'Australia are still the best team in the world' – Heather Knight

‘Australia still best in the world’ – Knight (2:13)

Heather Knight spoke ahead of England’s tour of Australia about the inclusion of Sophie Eccleston, winning the Ashes and Danielle Hazell’s quiz nights. (2:13)

Australia remain the best team in the world going into this winter’s Ashes, according to Heather Knight, England women’s captain, despite their failure to reach the final of the recent World Cup – a contest that Knight’s own team won in a thrilling climax against India at Lord’s in July.

England won the Ashes on their last trip Down Under in 2013-14, but had their crown snatched back from them two summers ago when Australia claimed a comprehensive 10-6 victory in the multi-format points system that has been used to determine the series on the last three occasions.

However, England head out to Australia on Friday with confidence renewed following their epic triumph in this summer’s World Cup. Their campaign began inauspiciously when India beat them in the tournament opener at Derby, but it kicked into life with an excruciatingly tight three-run victory in their group-stage meeting with Australia at Bristol.

Then, after India had stunned the favourites Australia with a remarkable win in their semi-final at Derby, England were pushed to the brink of defeat in the final, only for Anya Shrubsole’s 6 for 46 to wrestle a nine-run win for the hosts, after India had at one stage been cruising on 191 for 3, chasing 229 for the title.

England have had a few months now to digest the magnitude of their achievement, and are ready to resume their focus on their oldest rivalry, with the ODI leg of the Ashes set to get underway in Brisbane on October 22.

“We’re really excited,” Knight told ESPNcricinfo during a Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation event at Lord’s. “We leave next Friday and it’s going to be a massive challenge.

“Despite the World Cup result, Australia are still the best team in the world and they will be hungry after the World Cup and being knocked out in the semi-finals. And you saw in our World Cup game in Bristol how closely the teams are matched. We won a tight one there, and an Ashes tour is always special.”

One significant absentee in Australia’s ranks may help to improve England’s prospects, however. Their regular captain, Meg Lanning – widely acknowledged as the best batsman in the women’s game – will miss the series after being forced to undergo surgery on her right shoulder. Lanning, 25, was a star of the 2015 Ashes with scores of 104 and 85 in two of Australia’s ODI wins, and has been replaced as captain by Rachael Haynes.

“Meg will be a loss for them, with Rachael coming in as a new captain in her first series,” said Knight. “But they’ve got some quality batters. They’ll obviously miss Meg, she’s a world-class player, but they’ve got real strength in depth, and we’ll have to play brilliantly to combat that and beat them.”

England’s own squad has one notable change to that which won the World Cup, with Sophie Eccleston, the 18-year-old left-arm spinner, coming into the party in place of Beth Langston. Ecclestone made her England debut in ODIs and T20s last year, and demonstrated good flight and control before going on to impress in the inaugural Kia Super League. Last month she claimed figures of 6 for 12 for Lancashire against Warwickshire to make an irresistible case for a recall.

“Sophie’s really earned her place,” said Knight. “She bowled so well in the KSL and our warm-up games that it almost made it impossible not to pick her. We’ve got brilliant spin stocks at the moment, but we’ve also got seam cover out in Australia with Tash Farrant and Kate Cross over there playing 50-over cricket and they will be close to the squad, providing back-up if there are any injuries.

“Sophie is a very mature girl, she’s played a lot of men’s cricket and she’s been around the squad a lot,” Knight added. “She made her international debut a year and a half ago and has been quite successful, but now she’s finished school – which is quite a funny thing to say – she’s got more time to focus on her cricket. I have no doubt she’ll be able to deal with the pressures the Ashes bring. We’ve got so much experience in the team that can guide her.”

After a prolonged period of 50-over cricket in the build-up to the World Cup, England are braced for the change of format, with three T20s included in the Ashes itinerary, as well as a rare four-day Test. But Knight has no doubts her squad will be versatile enough to adapt.

“It can be difficult to chop and change in a short period of time, but it’s the fourth edition of the multi-format series so we are used to it,” she said. “Australia are in exactly the same boat, they haven’t played much T20 cricket or Test cricket either. The team that adapts the most and switches between the formats best is going to be successful.

“Australia is a great place to tour,” Knight added. “It’s not like Bangladesh or India where you are confined to your room a bit more. There are opportunities to go out and get away from the game which is important on a long pressurised tour like an Ashes tour.

“There are lots of characters in our squad, Danni Hazell has a quiz every tour that she’ll be preparing right right now. We get on well, we know each other well, and enjoy spending time together on a long tour like the Ashes.”

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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