Heather Knight: From semi-professional to World Cup winners in three years 1 day ago

Heather Knight: From semi-professional to World Cup winners in three years

"It's a huge statement by the ECB to start this competition with a women's game, I think it's a brilliant move."

This summer, when The Hundred finally kicks off after a long delay, a sporting tournament with both men and women competing will be opened by a women's match for the first time ever.

If it sounds mad, that's because, in our mostly male sport-dominated world, it is. But cricket is on a drive to champion the women's game with the goal of it eventually being on an equal pegging with the men's game. And giving the women the curtain raiser for a brand new format seems the perfect way to get the ball rolling.

England's women's team only turned fully professional in 2014. Heather Knight, captain of England and London Spirit in the upcoming Hundred, was still at university when she started playing for England, while also working for Chance to Shine, the charitable cricket foundation. But seven years later, having won a World Cup and with a brand spanking new tournament taking place this summer, she is optimistic that her path to the top might not be so common in years to come.

"I probably didn't realise I could make a career out of it until I was four years into my England playing career, when we got made professional," she tells JOE.

"Things have massively progressed since then.

"I've been really lucky. I've been able to time it so I still got to experience university and a bit of normal life and perspective and then focus on cricket when it has become professional."

She credits her brother for igniting her passion for the sport, given there was not much coverage of women's cricket to serve as a source of inspiration.

"My older brother Steve got me into the game," she explains. "My earliest memories are just going down to our local club, Plymstock, and just playing as much as we can. Playing one hand one bounce in the nets, playing in the outfield during breaks. More playing the game and having fun with friends rather than watching it to be honest."

Girls' teams were hard to find in rural Devon, meaning Knight had to learn her craft playing alongside boys and men, something she acknowledges a lot of girls might not feel comfortable doing.

"I was pretty comfortable playing boys' and men's cricket, so I did that and it was a really good standard for me to play," she says.

"So I guess, maybe if other girls weren't as comfortable playing with boys or men, they'd probably drop out of the sport.

"Now it's great that there's a lot more teams about, a lot more opportunity to be involved in women's cricket and it's also a lot more normal to be a women's sportsperson, let alone a cricketer."

A World Cup victory at Lord's in 2017 sticks out as a major turning point in perceptions around the women's game. It gave supporters an England team to cheer about, after all.

"I think perceptions have changed massively, and the World Cup was obviously a big part of that," Knight says.

"The success of the team gets more people interested in the sport.

"I heard stories of people who are watching, young girls and boys who were mimicking the likes of Nat Sciver and Tammy Beaumont when they were having fun with their friends and playing a bit of cricket.

"There's still a bit of a way to go in terms of pushing the women's game forward and trying to get it on a level pegging with the men's game. But that World Cup win in England was a huge moment in being able to progress the game and will hopefully be a springboard for what's to come in the next few years."

The next step comes this summer, with the launch of The Hundred, which, despite receiving pre-emptive criticism from purists, has all the ingredients to inspire a new wave of young fans.

"With The Hundred, that's another step forward I think," she says.

"Having the women's game alongside the men's competition, now if you're a young kid, you turn on the tele, you see there's a male team and a female team, which is so important in terms of your perceptions of what cricket is and who it's for."

"It's going to be some of the best players in the world, best players in England, playing against each other, in both the men's and women's competition. I think it's just going to be great to be involved in, hopefully it will get more people watching and talking about cricket.

"It's a huge statement by the ECB to start this competition with a women's game, I think it's a brilliant move.

"Hopefully as players we can put on a really good show for everyone."

Visit thehundred.com to find out more about player signings and to sign up for priority ticket access.