England's Heather Knight relishing summer of learning on the job

·4-min read
England captain Heather Knight will be learning on the job this summer (Picture: Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra)
England captain Heather Knight will be learning on the job this summer (Picture: Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra)

England captain Heather Knight still needs to read the rulebook for the Hundred—but first she has a rare Test to prepare for, writes Rachel Steinberg.

India’s women’s squad is set to land on British soil this week, kicking off their tour on June 16 with a red ball contest at the Bristol County Ground. It will be the first Test between the sides since 2014, when the visitors won by six wickets at Wormsley.

England, who toured New Zealand in February and March, have already played more cricket this year than they did in all of Covid-hit 2020.

And Knight, 30, who contested two matches for domestic side Western Storm in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy over the weekend, couldn’t wait to experiment with both the 144-year-old and brand-new formats this summer.

She said: “[I’m] hugely excited obviously to play in a Test match as well, it’s such a rare event in our calendar, and one that’s huge for us as players.

“We love playing red ball cricket. It’s great to see the girls performing well [domestically] and hopefully we can continue those performances against India.

“It’s quite tough, because we don’t play any domestic red ball cricket. You go on one day form more than anything, and there’s not many stats to go on or anything like that, so [in terms of squad selection] it’s almost a little bit of feel for who you think has the temperament and the technique and the skill to be able to perform in red ball cricket, and a little bit of form I think goes into it as well.

“I would, as a player [like to see more Tests]. I love playing red ball cricket, it’s a real event and because we play so little obviously you’re learning as you go as you’re playing a Test match, which probably isn’t how it should be, but I totally get the reasons why.

"I think in terms of pushing the women’s game forward around the world T20 cricket, one-day cricket is the way to go.”

Competition for England places has never been tougher, Knight acknowledged, thanks in part to the introduction of 41 domestic contracts for women cricketers in 2020.

But professionalisation, she warned, also comes with pressure.

She said: “I think the more you can get domestic players playing cricket, I think the big difference previously in a young girl and a young boy growing up, young boys will play so much more cricket.

“You learn so much more about your game and how to deal with pressure and about how to read match situations when you play a game, so I’d love to see more games.

“I think the girls there are going to thrive. It’s been a tricky transition I think, because you’re suddenly now judged on being professional.

“There’s a lot of links for those domestic girls back to when the England team got made professional in [2014].

“It’s really interesting to see how they go. Hopefully that competition keeps pushing and like I say that pool of players for us as England gets slightly bigger.”

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England will face India in three ODIs and three T20Is before the Hundred debuts on July 21, then will host the White Ferns in September.

The Hundred, originally set to launch last year, will present unprecedented tactical challenges for Knight, captaining Lord’s-based side London Spirit in the tournament which will see equal prize money awarded to men and women.

She’ll have to decide whether her bowlers stay in for five or ten consecutive balls—fielding sides change after ten—and how to take advantage of a 25-ball ‘powerplay’, during which two fielders will be allowed outside the initial 30-yard circle.

The Hundred, with its roster of DJs - Knight put in an early request for The Maccabees - and jewel-toned, snack-sponsored kit (Spirit will sport sapphire, Tyrrells-emblazoned shirts) is the quickfire, kaleidoscopic yin to Test cricket’s yang. But the full picture is the same: whether she’s playing in white or technicolour, Knight will be learning as she goes.

She said: “[With the Hundred] You get to be at the forefront of trying to work out a new format. There’s no stats on it or anything like that. It’s obviously quite similar to T20 in terms of the ball-by-ball stuff, but the little intricacies of how it’s going to develop is going to be really great to see as a captain, how different teams are going to innovate, how they’re going to approach things slightly differently, and use the new playing conditions.

“Which, I haven’t read yet, probably I need to have a little bit of a look at before we get going.”

Knight has 50 days before she has to pass the Hundred exam, so the homework can wait. First, the big Test.