IND vs ENG: India and England set up for a Test match following a mere two-day break following the third Twenty20 International. Not just any Test, either. India held the first women’s Test since 2014. England’s first women’s Test match in India since 2005, the first for India following Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj’s retirements.
When England left for their afternoon training, the sun was already beaming down, but they had a plan in place for how they were going to prepare. Although the women’s Test matches are rare, England has previously played 99 and will play their 100th against India in Navi Mumbai.
England will return home following this one-off Test, but for India, who will play their first-ever back-to-back Test matches later this month against Australia, it is just the beginning.
Back-to-back Tests are typical in men’s cricket, but in women’s cricket, where multi-day matches are relatively rare, this is the kind of schedule that makes you perspire merely thinking about it.
However, it is also an opportunity. Two women’s Tests were last played in the same calendar month in August 2006. Nobody realised it at the time, but the two-Test series between England and India would go down in history as the last multi-Test series played in women’s cricket.
Three months later, at the request of the ICC, the BCCI took over as the sport’s national governing body from the WCAI. Suddenly, India was reduced to a minor role in the global arena of multi-day international cricket. England hasn’t played a Test in the subcontinent in 18 years, while Australia has been waiting nearly four decades (since February 10, 1984, to be exact).
Keeping aside the long and short of the wait any women’s team has gone through, this time things seem to be different on a higher note for both the teams taking a look back at the last time they met in another one-off test in June 2021. Anyone looking at the result may conclude that it was “just a draw,” but this Test between England and India was full of unexpected twists and turns on each side of what proved to be an engrossing arm-wrestle deep into the last twilight session.
At 6.13 pm local time, the teams decided to a draw, with India walking at 344 for 8 in their second innings, a lead of 179 runs, after Sneh Rana and Taniya Bhatia had collaborated for an unbroken 104-run stand. Sophie Ecclestone’s four wickets earlier in the day put England in an ideal position to surge for victory, but an eighth-wicket stand of 41 runs between Rana and Shikha Pandey had India clutching to a draw at lunch.
The seamers found little in the pitch, so Ecclestone took the lead, with Heather Knight adding her occasional off-spin commentary. After England had declared 396 for 9, Ecclestone had already taken 4 for 88 as India was knocked out for 231 in response. After she knocked out the 17-year-old Shafali Verma, who seemed to be India’s biggest threat, it seemed as though England would easily ensure that the visitors couldn’t hope for a draw.
Like the few hundred people who had bothered to show up during the preceding three days, they had seen something genuinely amazing, not least of which was Verma’s astounding brilliance in scoring 96 and 63 in two crucial contributions.
The significance of Verma’s wicket seemed to be underscored by India’s dramatic first-inning collapse, in which they lost seven wickets for 20 runs in 14.2 overs and Deepti Sharma was the sole middle-order batter to get past 4 with her undefeated 29.
Sharma and Punam Raut, however, settled into a 72-run stand for the third wicket when Verma was removed. Sharma fell on the final delivery before lunch, with India behind by just six runs. Up until that point, the game appeared to be meandering towards a tie that would conceal the many intriguing tales from the match, as England was finding it difficult to gain ground.
Try telling “Just a draw” to Knight, who finished her 100th match as England captain just five runs short of a century; to Sophia Dunkley, the first black woman to play Test cricket for England, who scored 74 not out; to Verma, who showed great promise and delivered on it; or to Ecclestone, who bowled 64 overs for eight wickets in the match, giving it her all.
Not to mention the importance of Rana’s perseverance in securing that draw for India.
To allow Ecclestone to take the primary wicket-taking position, Sciver was told to play a holding role and not let up any runs. At one stage, she had taken 1 for 1 from 10 overs, including nine maidens, and finished the innings with statistics of 16-9-21-2.
However, it might be claimed that England had paid a price for not selecting a second expert spinner on a used ground. Although they lost a significant portion of the third day to rain, their inability to take 20 wickets proved to be the deciding factor. Harmanpreet Kaur was out by Ecclestone as he attempted a slog-sweep and sent a top edge well overhead, with wicketkeeper Amy Jones patiently waiting below to take an easy catch.
Even though India was only leading by 34 runs at that point and had lost seven wickets, Rana and Bhatia calmly went about their business to ensure their team’s safety through the end of an encounter that was anything but “just a draw” after Sciver had Pandey piqued down the leg side by Jones for 18.