Heather Knight fell just five runs short of a century in her
Credit: Ashley Allen/Getty Images
- Only Test: Day One – England 269/6 (Knight 95, Beaumont 66, Rana 3-77)
Some things are just not meant to be. One hundred in Heather Knight’s one hundredth international match in charge of her country had a nice ring to it. And for much of the afternoon it looked more likely than not. That was, until Knight tried one nudge too many into the on-side and was trapped deep in her crease on 95.
Advantage England, overall, as they wound their way to 269 for 6 on a first day’s play which favoured spin, the tourists delaying the new ball for eight overs before finally relenting. The first three of England’s partnerships each sailed past 50 as they steered their way to 230 for 2, at that point a wicket falling at a rate of just one per session.
It wasn’t so much a flurry of wickets, however, as a flurry of LBWs and errant England reviews which brought about a mini collapse. England lost their next four wickets for just 21 runs, Knight among them.
But for that fateful moment, England’s captain had looked assured and resolute in her intentions at the crease. If the state of the pitch was the talking point in the lead up to this Test, England’s top order did what they could to wrestle the conversation into something more within their control. The hosts’ batting was positive, the run rate hovered around three throughout the day and we had more sixes in the first session than we would normally see across four days. It was not all that long ago, seven years in fact, that England went a full Twenty20 World Cup without clearing the boundary rope once.
"It was a little bit on the slow side," said Knight, of the pitch, at the close of play. "Not a huge amount of carry. I think it played okay. The thing with Bristol is that you get a reasonable amount of value with the square, going all the way across the ground. There was a little bit of turn. It might start to turn a little bit more as the game progresses.
"If you bowled straight, for the seamers, it was quite hard to score. But luckily we put a little bit of pressure back on their bowlers and took any chances we could. We did really latch onto length, and to anything short I thought we played really well and with really good intent."
Knight set the tone with the bat for England
Importantly, in Knight, England have a captain who sets the tone. The experienced leader knew exactly what she needed to do and executed it too. She is a woman of few, concise words. This was evident in yesterday’s press conference, as Knight pursed her lips and described the used pitch on offer as "not ideal". And now, with the cameras honed in and a different message to send, Knight allowed her bat to demonstrate what needed to be said.
Winning in a way which is both effective and attractive is now a prerequisite for England’s women in any Test, so infrequently are they played. And Knight, settling into her fifth year in charge and still chasing her first Test win as captain, knows that the question is not just about whether they can win, but how they do it too.
Too defensive and we decry women’s Test cricket as a turgid, unwatchable affair; too attacking and the women simply do not understand how to go about this demanding game. No, it needs to be approached just right. And on day one, Knight, and with her England, did.
It is not often in Test cricket that you say a dynamic 35 from your opener did the job and set things up for the team; a glance at England’s men and it’s exactly the kind of innings they do not need. But this is not them. Lauren Winfield-Hill’s opening knock, off 63 balls, was an important one. There was jeopardy, as she was dropped on three and then edged one wide of slips the following over; there was daring, as she swivelled and danced to a flurry of fours; and then there was the sheer audacity of it all, as the Diamonds’ skipper twice rocked on to her back foot and clubbed the ball over the mid-wicket boundary. This is not the 47-ball duck England of old.
Nor is it the India of old. In their Wormsley win over England in 2014, all but four English wickets fell to seam. The opening day’s play was shaped by persistent spin at both ends, players crouching close around the bat at almost all times and some sharp catches in those positions too.
England were alarmed, while India’s chatter rose a level or two. But all-in-all, the hosts will be relieved that Sophia Dunkley, on debut and notably the first black woman to represent England in this format, was there at the end alongside Katherine Brunt, 17 years into her Test career, an unbeaten partnership of 18 between them.