England vice-captain Heather Knight is writing a series of columns this winter. Following their limited-overs series in South Africa, England are now preparing for the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 in India, which starts on 15 March.
We kicked off our tour of South Africa with a training camp in the small town of Potchefstroom. With the usual accommodation at the university full (including a group of young England men’s fast bowlers), we spent five days staying in a slightly strange, secluded, want-to-be yoga retreat (without the yoga), without any real options for escaping out of the grounds.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of relaxation, but I like to get out and about on tour so I was pretty happy when we waved Potch goodbye and headed to Pretoria to get our tour going properly.
Before the one-day international series, we had two warm-up games against a South Africa Women’s Emerging XI. After a winter full of Twenty20 cricket the first 50 overs in the field felt like an absolute lifetime, but it was great to have the team back together on the pitch and we were soon back into the swing of 50-over cricket.
Beware the rhinos
After the warm-up games we managed to squeeze in a safari day. One of the first instructions given to us before entering the park was to be as quiet as possible around the wild animals. About 10 minutes into the drive, two massive white rhinos crossed in front of the jeep, resulting in Danni Wyatt screaming at the top of her lungs and Katherine Brunt letting out a few very loud expletives! The ranger didn’t look too impressed.
We had an absolute belter of a day though, seeing three of the so-called ‘Big Five’ – although we only saw the tip of a lion’s tail from a bush a distance away, and it could have easily been a ranger in there waving a fake tail on a stick to keep us happy.
We also took an afternoon to visit a cricket ground in a township called Hammanskraal. We joined in with a coaching session for some girls from the township – it was total carnage, with balls flying everywhere.
Lydia Greenway and I decided to take advantage of the mayhem by playing a few tricks on some of the girls. I managed to make Kate Cross jump in the middle of an interview with BBC Test Match Special by shouting “heads”, but Lydia won the prank of the day award when she got Brunty who went down like she had been shot!
Good work, Greeners.
A one-day series win – and the Centurion centurion
We got the ODI series going with a convincing seven-wicket win on Duckworth-Lewis, with the Hoof (Anya Shrubsole) galloping in with four wickets and the player of the match award to boot.
Next it was on to Centurion, fittingly, for Sarah Taylor’s 100th ODI. Unfortunately it wasn’t the most memorable day for the team, with the South Africans chasing down 262. Although we were nowhere near our best towards the end of the innings with the ball, Lizelle Lee and Marizanne Kapp put together a brilliant partnership that really damaged us.
Despite the loss it was great to see Sarah pick up her 100th cap, which is quite an achievement at only 26. My favourite Sarah Taylor moment has to be “that catch” against the Aussies at Hove in 2013, along with keeping my life very entertaining at first slip over the years. Hopefully there will be many more caps to come.
The ODI decider saw us head to the Wanderers in Johannesburg – what a ground! The players’ balcony also has massive reclining chairs to watch from – that definitely sneaks it into my top five favourite grounds.
We won the game with five wickets to spare, with GG (Georgia Elwiss) coming into the team and getting her maiden ODI fifty. It was also nice to contribute personally and be there to finish the game off in my new role in the middle order – one I’m really enjoying at the moment.
On to the T20s
During our match warm-ups on this tour we’ve had a bit of a fielding competition between two teams led by Ali (assistant coach Ali Maiden) and Robbo (head coach Mark Robinson), which involves splitting us into two teams and seeing which team can hit a couple of sets of stumps the most times.
Things have got more and more competitive as the tour has gone on, with celebrations also spiralling. Ali’s ‘grenade celebration’ was a personal favourite.
We had three T20s in quick succession to finish the tour off. And what a three games it was for Sarah Taylor, who nailed three 50s in succession in our 2-1 series win.
South Africa tested us hard in all three games and that’s something that will stand us in good stead leading into the ICC Women’s World T20 in India next month. They’re a dangerous side who have improved a lot since we last played them.
There are still a few areas for us to tweak before the WT20, particularly our fielding, but we’re playing the type of cricket we want to play.
We now head home for 12 days before we leave for India, and having not been home for more than three months, I’m looking forward to getting home and catching up with friends and family before a big month in India!
Keep an ear to BBC TMS to see how we get on.