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Unique challenges await India and England in the Navi Mumbai Test

Last updated on 13 Dec 2023 | 11:18 AM
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Unique challenges await India and England in the Navi Mumbai Test

Women's Tests are a rarity not a norm, and when the Indian women will meet England at DY Patil, both teams will have to wade through a sea of unknowns

“Eid ka chaand (Eid’s moon)” goes a famous Urdu/Hindi saying. 

Test matches in women’s cricket are Eid ka chaand because they are so rare. 

The last time the Indian women played a red ball game at home was in 2014, in Mysore against South Africa. It was Smriti Mandhana, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, and Harmanpreet Kaur’s second Test, and they are the only surviving members from that clash. 

Many present-day squad members were mostly back in school then, and Shafali Verma was only 10! 

How does one build up for a Women’s Test in a situation like this? Maybe that’s why all the build-up for this Test has been about the novelty of red-ball cricket in the Women’s game. 

Very little has been said by the players and the experts about the cricket itself. 

That’s also because performances in Women’s Tests are not seen as an end in themselves. They become a means to establish that your gender doesn't decide your capability of playing the longest and most respected format of the sport. Runs and wickets become part of the cricketers’ pitch to cricket boards to hold more such games. 

“The games in England and Australia proved to be a great experience for us, in terms of playing Tests,” Smriti Mandhana said in a press conference before the one-off Test match in Navi Mumbai on December 14. 

“We will now be playing two Tests in the span of 15 days, and I think this is the first time we’re going to be playing back-to-back Tests. That’s really exciting for us. Hopefully, we can get a lot more of these series (going forward).”

Two Tests within 15 days, and then none for the foreseeable future. The funniest (and the bleakest) part is that even getting a Test match after a great performance isn’t guaranteed. Moreover, the lack of a fifth day further leads to a disproportionately large number of draws. 

That’s the state of Test cricket in the women’s game. Except for India, Australia, and England, teams like New Zealand and South Africa have hardly played Tests in the last decade. Legends like Suzie Bates have never stepped on the field in their whites. Moreover, no domestic women’s red-ball cricket is happening anywhere now. 

A unique challenge 

Mandhana identifies this uphill task as more of a mental adjustment than a skill-based one. She said in the press conference, “More than the physical part, it’s the mental part that will be challenging - you’ll have to stay tuned in for four full days, and the way you’ll bat will also change. So yes, we’ve done a lot of mental preparation leading up to the game.”

The English side is facing the same issues as well. “… there are more nerves [while playing Test cricket] because we haven’t mastered it because we haven’t had the opportunity to master it.” That’s what English opener Tammy Beaumont said in the press conference. She even dwelled on the ridiculous difference between the number of Tests played by men and women. 

“You look at someone like Danni Wyatt - she debuted at Trent Bridge at 32. You are constantly a young player at Test cricket, no matter how old your body feels. In the men's game, 10 Tests is not even a career; that's just a start." 

England have a “turn-twister” to deal with

In such a scenario, the conditions pose an even bigger challenge. The pitch at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai has been great for batting. Even a day before the Test, it looks pristine to bat on. However, as red soil pitches generally do, it might crumble as the game goes on, and that’s when the game would open up, as both sides have elite spinners in their ranks. 

After the boom boom bang of T20I cricket, the English batters will be challenged mentally as they would look to concentrate hard and bat long and big. Tammy Beaumont had scored a 208 in the Women’s Ashes Test this year and would be a key batter for the English side along with skipper Heather Knight, who would love to actualise her own words by getting her “head right and embracing the challenge”. 

However, in that same Women’s Ashes Test in Nottingham, Ashleigh Gardner (an off-spinner) picked up 12 wickets in two innings, including an eight-wicket haul in the second innings. The English batters capitulated even when the ball wasn’t turning square, so they will have to be more careful on a surface that can turn and bounce quite early. 

None of the English batters have any experience playing a Test in India, let alone the experience of playing the turning ball on red soil wickets. No one in their support staff do either. Meanwhile, India have the likes of Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Sneh Rana, along with Deepti Sharma, who are masters at deception in the air and then deviation off the pitch. They not only give more air to the ball than Gardner, but they also turn it more as well. 

England batters must be at the best of their game if they wish to tackle the Indian spinners. The signs do not look great for them, as they struggled in the third WT20I on a tricky pitch that was gripping just a bit. England's only solace is that they have one of the best spinners in women’s cricket and can do the same damage to India.

Sophie Ecclestone vs the Indian batters will be the contest to watch out for in the Test. Apart from Mandhana and Deepti Sharma, most Indian batters struggle against Ecclestone in white-ball cricket. With the SG ball that would turn and bounce, Ecclestone might just go nuclear. 

However, the last two times India played a Test (against England and Australia), their batting stood up both times, with Shafali scoring a 96 on debut in England and Mandhana scoring a hundred in Australia. This time, India would look to repeat the same good deeds despite a shorter turnaround time between the WT20I series and the lone Test.

India's probable XI: Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Richa Ghosh (wk), Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Meghna Singh/Titas Sadhu, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Renuka Singh 

England's probable XI: Tammy Beaumont, Sophia Dunkley, Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver-Brunt, Danni Wyatt, Amy Jones (wk), Charlie Dean, Sophie Ecclestone, Kate Cross, Lauren Bell, Lauren Filer/Kirstie Gordon


As the Test begins in less than 24 hours from now, both teams will be entering a largely unascertained territory. Their combinations would be new. The conditions would be new. There’s no one in form or out of form. 

It’s a plain, blank white canvas. 

Maybe the English would paint it red after the four days. Maybe the Indian women would paint it blue. Or maybe it would be a mix of both, as both captains shake hands and depart from the aberrant anomaly of Women’s Tests, with no return guaranteed. 

However, there will always be a hope that the canvas won't be blank the next time they return to it. Or if that is too much to hope for the cynical world we live in, then at least this bunch of women cricketers could hope that the runs and wickets they'll earn won’t just serve as brownie points they could cash in as leverage for more Tests. 

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