Wisden Cricketers of the Year 2016

Heather Knight

Vithushan Ehantharajah

Heather Knight was named Women's Player of the Summer at the PCA Awards, London, October 1, 2014
Heather Knight was named Women's Player of the Summer at the PCA Awards © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Heather Knight
Teams: England

Heather Knight was unwell. She had drunk only one beer, so it couldn't be that. It might have been some dodgy chicken. The changing-rooms were too far away, so she made a beeline for the Grace Gates. "I had to run around the corner from Lord's," she remembers. "I was sick next to a very expensive car. Luckily no one saw!" She was lucky: she was still in her England kit, and more than 26,000 were at Lord's that day, most of them still there, reeling from one of the summer's great finales. Knight composed herself, returned to the ground and rejoined the celebrations.

India had needed 38 off 44 balls with seven wickets in hand to win the World Cup, but Knight maintained her cool, as she had all tournament. She had managed the last throes of the three-run group-stage win over Australia, and spent the denouement of the semi-final against South Africa calming a nervous Alex Hartley, England's No. 11, on the balcony; Hartley wasn't needed, but that wasn't the point. Now, in the final, Knight handed the ball to Anya Shrubsole, who charged in from the Pavilion End and took care of the rest.

Knight's contribution to England's triumph extended beyond the armband. A maiden one-day international hundred, against Pakistan, and two fifties meant a personal tally of 364 runs at 45 - despite her preparation being stunted by a stress fracture of the foot in March. She carried the injury with her to the end of the year, through the Kia Super League, where she led Western Storm to glory, and through the Ashes in Australia, where England battled back to draw the multi-points series 8-8. Another scan showed the problem had worsened: a period of rest was prescribed. She deserved it.

HEATHER CLARE KNIGHT was born in Rochdale on December 26, 1990. Her parents, Mike and Becky, moved to Plymouth and encouraged their two children to pursue their passions and, aged eight, Heather followed her older brother Steve to Plymstock Cricket Club. A year later, she excelled in her first hard-ball boys' game, finding herself on a hat-trick. "It was filthy seamers back then, not filthy off-spin," she says. "It gave the boys a bit of a shock and I absolutely loved it."

Knight quickly earned a place in the Devon side, but their third-division status meant higher honours proved elusive. So she joined Reading, and a year later became eligible for Berkshire - a Division One county. Knight was now testing herself against England players; Berkshire team-mates included Isa Guha and Claire Taylor. Even so, thanks to the taxi of mum and dad, Knight remained in Plymouth. She would play men's cricket in Devon on Saturday, get driven to Berkshire, play club or county cricket, then head back to Plymouth on Sunday. It was a 400-mile round-trip. "I'd revise for my GCSEs in the car. Then on Monday I'd go to school, and my parents would go to work. They didn't have much of a social life." Still, the grind paid off.

In 2008, Knight had made the England Academy, and impressed Mark Lane, then the national coach. Higher education beckoned at one of the MCCUs, and in 2009 Knight turned down Cambridge to read biomedical science and physiology at Cardiff. In her second term, playing for the university in an indoor tournament at Lord's, she got a surprise call: she had been drafted on to England's tour of India as a replacement. This time, she drove herself: from London to Cardiff, then back to Heathrow for a flight next morning. There was only one problem.

"I had enjoyed my freshers' week a lot, so I was a little bit podgy. I turned up overweight and jet-lagged, while my team-mates had been there for two or three weeks already, and hadn't had a great time of it. I'm not sure I made the best first impression." Despite the excess baggage, Knight opened the batting in the fifth one-day international and top-scored with 49; England won by two wickets. From then on, she knuckled down. Soon she became a woman for all occasions, able to bat anywhere in the top six in all formats. But it was Test cricket that put her name in lights. Two and a half years after her Ashes debut at Sydney, Knight was saving her side's skin at Wormsley with a seven-hour 157. England went on to regain the Ashes. By now, the management knew she was captaincy material. Appointed deputy to Charlotte Edwards in 2014, she was the obvious candidate to replace her after England crashed out of the 2016 World Twenty20 in India.

All the same, she had to work on her personal skills, speaking in front of others and - with the help of the team psychologists - developing an appreciation of different personalities and their motivations. "We've got such a range of interesting characters," she says. "Previously, we had swept things under the carpet - like how we have reacted under pressure. Going into the World Cup, you felt a shift. Everyone was more honest and open. Suddenly there were ten people talking in meetings instead of two or three."

It showed. Rarely have an England side been so free-wheeling and selfassured; Knight's own transformation has been one of the best examples. Between her debut in 2010 and the end of 2015, she averaged 28 in ODIs with a strike-rate of 61. Since then, those figures have been 50 and 76, and she has hit 12 of her 13 sixes.

She is still striving to improve. Between winning the KSL and heading out to the Ashes, she worked two or three times a day with batting coach Alastair Maiden on her backlift, so she could hit harder on slower wickets. A fortnight before leaving for Australia in October, it clicked. She scored 335 runs in the series at 55, and became the second to register a half-century in all formats on a women's international tour, after Karen Rolton for Australia in England in 2005. "Cricket is always about trying to master the game," she says. "You never do, but it's fun along the way."

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