Early-season form poses tricky Test selection task - Heather Knight

Lack of red-ball opportunities only adds to intrigue of picking side to face India

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
A glut of England regulars and hopefuls making a case for selection on the opening weekend of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy has left Heather Knight in a welcome, if tricky, position ahead of this month's Test against India.
Back-to-back centuries to Amy Jones put her on top of the competition's run-scoring charts with 277, which is 127 more than second-placed Knight, the England captain, while twin fifties to Danni Wyatt along with Lauren Winfield-Hill's century and a half-century from Tammy Beaumont have England's top-order options looking healthy.
Sophia Dunkley, who is looking to establish herself in the side having broken back into the England set-up last year, did her chances no harm with an unbeaten 104 for South East Stars on Saturday and Thunder's Emma Lamb drew some attention to herself with 121 against Storm to sit third on the list, just 11 runs shy of Knight.
Among the bowlers, Katherine Brunt and Sophie Ecclestone are predictably at the top of the pack, with six wickets each, along with Kate Cross. Tash Farrant indicated she was ready to press on after earning a recall for the winter tour of New Zealand by taking 5 for 33 in South East Stars' season opener and Issy Wong, the fast bowler who has just turned 19 and who travelled to New Zealand with the England squad on a development basis, also took a five-wicket haul.
"I'm delighted the girls have gone so well," Knight said. "That's what we want those girls to do, to go in and win games of cricket for their clubs and put in really strong performances and selection's going to be quite tough.
"Hugely excited to play in the Test match, it's such a rare event in our calendar and one that's huge for us, we love playing red-ball cricket so it's great to see the girls performing well and hopefully we can continue those performances against India."
After just two rounds of matches, on Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday, several players have remarked that the new domestic women's structure - where 41 players have been awarded full-time contracts in addition to the centrally contracted England players - is already paying dividends in terms of professionalism and development.
"The standards have gone up massively," Knight said. "I'm just pleased to see the girls go well, some of the domestic players really pushing as well, putting their hands up playing against the best players in England and the players that they want to take the spots off.
"You want to just create as much competition as you can and I think we're really starting to do that. We're getting a bigger pool of players that you can pick from."
While the domestic 50-over competition is obviously a different format, it's virtually all that selectors have to go on when choosing the Test side, so rare are red-ball opportunities - that and previous Test experience.
"To be honest, it's quite tough because we don't play any domestic red-ball cricket or anything like that," Knight said. "You're going on one-day form more than anything. There's not many stats to go so it's almost a little bit of feel who you think has the temperament and the technique and the skill to be able to perform in red-ball cricket and a little bit of form goes into it as well.
"It's not easy but we'll sit down after the round of the Rachel Heyhoe Flint on Saturday and come together... I'm sure we'll put together a squad that's going to really challenge and really be strong.
"People that have had success in red-ball cricket before can obviously take from that and take it into more games, but it's two years ago, it's tough in that things change so much. You take it into account a little bit but probably more recent form and how batters are going and who is most likely to have the best success in the game."
The last time England Women played a Test was the drawn Ashes fixture at Taunton nearly two years ago but India have not played one since defeating South Africa in November 2014.
Jones, Knight, Beaumont, Brunt and Ecclestone all played in the Ashes Test, along with the likes of Nat Sciver, Anya Shrubsole and Georgia Elwiss, who missed the only internationals of England's home summer last year - a five-match T20I series with West Indies - because of a back injury.
While she is untried in the format, Sarah Glenn, the 21-year-old legspinner, is likely to feature, having truly announced her international arrival with a successful series against West Indies after an encouraging T20 World Cup.
India are due to arrive in England on Thursday, entering into quarantine in Southampton before heading to Bristol for the Test starting on June 16.
On Tuesday, Knight's attention was turned briefly to a fourth format during an event at The Kia Oval to mark 50 days until the Hundred begins with a women's match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals on July 21 following last year's postponement. Knight's London Spirit side begin their campaign two days later against Birmingham Phoenix at Edgbaston.
"The fact that we've got a full summer of cricket to look forward to amazing," Knight said. "The Hundred is going to be a big part of our summer, which is great.
"It feels like it's been a long old build-up, and it feels like the build-up has been even bigger because it's been delayed a year. Looking forward to getting out there."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo