A seven-year hiatus away from red-ball cricket, the Indian women's cricket team embarked on their journey to England with a hope to carve a niche for themselves in the most challenging format of the game.
Amid the growing concerns of the pandemic, the preparations for the Indian team were far from ideal. The young contingent were coming into this game after a series loss to South Africa at home.
"We have tried to create match scenarios in the time we had. We did not get any practice games, but it is very important for us to adapt to the situation as a player," said Harmanpreet Kaur in a press conference a couple of days prior to the historic Test.
With five debutants in the Indian playing XI, the visitors were asked to bowl first on a wicket conducive for batting. The opening combination of Lauren Winfield-Hill and Tammy Beaumont laid a solid foundation for the home team with a 69-run partnership before Winfield-Hill was caught brilliantly by Taniya Bhatia for a steady 35.
Walking in at number three, Heather Knight, in her 100th appearance as the captain of the national side, produced a masterclass as she anchored the innings with a well compiled 95 to propel England to 269/6 at stumps on Day one.
Debutants shine on Day 2
After a commanding batting performance, England started Day Two steadily with debutant Sophie Dunkley holding fort along with Katherine Brunt. With strokes all around the ground, Dunkley notched her maiden half-century to propel the home team to declare at 396/9 in the first innings.
Over a day and a half in the field chasing leather, Shafali Verma finally took centre stage as the visiting began their innings in purist of a mammoth total.
The 17-year old debutant, along with Smriti Mandhana, made optimum use of the batting conditions to stitch a formidable 167-run opening partnership. Displaying an array of strokes, Verma fell four runs short of a historic hundred in her first appearance donning the Indian whites.
While the visiting side looked set to end the day firmly in control, courtesy of a solid foundation at the top of the order, the wicket of Smriti Mandhana derailed India's batting.
In the final session of the day, Team India lost five wickets for 16 runs and were bundled out for 231 in their first innings. After a solid opening stand, India endured a horrific collapse as they lost the last 10 wickets for just 64 runs.
England enforce follow-on
With an uphill task of surviving a day and a half after England enforced a follow-on, the onus relied on Mandhana and Shafali to bail the side out of this challenging situation.
However, the wicket of Mandhana early in the innings well and truly put England in a commanding position to clinch their maiden win against India at home in the longest format of the game.
With the left-hander dismissed, India promoted Deepti Sharma to number three in the second innings. The move reaped massive dividends as Deepti, along with Shafali, held fort to take the Indian team unscathed to 83/1 at stumps. En route to their partnership, the right-handed batter became the first player to score twin-half centuries on Test debut.
Sneh Rana leads India's fightback
A riveting final day awaited the two sides as India set foot on the Country Ground with an aim to draw the Test. With valuable contributions from Punam Raut and Deepti Sharma's maiden fifty, India looked well on course to safety.
However, the visiting side lost two of their most experienced players, Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, in quick succession to help England inch closer to victory.
A lower-order resistance led by an unbeaten 104-run stand for the ninth wicket between Sneh Rana and Taniya Bhatia helped India register an improbable draw.
Making a comeback into the Indian team after a gap of five years, Rana displayed immense grit and resilience in her unbeaten knock of 80 to help the Indian side script an uncanny escape.
"It's an emotional moment for me, being picked by an India team after five long years. That's an emotional and really proud moment for me, "she revealed on Sky Sports in a post-match interview after her match-saving innings.
A stern test awaits Down Under
While the Indian team managed to hold onto the draw, the pink-ball Test Down Under possesses a different set of challenges for the young contingent.
"It's a different experience for us to play with the pink ball in a day-night game. Usually, the Test is played in the day and what we played against England was with the red ball. So it is going to be very different, " Raj said in the pre-match press conference before the historic Test.
Despite conditions on offer and the Day and Night Test format, which ought to be alien for Raj and her team, the Indian team will take immense confidence from their hard-fought draw against England.
While the onus will be on the experienced campaigners like Raj and Jhulan Goswami to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility, the performance of Shafali and Rana will be critical to India's fortunes across four days.
The tour to England exposed the chink in the armour of Shafali and her struggle with the short-pitch deliveries, and it will be interesting to witness her contest with Ellyse Perry as the duo rekindle their rivalry in the most challenging format of the game.
Thursday, 30th September, marks a glorious chapter in the history of Indian cricket as the team will set foot at the Carrara Oval for their first experience with the Pink-ball.
"Hopefully, it's the start of something really special," Meg Lanning quoted in her pre-match interview, and as fans of the game, we hope it is the marks a new beginning for women's cricket in India.