The day Heather Knight secured her position as successor to Charlotte Edwards came just under three years ago, beneath sunny skies at Wormsley Cricket Ground.
It was that most challenging of tasks, an Ashes Test match, and England were failing spectacularly to rise to the occasion. Australia had declared on 331-6 and Knight, opening, stood at the other end and watched her teammates come in and depart with steady regularity, until England were 6 down with only 113 on the board, and looking in danger of being made to follow on.
It is easy to forget a number of things: that this was only Knight’s second Test; that despite having made her England debut in 2010, she had yet to really cement her place in the squad, not even being initially selected for the T20 side to face Australia that summer.
Her captain, Edwards, had gone for 3, lbw to Holly Ferling; Sarah Taylor had also fallen by the wayside, again to Ferling.
All the while Knight, with straight bat, defended and defended and defended.
It took her 263 balls and 328 minutes to reach her maiden international hundred. And by the time she was out, soon after lunch on the third day of the Test, she had faced 338 balls and made 157. It was the kind of gritty Test match innings which is not necessarily pretty, or fluent, or spectacular – but that does the job it is meant to do.
England were eventually bowled out for 314, drew the Test, and went on to win the series. Meanwhile Knight, 12 months later, was named as England’s new vice-captain.
Since that series, Knight has made other contributions with both bat and ball, having taken up the art of spin bowling in late 2013: she has 36 international wickets currently to her name. Yet nothing has quite matched up to that performance at Wormsley. It was a brave, obdurate innings, one that England – in a supremely precarious position – desperately needed.
It is exactly what England need of her now.
Once again, as they were on that morning at Wormsley three years ago, England look to be facing a difficult period, to say the least. Once again, the outside world are looking on, wondering where on earth they go from here. Knight is the first captain of the professional era – the first whose captaincy will be under scrutiny from the first day until the last.
Once again England need runs: Knight has to step up, now as England’s senior batsman, and ensure that her side firstly qualify for the 2017 World Cup – the so-called “easy” series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka may be crucial from that perspective – and then that they do all that they can to reach a home final at Lord’s.
Once again, she has to do all this without Edwards – and some of it, almost certainly, without Taylor.
Those at Berkshire speak highly of Knight, as leader and role model. She led a team which was widely considered the weakest in the Women’s Big Bash League – Hobart Hurricanes – to the tournament semi-finals. But there is no doubt that this will be an uphill struggle. And while she may have been Edwards’ only natural successor – it was no great surprise when the news broke that she was to be named leader of Robinson’s New Regime – nobody, least of all Knight herself, expected that her moment in the sun would come so soon.
Today, in the press conference, Mark Robinson used one word to sum up Heather Knight: stubborn. It is a quality that has served her well for England thus far: tell Trev that something can’t be done, and she will want to prove you wrong; give her the best bowling attack in the world, and she will patiently see it off. Stubbornness was the watchword that day at Wormsley. If England are to succeed under her leadership, it it this stubbornness – this ability to get the job done, even when it looks impossible to the outside world – that her captaincy will need to embody.