Since 1990, England Women have had just three permanent captains. For almost 15 years it has been the duo of Clare Connor and Charlotte Edwards who have overseen the most successful and transitional period of the women’s game. With the former now retired as a player to be the ECB’s head of women’s cricket and the latter still skipper of the national side, one of the game’s closest partnership-friendships has continued. Here the two leaders of the revolution talk to Izzy Westbury about their role together in the past, present and future.
You two met at England under 19 trials back in 1992 – Clare was 16, Charlotte 12. What do you remember about it?
CC: She was the youngest by such a long way. It was under 19 trials and I thought I was going to be quite young at 16! It was all so unknown. I was completely new to women’s cricket. I went through boys’ school cricket – a similar route to Lottie but different because I was at private school. It’s so funny looking back, because the summer of ’93 was obviously when England won the [women’s] World Cup here, but I wasn’t aware of it all that much.
CE: Same for me. In my world it was like, ‘I’m going to play for the England men’s team,’ because I was getting picked for the boys’ county team, I was captain of the boys’ team and I was picked for regional-level boys’ cricket. I think it was only at under 13 level when I properly had my first moment where I thought, ‘I’m not quite good enough for this’.
CC: All we’d ever done was play boys’ cricket. Now it’s very different and that’s the beauty of Chance to Shine – because now it’s such a different experience for girls playing the game; there are loads of girls doing it. For us it wasn’t like that.
You have a close relationship now. Were you always friends from the off?
CC: We were actually! I think we were just very like-minded. We loved our cricket. We were just cricket mad. That is something that I only really had in common with probably one or two players. We are just such cricket badgers really, aren’t we? So when we roomed together, both on and off the pitch it was just cricket, cricket, cricket. I suppose that’s probably because of our upbringing: because of our dads, playing in a men’s club, being in that cricket world.
CE: Our dads didn’t know each other before, but when we started playing together they would talk. All the time.
Can you remember the first time you batted together?
CE: I remember us opening the batting together for England under 19s. John Major was there. That was a massive day when [Cathryn] Fitzpatrick [Australia’s demon quick of the time] was coming steaming in at us. She really fancied bowling at us two! Or she just liked bowling at Clare… I used to just be like, ‘Conny, can you just shut up!’ because I was at the other end to Clare and she kept winding Fitzpatrick up and I kept on getting all these bouncers! That wasn’t very nice!
CC: We did click, definitely. I think it was because I became captain young [at 23], and Lot was this constant in the team, and we’d gone through everything to get there. I was made captain mid-tour in 2000, and that was a bit of a turbulent time. There were lots of senior players around – more senior players than us – and it was not an easy period. I always turned to Lottie, you know, and obviously then she became my vice-captain in ’02. So we did about four years together as captain/vice-captain. How old were you when you became captain?
CC: Both quite young. And, it was just a tough time. We’d been to Australia, we’d got hammered out of sight. We had a bit of a blame culture; the batters and the bowlers, it was a bit cliquey. It was really tough – we’d lost for a long time. As a new captain I always turned to Lot. I think because we thought quite similarly about people and about the game, and I suppose the friendship we had bolstered that.
CE: I remember once in the 2005 World Cup when I had to go and stick up for Con because Batesy [Richard Bates, then the England coach] was… there was a problem around a tactical thing that he believed in and I remember coming off the field and Conny was really upset in the changing room and I just realised, ‘I’ve got to step in here’. I went and spoke to the coach and just said, ‘Listen, we can’t have this. We can’t have you criticising the captain on what she’s doing. She’s trying to do the best’. I remember that being quite a tough time. Clare didn’t have it easy at all when she was captaining, because she took on a senior group of players.
After this period that was evidently very tricky, around 2000- 2005, there was a lot then made of the men winning the Ashes after 18 years, but for you it was 42 years. How did it go from this period of defeat, to this huge achievement?
CE: We beat New Zealand in ’04 for the first time in 12 years. And we’d never beaten New Zealand. We couldn’t even beat them in a game, let alone a series. And we still hadn’t beaten Australia at this point. So we knew that beating them was a huge step forward to beating Australia.
CC: Yep, huge confidence booster. By 2005, the Ashes summer, I’d played for England for 10 years, and never beaten Australia! They had such a hold over us. And I will never forget the emotions at Stratford. That was the first time we’d ever been on a cricket pitch and beaten them. We just didn’t know what to do with ourselves.
CE: I didn’t know where to go, or what to do. It was just the best feeling ever!
CC: But that kind of moment was so huge for the team. Going back to the likes of Lydia Greenway, Isa Guha, Jenny Gunn, they were all involved in that. Holly Colvin as a 15-year-old. Arran Brindle…
Talking about Colvin’s selection… Charlotte were you involved in that as well? It was all a bit on a whim wasn’t it?
CC: Oh yes, that was hilarious! That was one of our funniest moments! So we were at Hove, Holly was about to go on a geography field trip aged 15. But because the Aussies had a good left-arm orthodox spinner, we brought Holly in to training. We’re in the nets at the top of the ground – and she got everyone out. She got Lot out, she got Tails [Claire Taylor] out, she got everyone out – comfortably. So everyone was sort of looking at each other, thinking, well, this is just a bit outrageous… And we sat on the outfield, you, me and Batesy…
CE: Well, you were sat there, and then you went ‘Lot, Lot, come over here’. I was vice-captain and they said, ‘If we were to pick Holly Colvin in the XI tomorrow, what would you say?’ And I said, ‘Go for it!” But it was the most ridiculous thing, because she didn’t have a room!
CC: Arran Brindle had to move! Holly had to have her own room, because she was under age. There was no space at the hotel, so Brindle and her husband had to go and stay in my flat, in Hove, so that Holly could stay in the hotel! It was the most left-field way of doing selection. It was opportunistic and it worked – she was on a hat-trick in the first innings.
So going back to that summer – that summer was so important, because everyone just suddenly believed. And then six months later, I stepped down and Lot took over. It felt perfect. It felt like it was written in – I’d done as much as I could do, Lot was totally champing – ready to take over. Perfect timing for me and for the team and for Lottie to take over the captaincy.
Talking to a few players who played under both of you as captains they were equally full of praise for you both, but they did note your different approaches to the role. Clare you were perceived as a bit gentler, whereas Lottie you have been described as a bit more hands-on, stamping your authority. Do you think the approaches complemented each other?
CC: I think that it was all in the timing. I think that I had to be that. I was 23, I was dealing with a very different dressing room than Lot was. Lot with her huge record as a batter and the fact that the team was in a really good place when she took over, I think that she could kind of just do that and take everyone onto the next level which was exactly what needed to happen. Do you think that’s what it was?
CE: Yeah. I was more than ready, I think, to become captain. It was the next step for me as a person. I’d played for a long time, I’d learnt a lot, I’d roomed with Clare, I felt as though I’d gone through her whole captaincy.
CC: Yes, she’d lived it! I’d wake up and whisper over to her, ‘Lot, are you awake…’
CE: ‘I am now!’
CC: At five in the morning, I’d ask, “What do you think we should do?’
CE: I lived and breathed it with her for four years. Because she loves her little chat about it all, as I do.
How easy have you found it to separate the personal from the business side of things now that Clare is an administrator and Lottie is a player?
CE: Really easy to separate, to be honest. I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today without Conny. The stuff that Conny’s done for cricket over the last I don’t know how long! We wouldn’t be in a position like this at all. I take a lot of the plaudits for the team’s success, but without what’s going on underneath us… and that’s not me blowing hot air up her arse… I really do believe that.
Clare, you had an extremely successful playing career. Do you ever feel that your own career has been subsumed by both the current team’s success, and your success in your role post-cricket?
CC: Oh, no, I’ve never thought of it like that at all. I’ve just felt unbelievably lucky to have done it all in quite a short time frame. I’ve played for England for 10 years and then I’ve been in this job for five years, and I just feel unbelievably lucky. I don’t ever have those feelings.
CE: That’s one thing that you’re very good at. Conny will push more for us than anyone. Some ex-players think, ‘Well I never got it so I’m not going to give it to them’. Conny pushes it, like the Chance to Shine contracts, and our professional contracts. It’s brilliant that she’s in a job like this, because she always wants the best for us.
Honestly, when I heard about the professional contracts, I nearly crashed my car! Everyone keeps asking me, ‘Were you banging the drum for it?’ And I keep on saying, ‘No, I wasn’t banging any drum!’ I didn’t even know. If you could have seen my face when I got it. I nearly cried! Con always keeps pushing. You speak to her every few weeks and she says, ‘Ah yes, the next thing, the next thing…’
Something that caused a bit of controversy was when Lottie was quoted as saying in January she’d be celebrating the Ashes win by “getting smashed”. Clare how did you feel about this from a management side? Did you have to rap her knuckles?
CE: [Laughing] She sent me an email saying ‘Don’t take your phone out and tell everyone else to leave theirs behind’. I remember sitting down in reception and the girls were so worried that I was in trouble! I didn’t actually think about what I’d said at the time, and then when I went back upstairs everyone was flapping. But that’s not me, and I think that if anyone knows me, that is so not me. But I guess it’s just something that I’ll always regret a little bit.
Clare was supportive! She said, ‘Lot, don’t worry, you made one slip of the tongue in 17 years’ and was asking Beth, our media manager, to look after things. That put me at ease because you could sense the girls were worried that I was going to get in trouble, and, well, you do stupid things and you live and learn by your mistakes.
CC: I suppose the key thing to come out of it really was that crikey, something Lottie said is now fuelling a debate on BBC Radio 5 live! So it shows I suppose the influence that you now have. The game has got that standing; people are bothered.
Any off-field escapades you’d care to describe?
CE: I don’t know if any are suitable! Oh I know – do you remember waking up Freddo!?
CC: Yes! Oh dear.
CE: We were on one of the early tours, European Championships in the Netherlands, in Utrecht. It must have been 2:30 in the morning. We were quite young and obviously still buzzing and we woke Sue Redfern [England colleague] up – this must have been 1996 – we had the curtains closed, changed the clocks, had all of our gear packed and managed to persuade her that it was time to go to the match. We got her breakfast and everything, and then we opened the curtains – and obviously it was dark…
You’d probably get more tales out of Arran Brindle though. She never drank. I mean we never, ever drank on tour except on the very last night and then we’d all go a bit mental. And Brindle was always the one that used to come out and shepherd us around and make sure we got back safely. Goodness, I remember one time waking up and my room was an absolute state – like a bomb had hit it.
CC: Your room always looked like a bomb had hit it.
CE: Yeah! Oh, goodness I was so messy and you were so neat!