“Start by doing what’s necessary. Then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible,” said Francis of Assisi about 800 years ago.
India women did just that, holding England to an improbable draw.
Women’s Tests A Rarity
Due to an increased fan following in women’s cricket since the 2017 ODI World Cup, recent emphasis has been on limited overs cricket, expansion of the game via T20 World Cup, and a potential game changer in Women’s Hundred.
Since resources have been spent in marketing the limited overs game, women’s Test cricket has disappeared in the background.
England play only one Test match every couple of years in the Ashes against Australia. Indian women had it even worse—they were playing their first test after 7 years and only their third in 15 years.
We did not know how it will pan out. Will India struggle with the lack of match practice? Will they remain unbeaten in Tests in England? How would teams cope with a used pitch?
Electing to bat first, England posted a solid 396/9 declared courtesy their senior players: Beaumont’s 66, captain Heather Knight’s 95, Nat Sciver’s 42, and debutant’s Sophie Dunkley’s 74.
Openers Smriti Mandhana & Shafali Verma would form a record 167-partnership, before India collapsed for 231. England enforced the follow-on with India 165 runs still behind & 135 overs still left in the game.
Rana-Bhatia’s Performance of the Ages
In the second innings, they started by doing the necessary. The top order repeated its fight with contributions from Verma, Raut, and Sharma before they collapsed from 171-2 to 199-7 in 73.3 overs. What’s more, India’s last recognized batter, Harmanpreet Kaur departed. With 50 overs still to go, little did anyone expect that India would survive.
Then they did what was possible. Stitch out partnerships. Play ball-by-ball. Stall the time. An hour later, Shikha Pandey departed after a fighting 18 (50).
What followed was a performance of a lifetime, a magnificent rearguard effort between Taniya Bhatia & Sneh Rana—104* (185) partnership. Suddenly, India were doing the impossible.
Rana scored 80* (154) & Bhatia provided ample support with 44* (88) to deny England a routine victory.
Patience, grit, determination on show. Bravo India women!
Debutants Dare to Dream
The experienced duo, Mithali Raj & Harmanpreet Kaur, scored a paltry 18 runs in 4 innings. To achieve the impossible, India’s youngsters were thrown in the deep end, similar to the Border-Gavaskar series in men’s cricket.
Not only did the newer generation star, Deepti Sharma, Pooja Vastrakar, Shafali Verma, Sneh Rana, and Taniya Bhatia were actually making their Test debuts for the India women team. Sophia Dunkley, whose 74* revived England from 251-6 to 396/9 declared, was debuting for England.
- Shafali became the youngest women (17 years & 139 days) cricketer and second overall after Sachin Tendulkar to score fifties in both innings—96 & 63.
- Promoted from #7 in the 1st innings to #3 in the 2nd, Sharma brought India back in the game with mature knocks of 29* & 54 to go along with 3/65.
- Rana’s 4/131 & 80* Bhatia’s 44* saves India.
- Vastrakar contributed with 1/53.
Ecclestone Bowls Herself To the Ground
The English bowlers were in the field for two and a half days!
Sophie Ecclestone took the bulk of the responsibilities, bowling 26 overs (out of 81.5) in the first innings and 38 (out of 121 overs) in the second. She ended up figures of 4-88 & 4-118.
Kudos to her for giving it her best shot. Can take some rest now. Already a T20 star, the 22-year old has the potential to be an all-time England great.
Time For 5-Day Tests In Women’s Cricket?
At the end of the 4th day, the captains shook hands with 12 overs to go. India were 179 runs ahead at 344/8.
Imagine a potential day 5—England’s target around 200 runs with 80 overs to go. All 4 results possible. Mouth-watering scenario, isn’t it? Well it isn’t entirely possible when you only have a 4-day Test.
Captain Heather Knight commented that the lack of 5th day “robbed of that finish,” and they would definitely be open for 5-day Tests. Mithali Raj had a more practical suggestion, “It’s a good idea to have a five-day Test but we actually have to start Test matches regularly.”
Why not combine both? Teams that traditionally play consistent Test cricket (Australia & England) should be allowed to experiment with 5-day Tests and pink-ball Tests. On the other hand, teams like India should not be searching for Test match opportunities every seven or eight years. Why not have one mandatory 4-day Test per bilateral series for teams like India, South Africa, and New Zealand? This way, more seasoned cricketers will get Test match experience and cricket boards will get the chance to focus on the marketing aspect of Women’s Test cricket.
Who knows, maybe a Women’s World Test Championship is just what is needed to provide context.
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COPYRIGHT @Nitesh Mathur, aka Nit-X, 06/23/2021; Email at firstname.lastname@example.org