Heroic rearguard effort from the Indians helps them steal a draw.
India’s lower order held on to a thrilling draw that saw the hosts frustrated and delaying their wait for a first home win in 16 years. A draw might feel like a loss for the English team, with the Brits dominating for most of the test match.
This match was more than anything but just a test match for the Indians. Playing their first red-ball match in seven years and fielding five debutants, this was a game that reiterated the importance of the game’s most incredible format for generations to come. Post this one-off test, one can hope that four-day games are played more regularly in women’s cricket.
Hosts England began on a positive note, after electing to bat first, as their openers set a solid foundation which the English skipper Heather Knight built on beautifully. A craft 95, along with able contributions from Tammy Beaumont (66), debutant Sophia Dunkley (74*), Nat Sciver (42), and Lauren Winfield-Hill (35), saw the hosts post a healthy 369/9 in their first innings before declaring. The Indian bowlers toiled hard and had it not been for Sneh Rana’s four-wicket haul and Deepti Sharma’s three, England would have piled on more misery on the visitors. The Indians started off strongly with hopes of a first-innings lead looking likely. The ever-graceful Smriti Mandhana paired with aggressively free-flowing debutant Shafali Verma gave the visitors the best start they could ask for. The duo put on 167 for the opening stand, with Verma missing out on a well-deserved century by four runs. After Verma’s senior opening partner Mandhana tried to up the ante and perished for a well-made 78, the floodgates opened for the hosts. India lost their next six wickets for a mere 20 runs that left them struggling at 197-8. A resilient Deepti Sharma with Pooja Vastrakar managed to get the Indians past the 200 mark, but an absolute peach from Katherine Brunt, an unplayable delivery which pitched on leg stump and kissed the top of off-stump saw India bundle out for 231. For the Brits, Sophie Ecclestone was the chief wrecker with 4/88. Trailing by 165 (the follow-on score is 150 in women’s cricket), saw England enforcing the follow-on, and unless the Indian batting line-up had an ace up their sleeves, it looked like a comfortable victory for the hosts.
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The second innings got off to possibly the worst possible start with the Indians losing Mandhana, nicking to second slip early on, giving England the advantage going into lunch on Day 3. Coming agonizingly close to her first century in the first innings, Shafali Verma and fellow debutant Deepti Sharma rebuilt the innings, and Verma looked set for a century once again. Verma though, failed to put away a rank full toss from Ecclestone and held out at long-on, missing out on what could and should have been her second century in just as many innings. Post that, it was an extreme display of defiance and resilience from the visitors that saw them scrape out an unlikely draw. With big guns, captain Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, failing to register big scores or spend enough time in the middle, the youngsters Deepti Sharma (54 of 168), Punam Raut (39 of 104), Shikha Pandey (18 of 50), Tanya Bhatia (44* of 88) and Sneh Rana (80* of 154) put up a strong show to hold on to a thrilling draw. After a strong partnership by Sharma and Raut that saw India at 171/3, Ecclestone caused problems for the Indians once again with a couple of quick wickets that left the visitors staring down defeat at 199/7.
Enter Sneh Rana and Shika Pandey. A debutant and a no.9 all-rounder, the result was all but certain. But a hundred ball partnership saw the Indians come close to a miraculous escape before Pandey got out in the worst way possible, caught behind, down the leg. India’s no.10 and wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia joined Rana in an attempt to steal a draw. The next session saw supreme effort from both Indian batters who saw them overcome everything the hosts threw. Even though Rana ended up not out on 80, missing out on a debut century, she happily accepted the draw when England skipper Heather Knight offered to call it off with the visitors being 179 ahead at the end of day 4.
Shafali Verma’s fantastic start to her Test career along with Rana’s all-around performance and the lower order, especially Pandey and Bhatia’s herculean efforts, showcased the talent the Indian system has and given proper exposure and development, what that talent can do. At the end of a thrilling test match, there was probably enough evidence to support and raise calls for more red-ball matches in women’s cricket moving ahead.