Heather Knight: England's jack of all trades
It is not an easy decision to turn down the Cambridge University in order to pursue a career in women’s cricket, for the sport was not fully professional a decade ago. A few part-time contracts were the only sources of income available to female cricketers during that period.
Apart from that, there was almost nothing women’s cricket offered when compared to the lavish resources available to the opposite gender in the same sport. Heather Knight, the England women’s captain, though, dared to dream big and took a leap of faith. She prioritised her dream of playing for England without being bothered by the challenges and lack of stability the sport offered to women.
Eight years down the line, Knight believes that it was the best decision she ever took for herself.
“I had an offer to study natural sciences at Cambridge University. I decided not to go. I went along to visit, of course. I think I only really applied to see whether I was good enough to get a place.
“I’d just turned 18 and had broken into the England Women’s Academy. I knew that I wanted to play for England – that was my dream. I knew that it would be harder to achieve that dream if I went to Cambridge.”
“I would have had to put my studies first and I wouldn’t have necessarily been able to dedicate the time I wanted to training and to cricket, as well as have a healthy balance in my life with things outside cricket and work.
“So I went to Cardiff University instead, and it seems to have turned out quite well,” Knight had said in an interview with The Independent in 2015.
Representing her country was always a higher calling
Women’s cricket is now flourishing. However, a decade ago, no one could have imagined that the female version of the sport would become this popular. Knight too was of the same opinion. However, the dream of playing for England was the pinnacle for her. All she wanted was to represent her country at least once, little knowing that it would become such a fruitful career.
Knight wouldn’t have been here if she was one to ponder about the future. She was always one who liked to get involved with things rather than think about its pros and cons. It is because of this kind of nature that she has been able to forge a successful career in cricket for herself.
“To be honest, I didn’t think about the future that much,” she said. “I’m more of a ‘jump into things and think about it later’ sort of person. I knew that I loved playing cricket and that I wanted to play for England, but I wasn’t thinking at all that it was going to become a career – like it is now.”
It was only in April 2014 that the ECB handed women cricketers full-time central contracts. As a result, the game took a giant leap forward. It meant women no longer had to pursue other interests whilst playing cricket to earn a proper living.
At the age of 17, Knight became the first female cricketer to be nominated for the Herald Sports Personality Awards. Personally, it meant a lot to her. But, more importantly, it was an achievement for women’s cricket itself.
"When I heard I'd been nominated, it came as a bit of a shock, to be honest. It's nice for me personally to be a finalist but also for the sport of cricket. Just as importantly it helps raise the profile of women's cricket," Knight had said in an interview with Cornwall Live in 2008.
Recognised as a future captain pretty early in her career
It has been nine years since that interview and here she is leading the England eves in her first ever World Cup as captain. She made her international debut in 2010 and within five years, became a vital cog in the English team. The 26-year-old now has vast experience of 71 ODIs, 36 T20Is, and 5 Tests in total. Her ODI statistics of 1822 runs and 40 wickets at averages of 35.03 and 21.75 are decent numbers for an all-rounder.
In T20Is, however, both her batting and bowling numbers do not make for great reading. However, the reason for that can be attributed to her batting lower down the order and bowling part-time. In Tests, she has played too few matches to really judge her skills. However, her innings of 157 in the Ashes series in 2013 was a testament to her huge potential as a batter.
Within just a couple of years, she emerged as a complete all-round package, providing aggression and stability with the bat, wickets with the ball and exceptional effort on the field. Her impact on the team was so large that she was made the deputy to the then English skipper, Charlotte Edwards.
And when Edwards stepped down as the captain in June 2016, the ECB had no hesitation whatsoever in appointing Knight as her successor. England women’s coach, Mark Robinson, expressed his firm belief in the all-rounder’s abilities to lead the side.
Speaking to Sky Sports after Knight’s appointment, Robinson had said: "Heather embodies many of the traits needed to be a successful captain - a superb work ethic, integrity and commitment, along with good instincts and cricket intelligence.
"These assets combined with her undoubted ability as a player make her an excellent role model, both for the team and young aspiring cricketers everywhere."
Flourishing as a captain
It seems that Knight has relished the role of captaincy, something that is evident from the statistics. She had a batting average of 31.35 and bowling average of 22.87 prior to her appointment as the skipper. However, her batting and bowling averages of 47.33 and 20.06 respectively as a captain in the last one year, speak volumes of her talent and temperament.
Moreover, in her first series as England captain, against Pakistan, she set a world record by becoming the first woman cricketer to score a fifty and take a five-wicket haul in the same innings. Now, a year later, she has also scored her maiden ODI century, coincidentally, in a World Cup match against Pakistan at home.
Her batting and bowling averages read 29.34 and 20.80 respectively in the 37 out of the 55 matches that England won when she was free from captaincy duties. However, she underwent a huge transformation as a player since becoming the captain. She has exceptional averages of 51.11 and 17.33 respectively, in the 13 out of the 16 matches that England have won under her leadership. All in all, captaincy has brought out the best in her.
The England women’s team recovered quickly after their loss to India in the opening encounter of the 2017 Women’s World Cup. Moreover, they are now on a run of four consecutive victories, spearheaded by Knight.
The all-rounder has an extremely strong character. She has not shied away from leading the team in such a big tournament within just one year of her appointment. Knight sees the World Cup as a good test of the team’s character and the stepping stone to becoming the world’s No. 1 team.
“We’re here to get our hands on that trophy. The journey this team is on it’ll be a great test of where we are at and how we’ve progressed over the last year or so.
“But I don’t think this summer will define us as a team; were trying to develop a team that gets back to world No.1 and can stay there for a long period of time. Hopefully that will come sooner rather than later. The World Cup will be a good test of where we are.”
The skipper has a big role to play in the campaign for England if they are to ultimately lift the trophy. She is already doing a good all round job and needs to continue that to carry on the legacy of her predecessor, and eventually create her own.Published 12 Jul 2017, 14:38 IST