England’s agenda-setting Women’s World Cup triumph is 11 months in the past but captain Heather Knight admits everything still feels “quite fresh”, so often have the team’s exploits been recounted. The challenge as they begin their home season with a three-ODI series against South Africa, is how best to start looking forward again and focus on the challenges ahead.
Having ascended to No. 1 in the ICC rankings after lifting the World Cup, England’s winter programme did not go quite so smoothly. They were unable to regain the Ashes down under – despite drawing 8-8 in the multi-format points system – were beaten again by Australia in the T20 tri-series final in India, and then suffered an ODI series defeat to India, albeit in unfamiliar conditions.
Knight’s team will take on South Africa and New Zealand this summer, with a T20 tri-series between ODI commitments, before heading to the Caribbean later in the year for the Women’s World T20. She admitted that, while it had been hard to get motivated again after their World Cup triumph, it was important that England dealt with the pressure of being one of the fancied teams.
“We’ve had the chance to relive the World Cup and talk about it a lot since then, it still feels quite fresh – but the first game of the international season at home is always really exciting for the team,” Knight told ESPNcricinfo. “For us it’s about moving on from the World Cup, we take a lot of confidence from it but it’s about the next stage of development for this team, how we can keep winning, keep pushing forward and keep being successful.
“I think being world champions and going to world No. 1, there’s obviously added pressure, added expectation to perform well and to stay there and keep doing well.
“We went to the Ashes at the end of last year off after the World Cup and drew, which meant that we obviously didn’t bring the trophy back. But you feel the added pressure as world champions, you become the hunted and not the hunter and the added pressure that comes with that. Once you reach your goal you have to reassess and decide on the next big thing. And that can be quite hard; trying to motivate the team.”
The encounter with South Africa, which begins at New Road on Saturday, provides another reason to hark back to the World Cup. England prevailed by two wickets in the last over of their semi-final – Anya Shrubsole the hero with the bat – and Knight expects another test of how her side have progressed.
“I remember being very nervous when I was watching, it was a quite a thriller at Bristol; we had a really good group game against them, a really high-scoring one,” she said. “They’re going to be a very good side the last time we played them was a good game, Anya Shrubsole hitting those winning runs right at the end to get us through to the final. We expect them to improve in that 11 months, as I hope we have as well.”
Last month, England won in the Sporting Role Model team category at the Women’s Sport Trust ‘Be a Game Changer’ awards in London, another sign that the spotlight remains on. Their success has also resulted in pay rise from the ECB, announced on Friday.
“It’s a really exciting time to be a female cricketer and the girls’ profiles have raised a lot since that win,” Knight said. “But they know that there’s added responsibility now too to keep pushing the game forward.”
That is best done on the field, and the World T20 looms as a significant goal. It was at the 2016 tournament in India that England’s issues crystallised: an anguished, five-run semi-final defeat to Australia giving the team’s coach, Mark Robinson, justification for making sweeping changes. Knight subsequently replaced Charlotte Edwards as captain, and she said that lifting the T20 trophy later this year would be a sign of how far the team had come.
“We want to keep getting better, keeping winning,” Knight said. “We’ve got two big series this summer and the T20 World Cup in November, which is a big carrot for us, a lot of T20 preparation this year. Hopefully we can go to the Caribbean and be in a good place to win another trophy.
“We talk a lot as a side about that semi-final at Delhi, and how it was the making of us as a team. As was our game at Worcester two years ago, that was the real emergence of the side, the exciting cricket we played, scoring a world-record 50-over score for England and that was the start for this side. So that World T20 is a big carrot for us and that would be a lovely circle from that semi-final at Delhi.”