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Winding back to 2014 - Recounting Wormsley memories

Last updated on 14 Jun 2021 | 09:14 AM
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Winding back to 2014 - Recounting Wormsley memories

Members of the 2014 Test-winning side against England - Shikha Pandey, Niranjana Nagarajan, and others recount their memories

In 2014, the Indian Women’s team, with eight debutants in the side, beat the humongous odds to secure a historic win against the mighty English ladies - a fully professional contracted side. Seven years on, as the side prepare to don the whites once again, spoke to members of that winning side to reminisce their memories of the Wormsley Test.

When I made my debut for India in 2014, I never thought we would be playing a Test match that year. I’ve always enjoyed watching Tests and the longer format is my absolute favourite. India were playing a Test match after eight years and just the thought of playing cricket in whites made us all happy.

I got to know that I was part of the playing XI on the match day morning and I was thrilled beyond words. The mass cap distribution ceremony was something extraordinary and one of the moments that I shall long cherish. I was not intimidated but was a little anxious and nervous. The first spell of pace bowling by Ninja (Niranjana Nagarajan) just settled it all. It was probably the best I have seen a teammate bowl. She bowled like an absolute dream. 

A lot of things seemed like a dream to all of us. The start to our bowling innings by Ninja, the absolute Jaffa by Shubh (Subhalaxmi Sharma) to dismiss Sarah Taylor, Jhulu Di’s four-fer in the second innings, Smriti and Thirush’s opening partnership, and Mithali Di’s half-century in the fourth innings. Also, I was amazed by the crowds that came in to watch us play, every run scored, saved and every wicket taken was appreciated no matter the team. I thoroughly enjoyed every second I was on the field.

Beating England in England was huge. They have been one of the top teams in women’s cricket. Also, considering that they were a fully contracted professional side meant we were not far too behind in our skill set.

I am really excited that there are two Tests in this year’s cricketing itinerary for Indian women. And how amazing would it be to be part of the Test teams after seven years. But I try not to think far too ahead. It’s about getting through one day at a time. One day, one session, one spell, and one ball at a time.

(India’s bowling all-rounder Shikha Pandey made her Test debut against England in Wormsley. She accounted for three wickets - Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Winfield-Hill, and Kate Cross - apart from hitting the winning run for India.)

That tour is extremely special for me because I missed out on the World Cup before it. Once I got to know that the tour was on, I worked really hard for it. Our preparation for that was in Bangalore. And I think we prepared well as a team — like how to go about Test cricket and how to approach the game because the team was used to playing one-day cricket. The mindset of the players was transferred to play Test cricket — how to approach it. And eight of us were debutantes also. So, it all started there, at Bangalore, in the camp. But even during my preparation in my hometown, I started bowling more with the red ball. I just wanted to check how it was reacting on different surfaces.

When we landed in England, we played with their conditions during the practice sessions. We had a practice game also, [which was] really nice for us to get acclimatized to the situation, though we'd been in England before. When we actually had a few center-wicket sessions and one practice game was given for us to warm up, we had an idea. 

On the day of the Test match, we knew that England was a good side. But then, we also knew that if we are there 100%, wanting to win the game, wanting to dominate it — Test match is all about sessions, you know. You need to be on top, keep dominating session by session, and that's how you win Test matches. We wanted to dominate through the session, considering the fact that they were used to playing Test games and most of us were playing for the first time. We had legends like Mithali and Jhulan guiding us. It was a surreal feeling for the rest of the eight of us.

Basically, we bowled first in that Test match and Jhulan was opening from that end. It was overcast conditions, so I knew there was something for bowlers on the wicket. But then I wouldn't rate that wicket as a complete bowler’s track; it was practically neutral. But since it is England, I felt there will be something extra for the bowlers. So when Mithali gave me the ball for the second over, I still remember, she said, “I want you to hit the length. I don't want you to think of anything else. As you come, hit the length hard.” 

So the first few balls itself I came to know what happened. It was a Duke's ball. I started to kind of realize what was needed for me to be there. The fifth ball of the first tour, I got the wicket. And out of the four wickets, that was the wicket I cherished the most because Charlotte Edwards is one of their legends. She is the top-rated batter there. I respect her on and off the field and I'm honored to play alongside her. 

All the four wickets were precious for me, but then that one set up the tone for me and the team — it was really a special moment. Once the first over was finished, it started raining. So that wicket actually set it up for us to be on top of them. And so, when we came back, I knew [because] it rained, it would help the bowlers more — the movement off the wicket would be better for the bowlers. And all I had to do was to come and give my 100% effort on the delivery. And there are days when you feel as you run and deliver it, that nothing can go wrong for you. It was that kind of a day for me. I just wanted wickets that day. 

For it to sink in that I'm actually playing a Test game for India, it took me till the end of the day’s play. Once that spell was finished, we went inside. and I was batting inside. Before I could realize it, they came back very hard, and I had to pad up, go in, and we were asked to see through that day — we were 64 or six, I think, when I went in. I realized how tough it is for the batter and the bowlers to play Test cricket only when I finished batting, too, because I experienced doing both on the same day.

When I see men playing Test cricket, it is very easy to say that, ‘They just have to see through the time; he just has to keep bowling on the same length’. But to actually do it, it takes a lot of effort. It takes double the effort of one-day cricket for you to play Test cricket — mentally and physically. 

So we just had to see through the time. We actually thought — myself and Jhulan — that there was probably 20 minutes of play left. But since it had rained, there was one hour and 15 minutes of play left. We spoke to the umpire, we weren't expecting it. So we decided that we were not gonna do anything. We were gonna see through time. Next day morning, we can see whatever it is. And, we did that. I still remember the last ball I faced on day one, I just wanted the bowler to bowl outside off-stump for me to leave it. And it exactly happened. So it was a perfect day; perfect memories for me on the first day. And the second day, I thought I was batting well. And I was sort of unlucky to get out on 27. In a way, I'm happy because I contributed to the team's cause. We had that slender lead which put us on the front foot.

I'm very grateful for the 27 actually. But since I love batting, I thought it was an opportunity for me to go on for at least a 50. I thought that the ball was going down leg, but since it was a bowler’s track, the benefit was given to the bowlers. That's part of cricket. But still 27 was crucial for the team, so I was happy. At the end of the day, for me, India has to win.  Then, we came back and they fought hard. See, they’re a professional side too, and they would’ve planned the second innings really well.

Jenny Gunn was tough for us — she was really good with the bat, and with the ball also. We didn't want ourselves to bat twice. That was the plan. But England is an experienced Test side, they knew what they had to do to get us to bat again. So that's exactly what they did. They fought very hard. Shubh got those two wickets in quick succession during the second innings, which was very crucial for us. That was a very crucial phase. That was also a very important part of the Test match. We were set up with a target of 181 if I'm right. 

We were very superstitious about the places — I am very superstitious about my batting and how I get padded up, etc. I always wear my right pad first. And then there are a few things that I need like, I need to be sitting alone before I go into bat. Even when I played for Tamil Nadu or Railways, I had to be sitting separately for me to get zoned in for the match. And then there’s my bandana, which I've been using for years now. I'm very particular about that. But for six, seven years, I've been using the same thing. I use it only for my matches and net sessions — nowhere else, I lost that bandana once, but I made sure I searched for it on the ground, and I got it back. 

When we started batting second, me and Mithali were there. The dressing room is kind of compact. So we go in and there's a small kind of a window through which you can see the ground. So we watched from there and India were doing well. And she was standing there. She has the habit of reading a book and watching, and I was only watching the match. When it was her turn to bat, I was standing there only throughout the day. I also requested my team members not to move from their places because we were batting well. And everybody respected that. That was how much we wanted that win. It was a surprise — even the management. I said, ‘Please, nobody's gonna move.’ So everybody sits in the same place — the physio, the coach, the trainer. Everybody accepted it. It just tells us how much that victory mattered to us. The manager — Cavatina Patel from Baroda — was also very nice. 

I requested them to stay in the same place. And so they did it. We were so nervous on the fourth day morning when we came down from the hotel room. It’s like how you feel just before you enter the exam hall — it's the last phase. It was a surreal feeling. At the same time, there was a kind of butterfly feeling. The victory was so close, but you've still not achieved it. 60 runs were required on the fourth day. I was counting every run which was scored from the first ball. It was beautiful to see how the batters implemented also; no risky shots, just leaving the ball outside off-stump; just pure Test match cricket. Winning the Test was beautiful. All of us ran inside and we hugged. 

(Niranjana Nagarajan has played 22 ODIs, 14 T20Is, 2 Test matches for India. She accounted for four wickets in England’s first innings apart from contributing an important 27 runs to help India arrest the collapse.)

That Test match was something very memorable because we had about eight debutantes in the team. And it was definitely very challenging because obviously, England were the favorites. It was a very new experience because we're a bunch of young players, gearing up to go play against a formidable side like England. They had the experience of playing the Ashes over the years. However, when we got into the ground, we had the feel that one gets for representing your country in a Test format. That is something that you feel very proud about and that could be remembered for the rest of your years: the first time that you get to represent your country. 

The innings that I had played in the second innings is one of my favorite memories of playing Test cricket. That was something that helped our team get the right balance to have a proper chase. When we had batted in the first innings, we didn't put much on the board. So when we were chasing, we, as a batting unit, had something planned. When me and Smriti got on to bat, the thing that the management wanted out of us was to see off the shine of the ball. It was important for us to play that many balls in order to get the morale of the opposite team down. The more your openers give a longer partnership, that sets the base for a proper chase. I think that innings of Smriti and myself were something that really pops when I think about winning the Test match and my contribution to that. That was a very fond memory of the Wormsley Test. 

The one thing that was missing is like, we were all waiting in a waiting room when Mithu Di and Shikha scored the winning runs, we just ran out of the dressing room with so much happiness. Words would fall short to express the kind of feeling that we all felt like a team. All our players rushed to the ground. Nobody expected India to beat England. In the worst case, people would have expected to have a draw with a formidable side like England. Beating them in their own soil was something that was really very remarkable. When both of them ― Mithu di and Shikha ― were batting, we were all just sitting together and praying as every run was scored and we were inching towards the target. 

Whatever matches that we have been part of, or I've been part of, superstitions is something I think most of us follow. Even, you know, you see both the spectators also at home or even when your own family members watch the game, that is the kind of superstition that runs across the whole country. We were all, like I mentioned, one fond memory that I have is, when at the end, Mithu Di and Shikha were playing, we were just so glued ― how many runs we scored, how much more needed. The closer we got, the more we were excited. Yeah, that partnership was very important in the chase. 

I can still remember the day before that. I mean, we were having dinner together, and we were so nervous about what was going to happen the next day. Mithu di was the only batter who was batting, and we had runs to chase. And she played a very beautiful knock. So that whole feel started about the chase right before the last day. That whole match was very dramatic ― every innings that we played, we had new experiences. There were moments when we were on high, but when you play one-day format or T20s, you don't really see the game drift [towards] the opposition, then come back to you. There's very limited stuff like that happening. But particularly on that Test that we played, there were too many drifts in the matches. Like there were few moments when the match was in England's hands, and then it came back to us. So we had to win sessions to bring that remarkable victory. So that whole experience is something that I would cherish forever.

(MD Thirush Kamini made her Test debut in Wormsley and has played 2 Tests, 39 ODIs, and 3 T20Is since then. She and Smriti Mandhana had a 76-run partnership in the second innings to lay the foundation for India’s historic win in Wormsley.)

With eight debutants in our side, England had thought it would be a walk-over of sorts for them. We had heard before the game that England wanted to bat first, post a huge total, and get us out twice easily. I think that sort of inspired the girls to play well. Also, the fact that our girls didn’t have any baggage, wanting to go and raring to perform. 

We did have match simulations in Bangalore, players had got their heads down and practiced hard for the Test. In a way, we were fairly confident of our abilities. When Niranjana took four wickets to set things up for us and England were all out for some 92, things were pretty much in place for us. The game was really fast if you look at it and that allowed all of us in some way to settle down easily.

When Mithali and Shikha were batting in the second innings of our run-chase, we had some usual superstitious things like not moving from our position and all sorts of things. Unfortunately, I was standing with one leg on a ledge. I had to stand like that for the entire innings. Someone was standing inside the loo, they couldn’t move their position. 

When Shikha hit that winning run, all hell broke loose and the celebration went on and on and on. Perhaps one of my moments as an Indian coach and a former Indian player. During the game, we had Hindi music going on and the English support staff were really irritated because of that. It was a superb experience and one that I will never forget.

(Sudha Shah is a former Indian coach and a pioneer of Women’s cricket in India. She was the Head Coach of the Indian Women’s side that beat England in England. She was conferred with the BCCI Life-time Achievement Award.)

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