Heather Knight admits used pitch for Bristol Test is ‘not ideal’

Heather Knight, the England captain, has expressed her disappointment at being given a used pitch to host India in the first women’s Test between the sides for seven years.

Knight revealed on the eve of the match at Bristol’s County Ground that the pitch had been used for Gloucestershire’s T20 Blast fixture against Sussex last Friday and described the situation as “not ideal”.

“We’d much prefer to be on a fresh one but it is what it is,” Knight said. “We found out last week, which obviously we tried to get changed, but it was a little bit too late for that to happen.

“It’s unfortunate, it’s not ideal, we’d much rather be on a fresh one, but we don’t know how it’s going to play yet. It still could play very well. Generally, at Bristol you look at the deck, sometimes it looks not great but actually plays brilliantly. So yeah, look, it’s not ideal but it is what it is and we’re obviously going to have to perform as best we can on the wicket we’re given.”

The provision of a used pitch at Taunton for the 2019 Women’s Ashes Test sparked controversy. On that occasion the same surface had been used during the men’s World Cup nearly six weeks prior. As it turned out, the pitch offered little assistance to anyone and the match ended in a draw allowing Australia to retain the Ashes.

“We don’t know how it’s going to play necessarily,” Knight said. “Obviously slightly different with it being used but we’re confident we’ve got the squad and the XI that we’re going to pick to win this Test match.

“At Taunton there was a lot of talk about the pitch and it didn’t actually do too much so I guess we’re going to have to wait and see and see how it plays.

“It’s not something that we can change now. There’s no point looking too much into how it will play, we’ll obviously try to adapt as much as we can to the situation and how the wicket plays. We’ve got to go out there now and get our heads round playing on the pitch we’ve been given.”

An ECB spokesperson said that the surfaces for all of England white-ball fixtures with India would be freshly prepared – with the exception of the second T20I at Hove, which would use a hybrid pitch.

“We are all disappointed that the wicket for the LV= Insurance Test match against India will have had 37 overs played on it,” the spokesperson said. “We know that England Women deserve a fresh wicket and we are sorry that we were unable to provide that in this instance.

“With the Test only being added to the calendar in mid-April, coupled with the lack of available first class grounds, we knew a fresh TV pitch was going to be a challenge. We accept that this issue shouldn’t have arisen and we will make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”

For her part, Mithali Raj, the India skipper, was prepared to play whatever conditions prevailed. “We are here to play a match,” she said. “Whatever strip we get, we will try and get a result out of it. That’s what our thought process is. Whether it’s a used wicket or a fresh wicket, as players and captain, I definitely want my team to get a result and for that it’s important we put down our strategies accordingly.”

Unlike the Ashes, where the Test is the middle game in a multi-format series, this match kicks off India’s tour which also includes three ODIs and two T20Is. Each white-ball game is worth two points for a win while four points are up for grabs for victory in the Test with two each for a draw and one each for no result.

Women’s Tests are a rarity and, as much as the players say they enjoy them, they are almost universal in stating their understanding that the shorter formats are the way forward for growing the game.

England Women had to contend with a used pitch at Taunton during the 2019 Ashes  Getty Images

Even so, there is a sense of pressure to make each Test entertaining, something that Knight feels differs from the expectation on her male counterparts.

“You obviously want to be entertaining and want to put on a show and show off the best of your skills and the best of women’s cricket,” she said. “But our job first and foremost is to try and win and be successful. That’s at the forefront of our mind, and if we can do both at the same time, even better.

“I think often in women’s cricket, when we’re playing Test matches, we’re judged slightly to a different standard than the men’s game is. I think there’s games that you look at in isolation, a Test matches in the men’s game, that if it was a women’s game it would get looked at differently and judged on a different pedestal and saying it was attritional cricket or whatever, which I hope doesn’t happen this week.

“As a group of players we want to be successful, we want to win, and obviously if we can entertain whilst that goes on, that’s even better. We certainly don’t want to be known as a boring side and have a draw but our first port of call is to win games of cricket and that’s what we’ll be looking to do this week.”

Knight will be playing 100th match as England captain and her eighth Test match, with a proud record in the format including a highest score of 157 in the 2013 Ashes draw at Wormsley, her second Test appearance. More recently she scored 62 and 79 not out against Australia in 2017, which also ended in a draw.

“I’m desperate to be successful in Test match cricket because it doesn’t come around very often,” Knight said. “I’ve had a little bit of success and will be desperate to have more.

“For me personally, it’d be about my mental approach, being able to deal with the things that red-ball cricket throws at you, being able to concentrate for longer and being really tight, and also taking those opportunities to score that you get given.”

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo

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