Competition for places has helped us a lot: Heather Knight encouraged by England’s squad depth

England captain Heather Knight in action. © Getty Images

England skipper Heather Knight said she is encouraged by the promise of the young players and the depth of the England squad as they continue to prepare for a “daunting” 2022.

Following the postponement of the ODI World Cup in New Zealand by 12 months, 2022 will see the top women’s team compete in three major competitions – the ODI World Cup, a T20 World Cup in South Africa and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. England will also play the Women’s Ashes in Australia towards the end of the year.

Knight said the break following the T20 World Cup in February-March allowed the team to lay down their plans and start preparing from what is going to be a bumper year.

“The time over lockdown has given us a real chance to set out where we want to go over the next few years,” she told Sky Sports Cricket. “We have been really clear where we want to go and how we want to get back to winning big trophies again.”

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“2022 is going to be quite a daunting year – I think it’s a year everyone wants to be involved with. It is in the corner of our mind when we are doing our preparation. We want every series and every training block we have to prepare us to be in the best shape in that year. We are going to have to be in tip-top shape physically.”

Speaking about what the side have worked on over the last while, Knight pointed to their T20 gameplans, adding that she is happy with the progress of the squad so far.

“We have looked a lot at T20. We want to be a bit more proactive and make sure we are throwing that first punch a bit more.”

“I also think you saw how we started to improve in the bowling at the T20 World Cup [earlier in 2020], executing plans. We are starting to have a squad that can play in different conditions, on different pitches. That’s what we really want – different people stepping up at different times. That strength in depth is hopefully going to push us back towards the top of the tree.”

On a personal note, Knight admitted she has worked extremely hard on her batting in the shortest format. Having scored her maiden T20I fifty in November 2017 – seven years after her T20I debut – Knight has recently found a new gear in her T20 batting. In 2020 alone the England skipper has so far scored 486 runs in 13 matches, at an average of 40.50 and strike rate over 135, including her maiden T20I century against Thailand in the T20 World Cup.

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“I have worked really hard on T20 [with the bat]. I have had to make a few changes over the years as it probably hasn’t been the most natural form of the game for me.”

“I think I have been settled towards the top of the order now. I probably floated towards that middle order where it can be a little bit hit and miss in T20, so I have really enjoyed that role batting a little bit higher. I like being responsible for getting us to a good score and I pride myself on being there at the end and being able to cash in,” she said.

“There was a lot of hard work analysing my game. I think [former England Women batting and assistant coach] Ali Maiden has been brilliant for me.”

“After the World Cup in 2017 I was going okay but felt on slow wickets that I wasn’t getting the power that I needed. I was not hitting the ball through the infield when the wicket was a little bit slow. I sat down with Ali and tried to have a bit more hand speed into the ball and it seemed to click for me. It took a lot of time hitting balls in the nets but I saw immediate results on the trip to Australia [for the 2017 Ashes]. I was playing some of my best cricket.”

“So I think it has been a fundamental change for me to get better. I am still trying to improve, still trying to get better, even through I feel in a really good place at the moment.”

With the ECB having introduced domestic retainer contracts and also started a regional tournament for the women this season, Knight said the competition will further the development of cricket in the country. She added that it was important to have players putting in consistent performances and knocking on the door to add to the healthy competition in the squad.

“I think it is going to be really important to give the girls a really good standard of cricket outside of international cricket and for the girls underneath to really push hard,” she said.

“Competition for places has helped us a lot. I think we are a hard team to get into the way we have been performing. But if you can have more players constantly knocking on the door it’s only going to challenge the girls in the squad to keep upping their game and putting in performances as they know someone could take their place,” she concluded.

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