Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Lifting The Veil Of The Knight

As anybody who was at Wormsley for last summer's Women's Ashes knows, England's new vice-captain Heather Knight, can bat long. Her 157 was one of the great innings of women's Test cricket, especially given the match situation, with England truly in the deep stuff at 113/6.

Even back then though, innings like this were becoming the rule rather than the exception. She had already scored over 800 runs for Berkshire that summer, topping the domestic averages with two centuries and five fifties.

This season has been a little quieter, but her final innings of the Women's County Championship - 72 not-out against Middlesex and 101 versus Warwickshire - suggested a player coming back to her best at the perfect time for the start of the international season. The latter innings was particularly impressive, as she drove beautifully, keeping her head amid the chaos of what was otherwise a typical Berkshire collapse!

Now Knight has been named England vice-captain; and although no one has quite used the words "succession plan" the thinking in the England camp is clearly that she will succeed Charlotte Edwards when the current skipper retires, which she is expected to do after the World Cup in England in 2017.

So the question is... why Knight? She certainly wasn't the "obvious" choice - that would have been wicket-keeper-batsman Sarah Taylor. Chippy in the field and good with the media, Taylor is the closest thing England have to an Ellyse Perry-style "superstar". In contrast, Knight is quiet, reserved and modest; and clearly less-than-comfortable in front of a camera lens - which is (let's face it) part of the job of England captain.

One reason may be that Knight is two years younger than Taylor; and though that might not seem a lot, it does mean she will be 27 when she succeeds, not 29. Taylor also has long-term fitness concerns - wicket-keepers are particularly prone to "niggles" and Taylor is no exception. So, if you were to ask which of the two is absolutely guaranteed to still be playing in 2018, you'd have to say Knight.

However, I think there are also some deeper considerations.

As a cricketer, Sarah Taylor is pretty-much the finished article by now; whereas Knight is more malleable - Taylor would be the captain she is; whereas England can make Knight the captain they want her to be.

This goes for media profile too; and one does wonder if the letters "K" and "P" came up in discussions? (England have long-tolerated Charlotte Edwards occasional tendency to go off-message - but they would rather have someone who they can be sure won't!)

Knight is also a very different kind of captain to Taylor. Taylor's brilliance on the field can translate to a certain brashness off it with fellow players, especially those that haven't lived-up to the very high standards she sets herself... and the problem is that that is often everyone else on the pitch! In contrast, Knight will be a bit more 'pastoral' - and that is going to be an important part of the captaincy going forwards, as England tour more in the professional era.

Will Knight be a success? It is going to be a tough job living up to the legend that is Charlotte Edwards, especially in an era which is going to become increasingly competitive, as the other international sides improve and professionalise. While World Cup finals have never been child's play; the groups and semis sometimes have been. But now, with the emergence of West Indies and South Africa to challenge to traditional "Big 4", that will be less and less the case. So it isn't going to be easy for Knight - she will need to 'bat long'. But as everyone knows... that's one thing she really can do!

2 comments:

  1. Good article as always - but I think there is one issue that you haven't raised that should be. Knight's T20 batting record is .... well extremely average and I would go as far as saying that it does not represent a record that either (a) proves she can bat in T20 or (b) has her as a nailed selection in this format.
    This is something HK needs to address before succeeding The Special One.

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    1. It is a good point - lest we forget it was but a year ago that she wasn't even selected in the initial squad for the Ashes T20s. (Though she was added to the squad later... to her ill luck in some regards, as it was then she knackered her knee, putting her out for the next 6 months!)

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