Heather is a particular kind of name, is it not? Speaks of Englishness and church-going families and quiet, erudite children. Or is that just me? Best move on.
Heather Knight is English. In fact she’s the England Captain (did you know?) having attended Cardiff MCC University en route into the game. Now the England Captain in cricket – Women’s Cricket. And she just did something, something pret-ty phenomenal.
We’re in Hove – where else? The sun is shining and there’s a particular crowd; smallish but by no means insulting, keen but by no means raucous. It’s the #KSLFinalsDay.
Heather’s team, Western Storm, have just struggled to contain the opposition, Southern Vipers, as they post a challenging score in the season finale – the final, defining, ‘all-important’ shoot-out.
(Vipers have amassed a total of 172 runs off their 20 overs. This is a major bundle and would in most circumstances signal a cruise to victory. However there are *things*. Firstly Storm are a hugely robust outfit, in a really good way. Secondly, they did haul the game back towards themselves, late-on. Thirdly, they have Heather).
Knight is the captain, remember – and she Captains Ingerland. And Wales. This same England that was so utterly outclassed by the Australian tourists recently that the Ashes was not so much surrendered as gift-wrapped and übered across with a sweet card from Marks & Sparks, signed ‘Much love, Heather & the girls’.
The result of this rather painful and prolonged public humiliation was the Coach of Ingerland losing his job and the ECB shuffling out some bulletins to quell the mounting unrest over The Widening Gap between Us and Oz. We can only imagine that Heather Knight’s position was ‘discussed’ during this accountability review: she was, after all, more at the helm than the coach, you might argue.
Knight did no doubt endure some tough questions, as well some Dark Nights of the Soul. How could she not have a blub into the cushion, or squeeze the dog just a touch too hard, in melancholy distraction? England’s performances, as well as the system were brutally unpicked, perhaps most painfully – though justifiably – by former colleagues now in the media corps. In short it’s been a bloody tough few months, for Heather.
Except. Except she has had Western Storm.
Western Storm have smashed it. They won all nine of their first nine fixtures in the Kia Super League before losing in the last, rain-affected game, to Yorkshire Diamonds. They were durable and deep, as a squad. Having contacts in the camp, I am sensing that they were also a proper posse, with the kind of comradeship that only sometimes accompanies big-shot, international sporting coalitions. And of course they were led by Heather Knight.
Knight has just become the highest scorer in the Kia Super League – the only woman to pass the 1,000 runs mark. She has been absolutely central to the stonking Storm campaign, in 2019. In the final, yesterday, against Southern Vipers, she blasted and clipped and drove to 78 not out to claim a) the trophy and b) the Player of the Match award. But there is & was more.
The nature of Knight’s performance was somewhere between fine and phenomenal. After her side had scrambled, clawed at the air and generally under-achieved more than a little, in the field, she rose to it.
Set an intimidatingly steep total and after losing her Indian Superstar of a bat, Mandhana, to a nervy pat to mid-on, first ball, Knight marched briskly in, early. Must have been scary: must have *asked questions*. Pah. I soon noted (in my epic blog, one post back, free-to-air!) that Knight ‘looks goodish’.
Starting (or re-starting) with Priest, she knows she must get after the bowling from the outset, such is the required run-rate. Priest, without ever looking classically smooth is going well – dispatching Wyatt, in particular, with some intent. But Wellington, the young Australian leg-spinner removes Knight’s partner with a peach that loops, turns and enables the stumping.
I remember clearly noting that despite the gathering pressure, Knight swept Wellington immaculately for four, immediately post that potentially key dismissal. Wilson then joined her and joined in with the essential urgency, making a timely 18 before holing out to Wyatt in the deep. Luff cannot sustain the momentum, though and goes, off the glove, bringing in another ‘Overseas’, Deepti Sharma.
Sharma is a fine, international player who has been twiddling her bat for two months; barely required as Storm stormed. Now, she and her skipper have proper work to do.
I thought for two or three overs that Sharma looked out of nick. But she, alongside her increasingly imperious, captain, accumulated runs. They had to. Quickly.
Knight got to fifty. She played what I described as the shot of the day, cracking an absurdly sweet cover drive to the boundary. She was absolutely on it, finding that almost dreamlike focus, staying in there, quietly relentless.
From the blog:
You feel that if Knight stays there, Storm get this. And I reckon she knows that.
Knight hit three towering, lusty,
boomtastic sixes on the way to 78 not out and to the trophy. There was or there became something of a Stokes-level of inspiration, of capture-of-destiny about the proceedings. (Knight doesn’t hit that many sixes – she’s ‘not that powerful’. But she found a way; reinvented herself; had no choice).
It was a Captain’s Knock… and then some. It was remarkable, in that it was initially shockingly unlikely and then in terms of its gathering brilliance. She defied. She clonked. She led.
I hope to god Knight actually loved it, in the moment. Because it soared, entertained and vindicated… and proofed her utterly against doubt and against The Doubters. And it’s hard to know what Heather is actually thinking: I hope there was scope for enjoyment – during as well as after.
It was, in a joyous and electrifying way, cricket and drama of the very finest variety. It scoffed at the very idea that Heather – the athlete, the champion, the leader – might be in any sense bland. How sensational that sport can do that? How gratifying that quality sometimes tells?