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The Spin | ‘A bucket-list thing’: England’s women relish first Test in India for 18 years


As the saying goes, women’s Test matches in India are similar to buses: you wait a long time for one (in this situation, nine years), and then two come at the same time. Starting on Thursday, India will begin their challenging journey with a four-day match against England at the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai. Just three days later, they will face Australia at the Wankhede. Consecutive Test matches may be frequent in men’s cricket, but in women’s cricket, where multi-day matches are not often played, this type of schedule is enough to make one anxious just thinking about it.

However, it also presents a chance. The most recent instance of two women’s Tests being played in the same month was in August 2006. Little did anyone realize at the time that the two-Test series between England and India would eventually become a significant milestone: it still holds the record for the most recent multi-Test series in women’s cricket.

After three months, the International Cricket Council requested that the Board of Control for Cricket in India take over as the national governing body for women’s cricket, replacing the Women’s Cricket Association of India. This change meant that India’s role in multi-day international cricket diminished significantly. For the past 18 years, England has not played a Test match in the subcontinent, and Australia has been waiting for almost 40 years (since February 10, 1984).

However, the allure of playing a Test match in India remains strong in the minds of female cricketers. According to Heather Knight, England’s captain, it is a must-do experience on a cricketer’s bucket list.

It could also be a potentially tricky situation. Prior to Knight, Charlotte Edwards served as captain the last time England competed in a Test match in India, from November 21-24, 2005 in Delhi. This was Edwards’ first time leading the team and she had to quickly adapt to the role after receiving backlash from the Indian media for her comments about staying in hotels with cockroaches in her ESPNCricinfo tour diary. It is hard to imagine a current press conference expert making a similar statement, but back then, women’s central contracts were still almost a decade away from being introduced by the England and Wales Cricket Board, making it a different era.

Another player on the tour, the exceptionally skilled batter Claire Taylor, remembers, “There were instances of power outages and times when showering was not possible.” The Test match was played at a university ground in Delhi with very few spectators in attendance. There was no grand celebration surrounding the match. England spent their evenings during the Test sorting through their laundry, which had been mistakenly mixed up with the Indian team’s gear during the journey to the hotel.

“The possibilities are endless in India,” stated Laura Macleod, the current director of Cricket at Central Sparks. Macleod, who also opened the batting in the Test alongside Edwards, advises Knight and her team to fully embrace the experience and not become overly focused on controlling every aspect.

“It is a phrase that comes from personal experience: Macleod’s Test performance consisted of scores of six and 16, while her teammates also struggled during the four challenging and hot days. Edwards, who always calls “tails”, had a rough start by losing the toss, allowing India to score 244 for five on the first day. Taylor recalls, “We never felt like we were in the game.” She admits to dropping Mithali Raj early on, when she was only on 17, and Raj went on to score 78. This mistake also resulted in Taylor injuring her right thumb ligament, affecting her performance for the remainder of the tour.”

Mithali Raj of India bats during day two of the Women’s International Test match between Australia and India in 2021

On the second day, England made a comeback by dismissing India for 289 runs. However, Jhulan Goswami, who had recently retired, quickly took six wickets and put England in a difficult position at 61 runs. As day three began, England had to score 37 more runs to avoid the follow-on. In addition, they received more bad news when X-rays showed that their promising fast bowler, Katherine Brunt, had a fractured bone in her left hand and would have to return home.

At the conclusion of the match, England struggled to score 154 runs in total. Meanwhile, India declared their innings on the third evening, setting a challenging target of 311 for England to achieve on the fourth day. Macleod recalls that in the past, it was common to take a slow and steady approach against spinners, wearing them down over time. However, with many fielders crowding around the bat, there was a sense of anticipation and excitement. Unfortunately, Macleod’s time at the crease was short-lived.

During the afternoon session, England had already lost four wickets. The focus shifted to staying strong and not giving up: Jenny Gunn (32 runs off 172 balls), Rosalie Birch (20 runs off 96 balls), and Laura Harper (21 runs off 96 balls) all fulfilled their roles and the game ended in a tie.

However, England’s tour never fully bounced back as they faced five one-day internationals after the Test match, losing four of them. In the fourth match, held in Silchar, they were defeated by the formidable Goswami, with a score of only 50 runs. The situation was made worse by the fact that this humiliation occurred in front of a crowd of 22,000 people who had been given a public holiday to watch the match, which ended up lasting only about 90 minutes.

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During the last ODI, the England team was greatly affected by “Delhi Belly” to the point that they struggled to have eleven players on the field. According to Taylor, it was uncertain who would be the 11th and 12th players. On the day of the match, both Shaggy (Caroline Atkins) and Taylor left the pavilion at the same time for warmups with the rest of the team. The player who had to return to the pavilion first to use the restroom became the 12th man, which ended up being Shaggy.

She sadly concludes that it was not our most successful tour.

The Knight’s team is hoping for a smoother experience, but the initial signs are not promising. England’s A team faced numerous illnesses during their three-match Twenty20 series against India A last week, leading Knight and coach Jon Lewis to enforce strict quarantine measures for anyone moving between the A camp and the main England squad. As a result, Charlie Dean was unable to play in the first T20i. Despite England winning the series 2-1, in the final match on Sunday, the Indian bowlers showed strong performance by limiting the visitors to only 126 runs, with four players getting out without scoring any runs. This may be a familiar situation for England, as the saying “plus ça change” suggests.

Currently, the English batters must change their thinking and recall how to play red-ball cricket over multiple days, which was a format that their 2005 counterparts were more accustomed to than this team. The advancement of women’s cricket is not always straightforward.

However, the BCCI’s choice to schedule consecutive Tests provides some comfort that we may be seeing a resurgence of the longer format for women. Regardless of the outcome, let’s hope it doesn’t take another 18 years for an England team to have the opportunity to play a Test match in India and cross it off their list of goals.

Source: theguardian.com