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England have effectively been playing knockout cricket since the fourth match of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 and skipper Heather Knight believes they could not have asked for better preparation for their semi-final.
Three defeats in as many games for the defending champions left England on the brink, but they have responded with four successive wins to book their place in the last four.
The last of those losses came to South Africa, their opponents in Christchurch, and Knight has been impressed at the way her team has turned things around.
She said: “We’ve been playing knockout cricket for the last four games. So we’re so used to obviously having that pressure on us and if we make one mistake we’re out and that’s perfect preparation for World Cup semi-final where you know the stakes and you know what’s on the line and I think it shows a lot about the character in this group after those first three games.
“We’ve obviously lost three close games and we were very disappointed and frustrated but the way we’ve turned it around, I think has been outstanding. The way we’ve managed to stay pretty positive, change a few things that were in our control.
“We’re very good players and I think we’ve just managed to find a way to win again, which has been very nice. Hopefully, it will give us a lot of confidence going into that semi-final, we feel like we’ve built a bit of momentum up in the last four games. And that’s a nice place to be again into the semis.”
One area where England have not quite fired yet is in the batting, with most players having produced a significant innings, but rarely at the same time.
And Knight admits it is time to put that right.
She added: “I think it’s great that individuals are stepping up at different times. I think we’ve had each batter win us a game at some point, but I don’t think we’ve put it all together yet, what a perfect time to change that than the World Cup semi-final. I think the signs are really good.
“I’ve been a bit frustrated. I’ve got a few starts, a couple of 40-odds and I guess a couple of not outs in there as well. So, I haven’t really been able to make that match-defining contribution I guess but I am feeling pretty good here, I feel like I’m hitting the ball well and had a really good session today.”
Knight will be in familiar territory, five years after leading England to World Cup glory, while this is new ground for South Africa skipper Sune Luus who took over the captaincy just before the tournament after an injury to regular captain Dane van Niekerk.
But Luus is keen to highlight what qualifying for a first World Cup final would mean for her team.
She said: “We have an opportunity to make South Africa really proud and to make history. I think that is the biggest thing for me as captain.
“It’s a big honour, it’s something I never really thought of doing, especially so soon in my career. Tomorrow is going to be a big game. There will probably be a couple of tears before the game.
“It’s an opportunity to make history in South Africa and change a lot of lives back home as well and for us as players. I’m very excited with some butterflies as well but that’s something we’ll manage when the time comes.”
The semi-final is a repeat of the meeting five years ago at the same stage, when England edged a thriller in Bristol by two wickets.
Luus took two for 24 that day as South Africa fell just short, but insists the result will have no bearing.
She added: “We haven’t brought up 2017. It’s five years ago, teams have changed, players have grown a lot since that semi-final.
“I think we’ve become a way better team since that semi-final so that’s definitely in the past and we look to tomorrow as a whole new game in a whole new World Cup.”