England-India fixtures announced; Heather Knight excited for Test clash

Mithali Raj (l) and Heather Knight. © PTI

Heather Knight says there is a growing feeling of excitement in the England camp ahead of a showpiece Test match against India this summer. The match at Bristol this June will be the first Test between the two countries in seven years and India’s first long-form game since November 2014. Limited crowds are due to be allowed back into sports arenas in time for the game, which forms the highlight of a packed international season for England.

Both sides will also face off in three one-day internationals and three T20Is in July. England then host New Zealand in two further white-ball tournaments.

Knight is relishing the challenge of a rare opportunity to play the long-form game and would like to see Tests become a regular part of future multi-format series. With an Ashes Test match already inked in for next year, she wants her players to make the most of this added opportunity to play multi-day cricket.

“There’s just a feeling of excitement,” said the England captain. “I love playing Test cricket. We don’t play much of it, but when we do, we really enjoy it and the challenge of doing something we don’t do very often. We don’t play multi-innings cricket growing up.”

© Women’s CricZone

“It’s really important that we keep Test cricket going in the women’s game. Realistically, T20 is the sport that’s going to grow the women’s game around the world. I think we’ve seen that over the last five years, but I’d love to keep playing Test cricket.”

“I’d love to see the multi-format series that we play for the Ashes as the norm. I’d love to play a Test match in India. It would be a massive challenge.”

Knight says her seven-hour Test innings of 157 against Australia in 2013 is one of her proudest moments in an English shirt. In total though, she has only played seven Tests in 10 years, including just one against India. Players like Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami meanwhile have played just 10 Tests apiece in careers for India spanning some two decades.

“I remember it being a real occasion playing against India in a Test Match,” said Knight. “So, I think it’s going to be the same this time. Playing Test cricket feels very special. It’s definitely rated very highly amongst the players.”

“We don’t play India very often, so I think it’s going to be a real occasion for them. I think they’ll be massively excited. Hopefully, we can put on a show and make it really good game.”

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While the scarcity of Test opportunities brings added pressure to perform, Knight says it means equally that achievements like her Ashes century take on added significance and become career pinnacles.

The upcoming fixture has been a hot topic of conversation at Loughborough where the players have returned to training following a break after their recent tour of New Zealand.

“There’s definitely been loads of chat about the Test match. All the girls are trying to get their heads round about how they’re going to prepare for that Test Match, what skills that they need to work on that they potentially don’t do throughout the year, because obviously we play a lot of white ball cricket.

“Generally, it feels like in a Test Match you’re kind of finding your feet in the first couple of days, working out how to go about things. You kind of get to grips with it towards the end. So, it’s going to be really key that we’re very clear on how we want to go about that Test Match. That’s obviously going to be key going into the Ashes as well.”

Knight said such a full summer was welcome after a tough 2020 when tours by India and South Africa were called off following the outbreak of the pandemic.

“Just knowing we’ve got such a packed schedule is amazing. Last year was quite tough, not knowing what we were preparing for or what we had coming up.”

© Women’s CricZone

“So, to have two big international tours, the Hundred, then a trip to Pakistan, and then a massive year next year with Ashes, World Cup and Commonwealth Games, this year is going to be massive in our preparation for that. It’s just really exciting to know that we’ve got that packed fixture list.”

While Knight is pleased that a lot more fixtures are now being played around the world again following the pandemic, she is conscious that not every country is in a similar position with some teams missing out on opportunities to play.

“It isn’t ideal for them leading up to a World Cup. Hopefully they’ll get back playing soon because ultimately, as a cricketer, you want a competitive world game to create games that people want to watch and to test yourself against really good players and teams.”

“But as a whole, I think the feeling around women’s cricket is pretty positive. There’s a packed summer for us and a packed calendar next year in terms of world events. So, things are hopefully looking really positive now.”

“I’ve always said that I thought COVID could be a really good chance to kind of wipe the slate clean and rebuild structures and how the women’s game fits in international cricket and hopefully, things like that will start to be seen in the coming year.”

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England go into the summer on the back of a successful tour of New Zealand which saw them take the one-day series 2-1 and a clean slate in the T20I series that followed. Knight feels the group learnt a lot from the trip.

“A real key thing that came out of it and a real positive was we challenged the bowling unit to be more aggressive and look to take wickets throughout the innings in one-day cricket mainly, but also in T20. The bowlers responded brilliantly to that. You saw in the ODI series, we bowled New Zealand out twice and did a few times in the T20 series as well. That change in mindset, the girls have really embraced that. It’s been exciting to watch as well. So, that’s a real positive.”

“We also got to look at a few players that potentially we haven’t seen loads of. Freya Davies took her chance in some T20 stuff and we’ve started to build a big group of players that are really challenging for selection now, which is brilliant.”

“With the amount of cricket we’ve got coming up hopefully that will give opportunities for more players to be able to be given opportunities and really look to push their place.”

While pointing to some strong performances from her squad she has identified areas where the team can improve.

“That game that we did lose, we didn’t find a way to get to a score that would have won us the game. We had a really good start on a pitch that moved around a lot and then we kind of didn’t build on that with our middle order. So, that was a really good learning and one that we want to improve at, particularly moving forward because we’re going to be playing on similar wickets in New Zealand next year.”

Knight welcomed Ben Stokes’ recent support for a women’s iteration of the IPL akin to the Big Bash and the Hundred which will be played for the first time in England this summer.

“It was awesome to see Stokesy talk about the women’s IPL. The more allies we have in women’s cricket it really helps to change perceptions. It’s great from Ben to say that and totally agree.”

“It will be amazing for the women’s game to have an IPL. You’ve seen it in Australia with the Big Bash, and hopefully here with the Hundred, having men’s and women’s competitions alongside each other, a really positive thing for the women’s game and really helps to progress things.

“When you switch on the Hundred, as a young kid, as a young girl, you’re going to see men’s cricket and women’s cricket put on the same pedestal, the same branding, matches at the same venue etc. I think that’s great.”

“It’s really important to do that to change the perceptions of getting people involved in cricket. If you’re a young girl and you see people like you playing cricket at the highest level, that’s going to encourage you to see that cricket is a sport for you. Little things like playing the first-ever game of the Hundred as a women’s game, is a really big step. It’s going to be a huge summer.”

With the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy also returning as part of a growing professionalism of the domestic game, this will be a transformative summer.

“It would be quite hard to beat that World Cup on home soil in 2017,” she says. “Lifting the World Cup was very special. A lot of really good things have come from that World Cup win. But I think this is the next level in terms of the women’s game in this country, having it alongside the men’s game and really creating that depth of competition as well.

“The Hundred gets spoken about a lot because obviously, that’s the big performance competition. But I think the real big change is going to be that domestic setup below and the professionalisation of that.

“We’ve got eight teams in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and that system is going to be even more important to create that depth below the England side and create a really good professional system to prepare players to play cricket for England.”