Heather Knight – No regrets about missing RCB glory for England duty

Heather Knight says she has no regrets about pulling out of the WPL and missing Royal Challengers Bangalore’s trophy-winning campaign, as she prepares to lead her side in the first of five T20Is against New Zealand in Dunedin on Tuesday.

Knight, 33, withdrew from the tournament, which concluded with RCB’s victory over Delhi Capitals on Sunday, when it became clear that the schedule would impinge on her ability to lead England in the T20I leg of the New Zealand tour, which forms a key part of the team’s preparations for the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh later this year.

Her place in the RCB squad was taken by South Africa’s Nadine de Klerk, who featured just once in the campaign, while seamer Lauren Bell also withdrew from the UP Warriorz squad to focus on her England preparations.

A core of England’s established T20I players – including Nat Sciver-Brunt, Danni Wyatt, Alice Capsey and Sophie Ecclestone – chose to stay on in India and will link up with the T20I squad ahead of the fourth and fifth matches later this month. As England captain, however, Knight said she was clear where her priorities lay.

“I was always going to come [to New Zealand], so that was quite an easy decision for me,” she said. “As captain, I wanted to be here and I want to be around the team for the build-up, and those three games.

“The ideal world would have been to leave the WPL a little early, but that wasn’t an option to do so, because of the rules about replacement players. We wanted to have someone available for the whole competition. Those are the choices that players have to make now, it can be quite tricky, but I think it’s really important that it’s made on an individual level.”

Given the timezone difference, Knight said she hadn’t watched the final, in which RCB hunted down Delhi’s target of 114 to win by eight wickets with three balls to spare, but had watched the highlights that morning, and had been kept abreast of the celebrations, not least through her England team-mate Kate Cross, who was an unused squad member.

“I was getting a few messages, from Kate who’s there and obviously some of the overseas [players] as well. I was really pleased for them that they managed to win, after quite a tough year last year. I guess I could have been there, but I’m not really thinking about that. I’m super happy to be here. Obviously the right thing for me, and for the team, was for me to be here.”

Despite the scheduling clash, Knight insisted that England would benefit from the split priorities, both from the WPL contingent’s exposure to subcontinental conditions ahead of the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh in September, and from the extra competition for places that will arise in their absence for the first three T20Is.

“The right thing for me was to be here, but I still think we’re going to get a really good benefit as an England team,” Knight said. “Alice Capsey playing in a big final yesterday, that’d be a really good experience for her, and hopefully England will benefit down the road, with a World Cup coming up in Bangladesh.

“It’s a tricky one. It’s getting a little bit tougher for players to make these decisions because they have so many different options now. In an ideal world, you’d have windows [in the schedule]. There is a little window, but a day in between [games] isn’t realistic, obviously, to fly across the world and play.

“But I’m quite an optimistic person, I’m looking at the positives that we’ve got. We’ve got a huge opportunity for some of our younger players to play a really good role [in New Zealand], and by making the choice around the first three T20s to have a different squad, the girls at the WPL have a little bit of a chance to take a few days off as well, and get used to New Zealand and get the flight out of their legs.

“It’s not an ideal situation, but I think there’s some really good positives that will hopefully benefit the England team moving forward.”

In terms of the challenge awaiting England in Dunedin, Knight admitted that the damp weather meant that the conditions could be similar to early-season England, but expected a good wicket with a bit in it for batters and bowlers alike.

“It’s been nice to get acclimatised,” she said. “The weather’s made us feel quite home to be honest, it’s a little bit cold and miserable out there now. But the main thing is just adapting to being on grass again, and getting really clear on our mindset about how we’re going to play tomorrow. We’re obviously excited to get going. It’s been a long build-up.”

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