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Heather Knight on WBBL 2020-21

It was not a straightforward decision for Heather Knight, the England captain, to fly halfway around the world for the WBBL during the global pandemic but she is glad she did.

Knight is coming to the end of two weeks in hotel quarantine ahead of linking up with her new team, the Sydney Thunder, alongside England team-mate Tammy Beaumont and is eager to play as much cricket as possible despite spending a lengthy period locked in a bubble during the latter stages of the home summer to play West Indies.

After some early concerns about the facilities in the hotel were allayed by the availability of fitness equipment, Knight has spent her time trying to keep as ready as possible for when she can return to training next week although was briefly concerned about some damage to a wall.

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“I had to think quite hard about it,” she told ESPNcricinfo of heading to Australia. “We spent a lot of the summer in a bubble at Derby and at one point there wasn’t going to be any fitness equipment in the room, we weren’t going to have a balcony, so I was considering if it was a good idea to come. But we are being really well looked after, we’ve got everything we need so we can prepare as well as we can while being stuck in a room.

“I had a lot of cricket and training at the backend of the summer so was ready for a week or so off but trying to keep the loads up is the hardest thing. I’ve got a cushion on the top of my bed which I’ve been throwing into, although I did miss it the other day, so I was bit worried about the state of the plasterboard but luckily it hasn’t gone through. Not being a seamer it’s a little bit easier to get back into batting and I’ll just be trying to throw myself into it nets.

“With the uncertainty around the cricket calendar for the next year or so – or maybe longer – I’m at the stage of my career where I’d much rather be playing than back at Loughborough [the ECB academy] training. There are a few extra sacrifices to make this year, families and partners can’t come out, so that was one of the hard parts of the decision but I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. I didn’t want to miss it.”

All the WBBL teams will be based in a ‘village’ at the Sydney Olympic Park, with matches spread across five venues around the city and fans admitted to selected games at three of them. “It was quite strange at Derby with no one there, especially under lights,” Knight said. “I’m looking forward to having some fans in and whether I’m booed or cheered, I’ll just be happy to have some interaction and atmosphere.”

There will be a greater degree of freedom for players in the village then a full biosecure bubble – providing Covid-19 remains under control in Sydney after a return to community cases in the last 10 days – but it will still be a strict environment, other than teams mingling between themselves. Knight felt the toughest part of England’s summer bubble was being able to switch off from the game.

“Experiencing the bubbles back home has prepared me a little bit with coping strategies,” she said. “I definitely found that at Derby it was quite intense, everything is heightened, not being able to get a bit of perspective from the outside world. It’s about being aware of that, trying to stay mentally fresh and get away from cricket inside the hub will be key.”

After four seasons with the Hobart Hurricanes, Knight is energised by a new challenge. “I think it will be good for me to fit into a new environment and try and learn. I’ve got Rachael Haynes as captain who is a player I massively respect so looking forward to working with her.”

Knight’s first few days in quarantine coincided with the last two ODIs between Australia and New Zealand as the home side reached their record-equalling 21-match unbeaten run. It was a pleasing distraction for Knight as she contemplated two weeks in a room, but also a reminder of the current hierarchy of the world game, where it’s Australia well ahead at the top.

Last year England were trounced in the Ashes – which led to the departure of coach Mark Robinson – although they did take a Super Over T20I victory off Australia in the tri-series ahead of the T20 World Cup in February. They may have a chance to face them again in T20s early next year if a tri-series in New Zealand comes to fruition before an Ashes series set for early 2022.

“The Australians have set the bar for a little bit if we are honest and as an England team we are trying to switch that, we want to be the ones that are setting our own standards,” Knight said. “We’ve competed with them better in T20; ODI cricket was going to be a big focus for us leading into the [postponed] World Cup. We want to be competing with Australia and beating them.

“We have a huge year in 2022 to try and be ready for that. Hopefully we can play a bit against them early next year and see where we are at and try to find a way to knock them off their perch, which is very tricky at the moment.”

She is confident, too, that the revamped domestic structure in England that includes regional teams – this season competing for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint trophy – alongside the delayed Hundred format will, given time, help produce the type of strength and depth seen in Australia.

“In all honesty we have been a bit behind in the domestic set-up, Australia has led the way, but we are starting to catch up,” she said. “I think the Hundred and the Rachael Heyhoe Flint will be a really good combination. It will take a bit of time, people need to be patient – it took a few years in Australia for the strength of the WBBL to show in the national team – but the early signs are really good. Players on the fringe of the England squad have the chance to prove themselves in a good standard of cricket. Competition for places will be key to push us forward.”

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