We’re in the home dressing room at Lord’s, where normally cricket bats, pads and whites would be neatly arranged. The Honours Boards show the names of the greats staring down at us. You wonder what Compton, Cowdrey, Boycott and Botham – who all scored Test centuries here – would make of the scene in this once stalwart bastion of masculinity.
Today there is a rack of long dresses and the middle table is bedecked with mirrors and makeup, hair tongs and brushes. Arriving in waves are seven of England’s finest female cricketers, all of them preparing for the forthcoming tour to New Zealand and then the defence of the Women’s Ashes this summer.
They would clearly all rather be out in the middle, hitting balls to the boundary or taking Australian wickets. A couple stand on the balcony inspecting the hallowed ground below, the Media Centre on the opposite side looking like a spaceship has landed in north London, the famous Old Father Time weather vane swivelling in the wind.
Clare Balding chats to Lauren Winfield (Image: Oliver Martin)
There is plenty of good-natured teasing between them as the glamming-up process gets under way. The camaraderie is like a warm, welcoming fire in the heart of the room. Speaking to all of them during the afternoon, it is clear they cherish that team spirit. Katherine Brunt, who is known as ‘Nunny’ because of a fire alarm that she set off during a residential cricket course at the Benedictine-run Ampleforth College, tells me she’s made friends for life because of her involvement in cricket. She calls them her family.
Lauren Whitfield perhaps articulates it best. "The main thing about playing this game," she says, "is coming together as a cricketing family with one ultimate, collective goal. We genuinely have the best time on and off the pitch. We trust each other, and that helps us relax so that we can play our best."
Kate Cross and Danielle Wyatt are the youngest; Charlotte Edwards, the captain, made her England debut when both Cross and Wyatt were just five. Edwards is now 35 and still leading from the front. She sets the tone in the dressing room and on the pitch, with an air of quiet confidence and a determination to work hard for what she believes in.
At 23, Danielle Wyatt is one of the youngest in the squad (Image: Seb Winter)
"When I took over the captaincy [in 2006], I was told to 'be me'," Edwards tells me, as we sit in a corner of the dressing room. "It’s not easy because you’ve followed and seen a lot of other captains, but the trick is not to be someone you’re not. If you do it the way you want to, you can’t regret anything."
Judging by her record (she is the most successful England cricket captain ever – male or female) and by the number of younger players who named Edwards as their sporting role model, she’s got it just right. With professional contracts now in place, improved sponsorship and an unparalleled level of media coverage for this summer’s Women’s Ashes series, they all know there’s never been a better time to play. The England players are ready, raring to go and happy to dress up for a photo shoot if it helps bring more fans to the game.
Charlotte Edwards (Captain)
Combined international caps: 283
Role: Top-order batsman
Highlights: Most successful England captain of all time (male or female), awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours (2014) and named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year (only the second woman to achieve this)
Nickname: Lottie or Chief
When did you first play cricket? I was three or four, in the back garden with my brother and my dad, who played minor counties cricket. My brother was a good club player who packed up in his 20s because he was fed up with being sledged because his sister was better than him!
Food you couldn’t live without? Ketchup. I’ve tried and failed.
Heather Knight (Vice- captain)
Combined international caps: 68
Role: Top-order batsman and medium bowler
Highlights: Player of the series for the 2013 Women’s Ashes
Nickname: Trev (‘When I was about 13 and introduced myself at cricket camp, they thought I said Trevor rather than Heather!’)
Best bit of advice? Never think you’ve made it.
Food you couldn’t live without? I love veg. Sometimes when we’re on tour it’s not easy to get hold of asparagus, broccoli or whatever, so I make the most of it when I’m home. I also make a mean fish pie.
Combined international caps: 19
Role: Batsman, wicketkeeper
Highlights: Scored 74 off 60 balls in the final T20I of the home series against South Africa last summer
Who is your female sporting role model? Ironically it was Charlotte Edwards. I saw her play at Scarborough on the day Katherine Brunt made her debut. Charlotte’s passion for the game is extraordinary, and having got to know her better that is amplified. She was my hero from a distance, but even more so now that I play with her.
Favourite indulgence? Cheesecake, without a doubt.
Edwards and Knight have both enjoyed major success with England (Image: Seb Winter)
Combined international caps: 85
Highlights: Scored a match-winning 28 off 26 balls on her debut against India in 2010. Has taken 46 wickets in 53 T20I appearances
Nickname: Waggy (‘The girls say I’m a wannabee WAG because I’ve dated two footballers!’)
Role model? My grandad has always been my hero. He’s still doing marathons and he’s 85. He punctured a lung, so he’s not meant to, but he goes to the same gym as me every day and still runs.
Combined international caps: 12
Role: Fast bowler
Highlights: Took four wickets for 51 against the West Indies in only her second ODI
Role model? My dad [David Cross]. He was a professional footballer who won the FA Cup when he was at West Ham United. Having someone in my family who had a professional sporting career is such a help. Whenever I’m worrying about team selection, form or whatever, he always knows what to say.
Favourite healthy food? Are fajitas healthy?
Sport runs in Kate Cross' family - her dad won the FA Cup with West Ham (Image: Seb Winter)
Combined international: caps 6
Role: Left-arm spin bowler
Highlights: At her debut tournament in 2014, she played in all six of England’s ICC World T20 matches taking six wickets at an average of 17.50 runs
Nickname: Grunners or Carol (‘as in Vorderman – we played Countdown on tour and I was in Carol’s position at the board’)
Who is your sporting role model? I was into football, so it was Rachel Yankey [Arsenal and England]. I love Jessica Ennis-Hill as well – not just the way she does her sport, but in terms of how she promotes it. She’s the perfect role model for young athletes.
Favourite local delicacy from home? A good Birmingham fish ’n’ chips with mushy peas.
Combined international caps: 128
Role: Fast bowler
Highlights: Took three wickets for six runs against New Zealand to help win the ICC World T20 Final at Lord’s in 2009. Three times England Women’s Cricketer of the Year. Twice shortlisted for ICC Women’s Player of the Year. Won ICC Spirit of Cricket Award in 2014.
Nickname: Brunty or Nunny
Role model? My PE teacher at secondary school, Mrs McGibbon. As a teenager I was very overweight and unhappy. I was bullied at school, I was a loner and I was losing hope. She reignited my passion for sport by bringing in quick cricket, which she knew I enjoyed. It gave me my confidence back. She made it fun and made me want to play without feeling self-conscious. By the time I left school I’d decided to get fit and lose weight.
What do you eat when you come off the pitch for tea? Sometimes you’ll get posh nosh, and I don’t want to miss out, so if I’m bowling, I’ll get the chef to save me a plate of everything, then eat it later.
Clare Balding was speaking to the England women's cricketers for Waitrose Weekend. For more information visit their website.
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