England captain Charlotte Edwards hopeful of Norfolk graduate
England captain Charlotte Edwards believes the chances of a player from Norfolk graduating to international level in women's cricket are greater than ever.
Edwards, who led England to World Twenty20 and World Cup success in 2009, was at Garboldisham Cricket Club this week and officially opened their new �32,000 three-lane net facility. It is the latest in a string of grant-funded cricket projects cropping up around the county which are allowing clubs to focus on developing girls and women's cricket.
Having grown up in rural Cambridgeshire, Edwards is aware of the difficulties cricketers from this region with aspirations to play at the highest level have faced in the past – but feels it is no longer a barrier to success.
She said: 'It would give me a huge amount of pride if a girl from East Anglia was able to step up into the international team. I think we will see that in the next five years because the game is growing and players will come from outside the traditional counties like Kent, Sussex and Yorkshire. Hopefully I'm flying the flag for the Minor Counties a little bit.
'When I was a kid I thought I could play for the England men's team, that's all I realised was available to me. I played a lot of boys and men's cricket and county board games and in a way I was a bit stupid at that age – you think you're good enough to play for the England men. As soon as I realised I wasn't and that there was an England women's team, that was a huge day for me and my aspirations then were always to play for that side. To go on and be captain has been really special.
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'I was lucky to find a pathway – now there's a very clear pathway for girls, whereas back then I kind of stumbled across it and got spotted and in deepest darkest East Anglia that wasn't easy!'
After making her international debut at the age of 16, Edwards, now 32, has enjoyed an illustrious career and over the next 12 months she hopes to lead England to successful defences of both their world titles. That both competitions are being staged on the subcontinent, where England's men have just endured a chastening winter, only adds to the challenge.
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'Like the men's side, we are the hunted now because we're the number one side in the world,' said Edwards. 'It's always going to be the hardest challenge to stay there, but that gives us as a group more motivation.
'We've got a huge year ahead of us with two World Cups and an Ashes series next summer, so there's no bigger motivation.
'We've won a Twenty20 series in India but not a one-day series. We've got a lot to prove in that part of the world. We're moving in the right direction, but it's a tough place to play, everything's against you. We want to go out there and show how far we've moved forward in terms of playing spin. It's something we want to conquer and it's going to be a true test of our ability.'
The increased interest in the women's game can perhaps be traced back to 2005, when the England women's side joined the men on their triumphant Ashes parade in central London, having just beaten Australia in a series for the first time in 42 years.
'It was an occasion that really raised the profile of the women's game and a day I'll never forget. I think it probably was the day when people sat up and thought 'They are a decent team' and we've had some big successes since then,' added Edwards, who took over as captain the following year.
Edwards' role as an ambassador for Chance to Shine – a project aimed at re-introducing cricket to state schools – takes her around the country promoting the game.
Her early experiences of having to take days off work to train are a thing of the past, and she admits the next stage for women's cricket is for players to become full-time professionals: 'We're probably five years off that and at my age that will be the back end of my career, but I won't have any regrets. I've been through quite a few eras of the women's game already and it's been great to be part of that.'
Before heading off to coach Norfolk's girls in the new nets at Garboldisham, Edwards added: 'They've got about six nets here now – when I was a kid we had one net and 15 kids trying to bowl in it.
'The kids have got so many opportunities now and there are no excuses for them any more, they have just got to be dedicated. When I was growing up I looked up to Graham Gooch, and I want these girls to look up to some of the England women players, not just me. I see it as a very serious part of my job to get out and try to inspire people and if I've inspired one girl here today to want to play for England, I've done my job in my eyes.'