Heather Knight and her love affair with Manuka Oval
Just like any cricketer’s love affair with their dear ones, the attachments these players possess with some of the best venues in the world often get noticed — something that brings the best out of the players. If former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene’s tryst with Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in Colombo is to be spoken about, former India Test specialist VVS Laxman’s fondness with Eden Gardens in Kolkata also is in the same league. They just set these venues on fire the moment they step in.
After her exploits against Thailand on Wednesday (February 26), it would only be fair to add another name in the ever-growing list – England’s captain Heather Knight. Before the start of the recently-concluded T20 Tri-series featuring India, hosts Australia and England, Knight’s average was hovering around in the mid-18s with only one half century in 64 matches. And with the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in sight, there was something that was amiss from the skipper.
England’s first opponents were India and the 29-year-old Knight pleased everyone with a fine 67 against one of the best spin attacks in the world. She used her feet well and assessed the conditions perfectly to put England on course for a target above 140, though, they eventually lost. In the next match against Australia, Knight starred with the bat again. First, she scored a brilliant 78 before hitting another four and a six to steer her team to victory in the thrilling Super Over. Coincidentally, both the matches were at Manuka Oval in Canberra.
Although England failed to qualify for the tri-series finals, her form augured well for the team coming into the T20 World Cup. After losing their opener against South Africa in Perth, England were in a spot of bother against Thailand at 7/2, having lost both the openers.
In walked Knight at no.4 and along with Natalie Sciver, she began the mission to resurrect the sinking ship. While Sciver took on the mantle going after the Thailand bowlers, Knight took her time to settle in.
Known for her love for the spinners, Heather Knight was seen regularly sweeping and playing cut shots against the likes of Suleeporn Laomi, Nattaya Boochatham and others. The line and length bowled by Thai spinners were what Knight thrived on. If the ball was pitched just a fraction short, the right-handed Knight would cut it away and if it is pitched somewhere on middle and leg, she employed the conventional sweep and as well as the paddle sweep.
The English skipper completed her fifty off just 38 balls but she was not done. She wanted to cash in on the start. With seven overs still to go, she pressed on the accelerator and hit her next fifty runs in just 22 balls which included three sixes — one over fine leg and two others in the arc between long-on and long-off — to register her maiden T20I ton. In the process, Knight became the first English player to score centuries in all three formats (Tests, ODIs, T20Is). And once again the venue was Manuka Oval in Canberra.
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“Trying to score around the ground is something I’ve really tried to develop,” Knight said after the match. “I didn’t score around the ground that much today, there was a lot on the leg side and over square leg, but I’ve worked particularly on my power hitting. It’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere near a hundred in T20 cricket, so it’s nice to finally do the business in T20.”
All her fifties have come at this ground and Knight feels she will be happy to score more in their next game. “I just really like the ground, it’s quite skinny, it comes on nicely and you get good value for your shots,” added the Knight in shining armour, who has scored over a quarter of her T20I runs in Canberra.