There was a resounding cheer at Leicester today when Heather Knight hit the single that would take her to 50, in her debut match as England captain.
There was also a moment, 3 balls earlier, when Knight – on 49 and poised to take any chance of the elusive single that would put her into the record books as the first woman ever to take 5 wickets and score 50 in an ODI – was so eager to dash out of her crease having made contact with the ball that she slipped and fell.
For some reason that moment didn’t get cheered quite so loudly. Yet somehow it symbolised the ineffable quality that is Heather Knight-ness: graceful, no; gets the job done, yes.
It may have been Tammy Beaumont (70) and Natalie Sciver (27*) who hit the pretty strokes today – the cuts through point and the straight drives that will live on in the memory – but it was Knight who always looked like she would be there until the end. Some captains are born; some are made; some have captaincy thrust upon them. While Knight may fall into the latter category, it does not stop her already looking like she is quite happy just to get on with the job of winning, thank you very much.
One senses that even Knight’s eagerness to run that single when on 49* was more about seeing her team to victory than anything else. “Nat [Sciver] tried to bring it up [that I was close to my half-century] and I was like, ’don’t even think about it, you finish the game, don’t worry about me’,” she said after close of play. “It was a nice thing to get the 50, but the win was the main thing.”
Did today feel entirely convincing? No. Against better teams the fumbles by England in the field – of which there were too many – would have proved costlier; Beaumont might well have been run out earlier in her innings by a more experienced fielder. And there is still a feeling of scepticism about Mark Robinson’s New Order hanging in the air. If this series is a chance to blood new players, why does this team look suspiciously like it did 12 months ago when it lost the Ashes? Why no Fran Wilson, no Alex Hartley?
Yet the one aspect of the New Order that is both new and convincing is the wonderfully collaborative style of captaincy which it looks like we will be seeing more of over the coming months. When someone captains a team for a decade it becomes difficult to question their thought processes. Why, players might ask themselves, would I bother? The captain knows what they are doing. Today, it was very apparent while England were in the field that when decisions were being made, all of their bowlers were involved. Kate Cross at mid-on giving guidance to Katherine Brunt; Knight and Anya Shrubsole, the new vice-captain, heads bent together over the ball. Even Amy Jones could be seen deep in conversation with Nat Sciver after she had conceded 8 off her first over.
“We want to work as a team,” Knight said, tellingly, in the post-match press conference. “That’s something that’s going to be really big going forward: having that bowling attack together and getting them communicating and talking it through.”
It begs the question: should Knight really still be fielding at slip? Yes, she is the best England have in the position; but Lauren Winfield snaffled a good catch there today. If captaincy is to be ever more collaborative, requiring Knight to run all the way up and down the pitch just to exchange a few words with her bowler is going to be a tall order. It contributed to a slow over rate today; and in any case, doesn’t she have enough weight on her shoulders already?
Perhaps even Heather Knight – Wonder Woman as she was today – can’t quite do everything.
Then again, perhaps not.