to test myself in a different country. There's lot to think through. I need to have some conversations with a few people and come to a decision."
Her aim in the next few weeks is to have those conversations with those around her and then with the decision-makers. At present, there have been no conversations with anyone at the England and Wales Cricket Board. "I haven't seen any adverts," she adds. The idea of the 42-year-old sitting down to write a cover letter and touch up that CV is amusing in itself, as she tries to fit all those playing and coaching accomplishments on one piece of A4.
Many of Edwards' credentials as an overseer can be extrapolated from her work as a leader: strong messaging, clear roles, an insatiable desire for success. But there is a more holistic approach to her work on the circuit, typified by what she has done with Brave over the last two summers.
Maintaining the consistency from last season has been partly down to luck, she says. "We've kept that nucleus of players and started where we left off, really." It helps that only two domestic members of their squad - Sophia Dunkley and Jo Gardner (yet to feature) - are not with the Vipers. The signing of Georgia Adams (Vipers captain) from Oval Invincibles in the off-season has inadvertently boosted their bowling. Her offspin, unused in 2021, has got through 23 sets this year. She has the third-best economy rate (6.62 per five balls) of those who have bowled as many in the entire competition.
When it comes to personnel, Edwards reckons one of her more inspired moves was making Anya Shrubsole captain, lauding the recently retired England seamer as "the best captain in the comp".
"She's got one of the best cricket brains in the country. She was the first person I wanted to captain this team, if I'm brutally honest.
"I'd always had a good relationship with her but she gets the game. She's won two games for us through her captaincy. The Manchester Originals game. We were done, it felt like they were really on top of us. And the Welsh Fire game, the way she managed those bowlers. Even the Trent Rockets game: the way she used Wellington [Amanda-Jade, the Australian legspinner] against Sciver: we held her back and back. That's where she reads the conditions really, really well and I think Wellington being the leading wicket-taker - how we used her, has been pivotal.
"I guess as an ex-captain I know how important captaincy is in any format, but especially more important in this because your decisions are instantly judged - you instantly know whether it's a good or bad one. I can't speak highly enough of her."
It is when Edwards talks about the use of time away from the field that you get a full scope of what she is as a coach. With six group matches across 20 days, there is not enough time to hone techniques and embolden each and every individual. Given that Brave's campaign started with five wins in a row, there hasn't been much need to, either.
Not that Edwards saw those positive results as a comfort. After noticing a few of her bowlers wanted to know which phases they might bowl, she impressed upon them all to be ready to bowl every set, which led to a more fluid mindset among the group. And as the tournament progressed and the pitches became more worn, she noticed the Brave batters were hitting too square when the going got tough, particularly in the middle 50 deliveries. The day after a tight victory over Welsh Fire, she scheduled a meeting before training that was not originally on the schedule. It created a sense of panic among the group, particularly from those who knew Edwards well.
"I don't normally have a meeting before training, and they thought it was a crisis meeting about something else, like they'd done something wrong," she laughs. "Don't worry girls - it's just about us being better."
With the help of an analyst, she pulled together footage of the team striking down the ground, hitting pockets - making best use of the "wide V" between extra cover and long on.
"I think at times when we're under pressure we go away from that because they start seeing other boundary options," she said. "There's a reason they [the opposition] are bringing square up - because they want us to be playing across the line on slow wickets. It was just reinforcing what we're good at. That's really all this is - stroking a few egos.
"It's really important you actually identify this type of stuff because otherwise they get into really bad habits in a tournament. They've got to score at 130, 140 [strike rate] from ball one, but it's knowing that they've got to go to their strengths."
For Edwards, the reluctance to go straight, or rather, the desire to go square, stems from what she recognises as a female trait where batters are too quick to lose their shape. She has been drilling the importance of maintaining strong positions to ensure a better base to hit straighter, which has contributed to Brave leading the way with 20 sixes.
"Because they [women] don't play on particularly great pitches when they grow up, you get into bad habits," she says. "Most bowling attacks are looking to hit the stumps, and they're looking to take pace off the ball sometimes. Well, if they're looking to do that we need to work with that.
"Girls are now trusting themselves that they can hit sixes down the ground, I think it's a big thing. I keep saying to our players: if an offspinner is on, you've got to think that, on a 60-yard boundary, if you hit it, they're going to go for six. Take the fielder out of the equation and we'll back you that it's the right option.
"We've hit the most sixes because we're backing our strengths. If we get the length, we'll smack it square of the wicket. But our first instinct is to hit the ball back where it's come from."
The shred of irony, if you can call it that, is Edwards was moved on from England by head coach Mark Robinson partly for not aiming to clear the fences. And it speaks of how much she has gleaned as a coach that she is trying to wean others off career-long conditioning, born out of systemic issues in the women's domestic game. In turn, she has gone some way towards fashioning self-sufficient, battle-hardened cricketers who, with the sharp end of the tournament fast approaching, now need to be at their best twice in the space of 48 hours.
Having lost the guarantee of a place in the final with their final group-match defeat against Superchargers, Brave know they will go into Friday's match with more to lose than Rockets. The benefit of playing at home will count for something, especially given India star Smriti Mandhana averages 40.60 at the Ageas Bowl. They will also take confidence from the 10-wicket triumph when these two sides met a week ago.
Edwards, however, is taking nothing for granted. Even with the distraction of England, and the thinking to be done after this weekend, her focus - as ever - remains on the next piece of silverware.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo