England lost by eight wickets after they were skittled for 104 with Sri Lanka captain Chamari Athapaththu smacking 55 in quick time to secure victory for the tourists’ with 40 balls to spare.
It levels the three-match T20 series ahead of Wednesday’s decider in Derby and resulted in Knight facing questions over the decision with head coach Jon Lewis to experiment against the eighth best country in Twenty20 cricket.
Sophia Dunkley and Nat Sciver-Brunt were rested while England selected five players aged 22 or younger in Saturday’s XI, but captain Knight defended their right to rotate with the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh only a year away.
Knight said: “We want to expose people to international cricket and we were pretty clear that was the goal at the start of this series.
“No one was saying anything at Hove when we smashed 180 off 17 overs so no, I wouldn’t change a thing.
“In a busy summer, we knew there was a slight opportunity to try a few new players. You don’t get a huge amount of opportunities to do that because we haven’t got too many games before that World Cup in Bangladesh.
“It wasn’t about underestimating Sri Lanka at all. It was about what is best for us as a side moving forward and we needed to get some caps into young players to see where they are at.
“We’ve had a bad day, we’ve lost a game of cricket but there will be no big enquiry into it.
“Sri Lanka have played very well and they have given us some humble pie to be honest, but it is a good lesson for youngsters that if you are not quite on it and not able to execute your skills how you want, then you can get punished.”
After posting 186 for four in Sussex on Thursday, this batting display could not have been more chalk and cheese with England reduced to 21 for three inside the powerplay.
Knight and Amy Jones briefly rebuilt before the excellent Inoka Ranaweera accounted for them on her way to figures of two for 25.
When England were faltering on 66 for eight, an unwanted record looked on the cards but Charlie Dean hit 34 to help the hosts beyond their previous lowest T20 total of 87 – posted against Australia in 2015.
Sri Lanka seamer Udeshika Prabodhani ended Dean’s 33-run partnership with Issy Wong and yorked Dean soon after to dismiss England for 104.
Wong would go on to struggle with the ball, producing an array of no-balls in a 10-delivery opening over.
Athapaththu never blinked in the chase though, smashing Kate Cross for 21 before she added another maximum in a scintillating 26-ball fifty that helped the tourists clinch a first T20 win over England at the 10th time of asking.
“We all had a bad day at the same time unfortunately,” Knight reflected.
“I thought they bowled really well, their spinners were impressive and the lengths they bowled. Credit to them but yeah sometimes this happens in cricket.
“We’ve obviously got a very inexperienced side and a lot of people who are learning their trade, so it identifies areas where we need to get better at.