Charlotte Edwards' American adventure
It's an unusually warm autumn evening in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love that has a rich history in the American revolution. And as a sorority of women's cricketers on tour from England came to find out, the city's cultural artifacts are not limited just to battlefields, Betsy Ross' house and the Liberty Bell.
"I wouldn't have expected to come to the US and be stood in a cricket library and to see some of the books, the bats," said England legend Charlotte Edwards of the CC Morris Library on the campus of Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia. "I held Don Bradman's bat and I would never have expected to do that in America. I would have expected to do that in Bowral in Australia, where I've played and Don Bradman lived, but that blew me away really.
"To think about how passionate many of the people here are about cricket, and they do know a lot about cricket. There was one guy who, I think, knew my stats better than I did. That, for me, is just the power of the game, and it really does feel that the game is growing so quickly. It has a huge amount of history to it, which people feel so invested in, and that's brilliant. I'm a cricket geek myself and I kind of love it all, so to be there was absolutely brilliant."
For Edwards, the gathering at the library may have provided a sense of the place that America holds in the history of cricket. Her own presence was helping to add to that legacy, with the city hosting the first MCC women's touring squad to America late last year.
"After making my [international] retirement, I had a call from the MCC to ask me whether I want to go on this trip and I sort of jumped on the chance," she said. "An opportunity to play in the US is something I felt I couldn't turn down, and it's lived up to everything I thought it would be, really. I've loved every minute of it."
The trip to America is just one of many things Edwards has been doing to keep herself busy since her illustrious England career ended last year. Though she has spent part of that time playing in franchise T20 cricket - the Kia Super League and the Women's Big Bash - another chunk has been spent pursuing ways of giving back through mentoring and coaching.
"Coaching is something I'm hugely passionate about," Edwards said. "I'll be really looking to get some coaching experience over the next two years, probably away from England. Australia, New Zealand - anywhere really.
"Doing some stuff [in Philadelphia] was brilliant and I really, really enjoyed it. So that's something I've got to look into. Working with players is something I feel I can give a huge amount to, and I look forward to doing that over the next few years."
The USA is not exactly a women's cricket superpower, but getting to work with players who are a bit raw was part of the appeal for Edwards.
"I know they played in the Qualifiers a few years ago [in 2011] but other than that I didn't really know too much," Edwards said. "I think that's what this tour was about for me. It was about learning about US cricket. I've had lots of chats with lots of players and found out lots about the challenges they have playing the game here. But what's shone through for me is their passion for cricket. You can't buy that.
"I did a masterclass on batting with them and I just want to help as much as I can. I've gotten a huge amount from cricket globally and I just want to promote the game. That's something the MCC want to do, and that was part of my role coming over here - to promote the game and hopefully see the game grow globally."
There are tangible signs of the impact Edwards, who is currently working on the TV commentary crew for the Women's World Cup, had in a 20-year international career to help take the game to where it is today. For instance, the TV coverage itself, and full professional player contracts. Heck, even playing in standard coloured uniforms, with full-length trousers.
"I feel incredibly lucky to have played in the era I played," she reflected. "I [debuted] in 1996, where I paid for my blazer, and I played in a skirt. So it's been an amazing transformation over those years and the game is unrecognisable to the one I started playing. The administrators should be very, very proud of what they've done, but I think there's a huge way to go.
"I think the main thing is that from the profile of the game now, a lot of the players are known worldwide. To come to America and people know who I am shows how far the game has come. Whether it be me or Claire Taylor or any of the current international players, people know globally who plays women's cricket. I don't think you could say that when I started playing. They knew Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, I think, and that was about it. I think the media has played a huge part in us growing the game as well and being more attractive to sponsors. That's probably been the biggest change in how the profile of the game is now seen."
As much as Edwards wanted to continue playing for England, she said that getting out of "the England bubble" has had its share of positives. For one thing, there's far less stress when she has turned out to play for Southern Vipers in the Kia Super League and Adelaide Strikers in the WBBL. International retirement has also opened up opportunities to get back into other hobbies and activities away from cricket, one of them being tennis.
"I do love my tennis. I think that's been the great thing since stopping playing - that I've been able to get on the tennis courts, been able to do stuff that I haven't been able to do for years," Edwards said. "The privileges you get through playing cricket or being captain of your country are enormous, so I'm truly thankful for every opportunity I've had. At the moment I don't necessarily miss too much.
"I miss the competitive element of playing for your country, wearing the Three Lions, singing the national anthem, but I've just been so lucky since my retirement that I've been able to still play at a very good standard and do some wonderful things. I went to Wimbledon in 2016 and sat in the royal box. I've been to Lord's, I've come to the USA with the MCC, so I don't feel like I'm missing out too much. But the one thing [I miss] would probably be putting that shirt on and representing your country, which no one, unless you've done it, will know how that feels."
For Edwards her 72 hours in Philadelphia provided "a glimpse of a difference you can make with a team".
"You just see how much room there is for them to grow as a cricket team," she said. "As a player and coach, that's something obviously you would be really interested in and I am. Doing the session with them, it was quite inspiring for me and I came away from it so, so excited by how much they listened and they want to get better and that's all you can ask for."
Edwards followed through on her promise to come back and coach when USA Women were given a wildcard spot in the Europe T20 Qualifier this August. She was recruited to come help USA's high-performance players at a series of camps held in Texas during the spring in conjunction with the CanAm Women's Cricket Program.
However, the 2017 Kia Super League clashes with USA's appearance at the qualifier in Scotland, ruling out Edwards' potential involvement on USA's coaching staff at the event. But there's no doubt she'll be keeping an eye on their progress as they seek to move forward in their qualification journey for the 2018 World T20. Whether it is with USA or another country in the future, Edwards is determined to help out where she can to lift up the women's game around the world.
"Seeing them and just seeing their passion for the game is quite contagious, and I want to help as much as I can. I want the game to be in the best possible shape it can be, and for me that means we have to grow the game as much as we can globally and get more teams playing the game."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna