Knight wary of workload even as England start favourites against resilient New Zealand

England watch on as they wait for a third umpire decision © Getty Images

With only six months to go for the Cricket World Cup 2022, England and New Zealand will be shifting their focus to the one day format as they get ready for the five-match series that’s scheduled to start with the first ODI in Bristol on Thursday (September 16). The hosts England led by Heather Knight are the defending champions and they have been on the ascendancy in the format for sometime and haven’t lost much other than their defeats against all-conquering Australia. On other hand, New Zealand – the hosts of the global event next year – have been on a free fall losing 14 of their last 15 ODIs.

The series is going to be a hectic affair with both the sides set to play five matches in the next 11 days. Knight is wary of the workload the players are going to go through during the course of the series with the schedule that’s in place. Pacer Anya Shrubsole is still on her recovery path from her ankle injury and is ruled out of the first two games at least. Knight said while her absence will be a huge blow for the side it will be an opportunity for others to step up and grab their chances.

“Anya has been in our starting XI in the ODI side for a little bit of time now but I guess what it does do is to give chance to others opportunities,” Knight said at the media interaction on Wednesday. With the schedule we got, five games in 11 days, we are going to manage players really well and make sure that we are looking after people physically and mentally as we have had a lot of cricket this summer.”

30-year-old Knight missed first two T20Is of the series due to a hamstring injury before making a return to lead England to a series win in her 200th international match. Senior pacer Katherine Brunt also missed the second T20I with the management opting to rest her. The absence of Shrubsole will be an opportunity for the likes of Natasha Farrant and Freya Davies to gain some experience ahead of the global event having played only three ODIs each. Kate Cross – who had a great time against India in the format – is back in the squad as well after having missed the T20I series against New Zealand.

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Despite Shrubsole’s absence, England have enough ammunition in their bowling with the pacers set to form a potent attack with allrounder Natalie Sciver and spinners Sophie Ecclestone and Sarah Glenn.

With the bowling aspect being taken care of, the focus will shift to England’s batting with Danielle Wyatt making a comeback with a string of good scores in T20Is post her omission from the ODI squad against India. It will be interesting to see if she will open the batting in place of Lauren Winfield-Hill, who hasn’t done bad for herself, along with Tammy Beaumont. Knight and Sciver will take their places in the middle order and Amy Jones will further her credentials as the finisher with young Sophia Dunkley already making splashes at number six.

“Dunks has put a lot of hard work into her mentality and the skill side of her game in the last year or so. I have been so impressed with her maturity and how she went about things this summer,” Knight said.

“It has been a huge summer for her, I forgot she got only few caps and only made her ODI debut earlier in the year. She won us that game down in Taunton, played a mature innings. She is young and she is bound to have bumps on the road but the signs are really good. It has been a spot we haven’t quite nailed in the previous years. If we can keep investing in Dunks and she keeps improving, working on her composure in that finisher role, it’s really good sign for us.”

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Talking about good signs, although New Zealand lost the T20I series, it looked like they are finally starting to get their batting order right and according to skipper Sophie Devine they are in a great space at the moment.

“There’s a positive energy in the camp at the moment which is exciting. Unfortunate that we didn’t come away with a series win but we know that we pushed England really hard. So, it’s nice to know that they are in for a challenge and they are in for a scrape,” Devine said at the pre-match media interaction on Wednesday.

Devine echoed her counterpart’s thought on the schedule for the series and backed her “resilient group of players” to get through it.

“We have worked hard on our fitness and we know the schedule going to be tough. We have some resilient players in our group and it’s going to be an absolute challenge and that’s means players are going to get an opportunity. That’s awesome as well. We are just excited to be playing international cricket again, Devine added.

New Zealand also will be bolstered by the return of pacer Lea Tahuhu, after having sat out of the T20I series as she was recovering from the foot surgery she had, and she will lead the attack along with Jess Kerr and spinner Leigh Kasperek.

“She (Lea Tahuhu) has been absolutely chomping at the bits to get back into the XI,” Devine added. “The competition for places in this group has been exceptional and one of the best bowlers going around in the world is pushing for a spot in the side. She trained very well and kept all of us on our toes in the nets. If she gets the node for the first game tomorrow, it’s going to be exciting time for us.”

If they were to bat first, New Zealand will be hoping for their batters – especially the senior group comprising of Devine, Suzie Bates and Amy Satterthwaite – to put up a respectable total that Tahuhu and Co. can try to defend.

With Knight hinting at a potential debut for Charlie Dean sometime in the series, it will be interesting to know if England will go with an extra spin option or whether they will stick to their usual strategy. Will it be England yet again or can New Zealand start the series with an upset come Thursday?

England: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Natasha Farrant, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Lauren Winfield-Hill, Danielle Wyatt

New Zealand: Sophie Devine (c), Amy Satterthwaite, Suzie Bates, Lauren Down, Claudia Green, Maddy Green, Brooke Halliday, Hayley Jensen, Jess Kerr, Katey Martin (wk), Leigh Kasperek, Molly Penfold, Jessica McFadyen (wk), Thamsyn Newton, Hannah Rowe, Lea Tahuhu