A Ramble on Women's Cricket
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Reflections on Two Careers – a watcher and a do-er.
Now if you start reading this and think it’s all about the writer I can assure you it isn’t even if it may feel like it is. Please bear with me as it’s the only way I feel I can tell this story. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, in a strange way, it is all about two people whose lives rarely cross in any real sense but where the life of one has impacted hugely on the other, without, I suspect, one being in the least aware.
At age six I was taken to Lord’s by my father to see a few days of a Test match. England was playing the West Indies and while I can remember five names from the West Indies side, I have to admit I can recall none from the England team. No doubt those who study how memory works will understand the reasons why. The first is probably alliteration – Weekes, Worrell and Walcott – the “three Ws” is an expression forever bound up with cricket. The other names were? Well there was a well-known calypso – that true form of West Indies music – which mentioned those ‘little friends of mine Ramadhin and Valentine’. I recall Weekes in particular hitting the ball so hard my eyes could not follow it to the boundary.
Did this spark my interest in the sport? If it did it lay dormant for a few years until, at age 11 I played for our grammar school’s ‘Junior XI’, essentially an U-15 side. From the second season I captained them and then one school team or another throughout my schooldays and played club cricket at weekends too for a factory side in Brighton as a ‘guest player’, something without which many sides could not have found eleven players. All in all I was captain of the side more often than not in my short cricketing career.
I know I may be taking a long time getting to the point; bear with me. I wanted to stress that I have some idea of the pleasures and pains of captaincy on the cricket pitch. When back trouble intervened and put paid to any cricket shortly after leaving university it hurt, and not just in my back! What I missed above all – and I missed all of the experience on the field – was being captain. I don’t think it was the experience of bossing people around. In fact I hope I didn’t. It was having to think every minute of the big picture and not just my part in it, of having to concentrate every second of the match, something I find myself doing from beyond the rope these days but only in short bursts; it’s the perils of age I guess. It may sound like a chore but it is not – and – win or lose – provides the greatest satisfaction (or at least it did for me) that the sport can provide.
Unable to play, I continued watching county men’s cricket avidly for a number of years – a few decades even – and the pleasure of seeing Ted Dexter and Jim Parks at Sussex and Barry Richards and Gordon Greenwich at Hampshire will always be engraved on my mind.
One day in 1993 I was at a loss for a match to watch until Ceefax (don’t worry if you’re too young to recall what this is) told me the England women were playing a match against Australia at Guildford just a few miles away. It was 1993, turned out to be a World Cup match, and England won. When I discovered that England had made it to the final at Lord’s I just had to go. New Zealand were defeated on one of the brightest summer days I have ever spent at that venue. Sitting with legs crossed is a habit of mine and I failed to notice a small crescent shaped area of shin was exposed to the sun up in the Edrich stand. That mark remained for about a decade – a strange reminder of a ‘grand day out’.
No more thought was really given to this women’s sport until I noticed in 1996 another game was to be played at the same venue as my first taster, Guildford. It was a Test match against New Zealand and it was here that I became hooked on this sport that has occupied so much of my leisure time since.
At this point the second player in this story enters the narrative.
When England opened their innings – New Zealand had batted first – I was immediately struck by the two openers. One was making her debut and the other was obviously a very experienced batsman. Both seemed ‘classic’ or text-book players. Always being an admirer of those who can make cricket look both athletic and stylish, here were two of the best. The youngster particularly impressed me. Although the older player was patently the finished article, how could one so young be so accomplished as to represent her country at the tender age of only sixteen? Much as there was to admire in the other twenty players taking part, I had to find other matches in order to watch these two again.
Somehow, I’m not sure how, I learned of this tournament called the “County Championships” that was played over five days at Cambridge. Having a friend living there who had several times said “come and stay” this seemed the perfect time to do so.
I have forgotten if it was this year (1996) or the following one that I drove north for several hours having made a point of finding out where this Edwards was going to be playing. It was a damp, drizzly morning and play was far from certain. When I arrived a little late I recognised the figure in the middle and settled down to watch. Inevitably rain appeared and I huddled with the only other spectator at one side of the ‘pavilion’ for that building seemed to consist of just changing rooms and it seemed it might be inappropriate to just waltz in. My companion and I chatted.
Why had I come to watch? Well, there was this young player I had seen at a Test in Guildford who had impressed me hugely. I poured praise upon praise upon this youngster until I started feeling I might be embarrassing myself. All the time he nodded as if in agreement, a faint smile on his face. Eventually he said…
“Would you like to meet her?” I said “yes” rather sheepishly.
He replied “I’m her father”
Clive (as I later learned he was called) led me over to the huge groundsman’s roller where Charlotte was impatiently swinging her bat and obviously wishing she was back out in the middle. Clive introduced us and I shook hands with a batting glove as Clive said something about my coming specially to see her. I am not sure who was the most embarrassed – certainly not Clive who gave every impression of enjoying the situation enormously. I was later to come to enjoy his company hugely on the few times we met.
From there it was women’s cricket all the way. ‘Cambridge’ became a regular annual event in my diary and somehow, being the closest county to my home and also having considered it my home during those teenage years – and cricket playing years – became the team with which I felt the strongest connection. England games at home were followed avidly and many miles were added to the odometer in the car. Why England? Well my country, of course – where else? - but also there was always Edwards to watch whether England were winning or losing.
I really have no idea how many times I have admired Charlotte's batting. I set out a few months ago wondering how many England matches I had watched with a view to making myself a ‘100’ cap. I was way too late! I have always settled down in my seat or wandered the boundary pointing the best lens in my possession towards the middle, and wanting ‘Lottie’ to succeed with bat in hand – except ,of course, when she was playing against Sussex!
I have made no attempt to summarise one of the greatest careers in this sport. My talents are simply not up to it.
Why do I say that? Because many articles have already been written about her career and by many better writers than me. But perhaps more importantly for me, since this ‘Ramble’ has always unashamedly been my eccentric look at this sport, I felt I wished to write this in a personal vein. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not now be following and photographing this sport were it not for that young girl, a mere sixteen years old, playing at Guildford all those years ago. I owe her a debt in that regard that I will never be able to repay for the hours of pleasure it has brought me on boundaries around the world, and the friends I have made there.
I can find some empathy with the experience that a past England captain is currently going through. I say ‘some empathy’ since her stage was so much bigger than mine I can only try to imagine, and quite inadequately I’m sure, what her current thoughts and emotions may be. If I have become a watcher all those years ago, then there’s no doubt that Edwards has always been a ‘do-er’ . You have only to check her stats to see her accomplishments but they will not show you the elegance with which so many of those runs have been made or the gritty and tough circumstances that were the context of many. You could add the thousands of pictures that must be about on the Internet of her cricket career and the awards and acknowledgements that have deservedly come her way. However you will still have, perhaps, only half the story – you simply had to be there – as I was fortunate often to be!
I doubt very much that the former England captain realises how profoundly she changed my life all those years ago. I just wish I could find a more appropriate way to acknowledge this than simply saying “Thank you, Lottie!”
Slide Shows from Charlotte Edwards' career
Next Page : Lydia Greenway leaves a legacy