“Any Test is special, but a Test match in India, you think of the raging turners, people batting in their Baggy Greens, and the fifth day survival stories from the men’s Tests, and you go, ‘okay, I just want some of that.”
Phoebe Litchfield is ready, Australia are ready. It is Australia’s first-ever visit to the sub-continent for a red-ball game since 1984, and that came much before any of the current squad members were born. Litchfield is 20, and she could only remember the men’s team struggling to cope with the ‘dusty’ pressure.
Just a week ago, England came similarly high on confidence into the Test, only to be obliterated three days later by an Indian spin unit spearheaded by Deepti Sharma. It has never before happened in a long time that Indian women have been given two Tests in just a week.
Perhaps it is a sign of changing times.
Maybe red-ball cricket can help the women’s sport grow, and these two Tests can be part of the larger picture to change the thoughts of some bureaucracy. The nature of this tour is quite tricky for the visitors, who will spend a festive period abroad for the first time since 2004, where they will have to seek comfort in each other’s company.
"It couldn’t be a better tour for Midge and myself in our first full-time leadership roles," Tahlia McGrath told The Scoop podcast.
The occasion couldn’t have gotten much grander for the Australian women’s team. They have always meant business, but beating India in India in such stark conditions could be the starting point of Alyssa Healy’s captaincy era.
(Image Courtesy: Cricket Australia)
Unlike England, Australia will take the field after familiarising themselves with the conditions against a red-soil challenge. Just a few days prior to the one-off Test, the Australian team were seen gearing up for the bigger challenge in a clash against Mumbai XI, where they got crucial game time in such conditions.
Both teams will be well aware that spin will be a big threat, as is always the case in sub-continental conditions. But unlike DY Patil, which hosted the one-off Test between India women and England women, the conditions at Wankhede Stadium could offer a much-prolonged relief for the batters early on in the clash.
It is no secret that teams would target batting first in such conditions, especially with how the pitches in the sub-continent turn into a dusty bowl as the days progress.
"(Batting on Test wickets in India) is a challenge, but it's lots of fun,” Phoebe added, straightaway showing that Australia have done their preparation ahead of the clash.
A big test for Healy
Healy couldn’t have asked for a tougher first assignment, and the bigger thing is that Australia only have a squad of 13 to choose from for the one-off Test, with Heather Graham and Megan Schutt all arriving late or only picked for the white-ball clashes.
Left-arm pacer Lauren Cheatle is in contention for a spot in the playing XI, but Australia would have to take a call between including another pacer or picking a spin bowling all-rounder who could strengthen the squad. That’s the biggest task for Healy in her first full-time assignment as the captain.
Australia would like to pin their hopes on the form of Litchfield, who, over the last 16 months, has grown from strength to strength to become one of the first names on the playing XI. She only debuted earlier in the year against England in Nottingham, where she scored 69 runs across two innings, showing her worth with a 46 in the second dig, where she grew in confidence.
Healy herself is just recovering fully from a freak injury, which kept her out of the ninth edition of the Women’s Big Bash League, and on her return, the right-handed batter scored an unbeaten fifty, where she looked confident. Beth Mooney, too, timed her innings to perfection with some sumptuous shots in the warm-up clash against a select Bombay XI.
Deepti’s form could keep India in good stead
India, though, are pretty confident. So much so that the head coach Amol Muzumdar has gone on to name the off-spinning all-rounder Deepti Sharma “Ben Stokes”. While Australia wouldn’t want that name to ring around the cauldron on December 21 (Thursday), they would want to keep an eye on Deepti’s form.
Deepti picked up figures of 9/39 in the one-off Test against England at the DY Patil Stadium, including having figures of 5/7 in the first innings, where she turned the ball a mile. It wasn’t just that; the fact that the ball was kept low made Deepti much more menacing than she was in the first place.
There were visible cracks for the off-spinner, and England paid a price for not keeping their line and length tights. Meanwhile, Deepti just kept it simple, something that she would also try to emulate at the Wankhede.
India’s batting: stellar and threatening
Having opted to bat first, India did not put a foot wrong. Never. It was as one-sided as domination could get in world cricket. The fact that one of the strongest red-ball units - England - cracked under that pressure could give the Australian bowling unit a slight tremor.
Even having the World’s No.1 spinner, Sophie Ecclestone, did not mean much with how England bowled in the first innings. India just ate up the bowling attack like it was a piece of cake, scoring at a steady pace of 4.09 in the first dig. Satheesh Shubha was at her dominant best on her debut, scoring 69 off 76 deliveries. But unfortunately, a fracture means that she would be replaced by either Harleen Deol or Richa Ghosh.
The partnership between Harmanpreet Kaur and Yastika Bhatia (116 off 146) was at a good clip, making the England bowlers work doubly hard for every wicket. India will bring a lot of this confidence into the clash, knowing that their batting can take a good bowling unit head-on.
How does the make-up of the two sides look?
Given that Shubha Satheesh fractured her finger, there is a strong chance that one of Harleen Deol or Richa Ghosh could feature in the XI.
India’s Predicted XI: Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Deepti Sharma, Yastika Bhatia (wk), Sneh Rana, Pooja Vastrakar, Renuka Thakur Singh, Rajeshwari Gayakwad
Australia have a choice to make in a squad of 13, and how they will go about things will depend a lot on what Shelley Nitschke and the team saw from their practice clash. Will the left-arm pacer Lauren Cheatle get her Baggy Green? That’s perhaps a tricky selection call.
Australia’s Predicted XI: Beth Mooney, Phoebe Litchfield, Ellyse Perry, Tahlia McGrath, Jess Jonassen, Alyssa Healy (c & wk), Ashleigh Gardner, Annabel Sutherland, Alana King, Kim Garth, Darcie Brown