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Heather Knight: England have 'parked' Ashes disappointment ahead of World Cup

Relaxation in Queenstown helps squad to overcome quarantine ahead of tournament

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
25-Feb-2022
Heather Knight hits the nets in Queenstown  •  Getty Images

Heather Knight hits the nets in Queenstown  •  Getty Images

Heather Knight, England's captain, believes her squad has successfully "parked" the disappointment of the recent Ashes loss, and is ready to embrace the ebbs and flows of the forthcoming World Cup in New Zealand, where they will be defending the title they won on home soil in 2017.
The England players emerged from their mandatory quarantine period three days ahead of schedule, and are due to face Bangladesh and South Africa in a pair of warm-up matches in Lincoln next week, ahead of their rematch with Australia in their tournament opener in Hamilton on Saturday.
And though England's last ODI meetings with Australia did not go to plan, as they were routed 3-0 in the decisive leg of the multi-format Ashes series, Knight believes that a few days of golf and mountain-climbing in their picturesque base of Queenstown has helped to reinvigorate the players and set them up for a very different sort of challenge in the coming weeks.
"When you have to do most things outdoors, the place you want to be is one of the most stunning, beautiful places in Queenstown," Knight said. "A few of us managed to take on Ben Lomond, which was a lot of fun, climbing for the views of Queenstown.
"There's been a lot of golf, a lot of just going to cafes, and just enjoying what Queenstown has to offer. It's been a chance to just switch off, do a few outdoorsy things away from cricket, gather our headspace, and try and refocus following the Ashes."
The spectre of Covid continues to linger over the tournament, with the ICC taking the unusual step of sanctioning nine-a-side fixtures in the event of significant outbreaks, and have also permitted the use of female back-room staff as substitute fielders.
"It's created a few jokes among the female staff - we've got the doctor and the manager down to have a net tomorrow," Knight added.
"It's probably unlikely it will be a Covid-free World Cup, but that is the hope. With the rules around close contacts, there's a scenario where it might happen, so people are desperate to get the tournament on if something goes badly wrong with Covid. It's not an ideal situation and hopefully it never happens."
More immediately, England's most pressing concern is to firm up their opening partnership, given Lauren Winfield-Hill's struggles to make the most of her renewed opportunities, five years on from her role in the 2017 World Cup win. For the final ODI in Australia, England's nailed-on opener, Tammy Beaumont, was partnered by Emma Lamb, but Lamb's second-ball duck on debut has left the team management no clearer about the right course to take.
"It's pretty obvious we haven't quite nailed that spot yet," Knight said. "It's never ideal, not being totally sure on your batting line-up leading into a World Cup, but that's the position we've been in. The warm-up games will be a chance, for whoever we decide to go with, to try and cement their spot and really get some form going into the tournament."
Although England enter the tournament as defending champions, it is Australia who will be runaway favourites for the title this time around, following their dominant displays in recent years. They have lost just twice in 33 completed ODIs since that last event, including a world-record run of 26 consecutive wins, from the start of 2018 through to India's two-wicket win in Mackay last September.
Knight, however, believes that England's dramatic run to the title in 2017 will still hold them in good stead, not least because they had to overcome adversity at several key moments of that campaign - including an opening-match loss to India in Derby, and two agonisingly close finishes against Australia and South Africa, prior to their nerve-shredding fightback in the final, against India at Lord's.
"Australia are going to go in as favourites, but [2017] should give us a lot of experience of what it takes to be successful in these events," Knight said. "Sometimes it's just about getting over the line, and I think that's what we did so well in 2017. We just were able to win those games that were really tight. We were able to keep our composure in the big moments, and deal with all the off-field stuff that comes with the World Cup.
"It was one of the best five-six weeks of my life, for sure," she added. "It was an amazing competition and we remember how imperfect it was as well. Because we won the competition, you look back and think it was all plain sailing, and it completely wasn't.
"It's a nice reminder to look back, because we're going to have to ride the highs and the lows, and that's almost the brilliance of being in a World Cup. The different countries you have to face, the travel, the ebbs and flows of the tournament, and trying to peek towards the back end of the group stages. I'm so excited to get going again."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket