It was summer of 2014 in UK. Natalie Sciver steamed in and delivered an outswinger to Shikha Pandey, who was batting at 24* with the India captain Mithali Raj at the non-striker’s end. As Shikha casually guided the ball towards the cover boundary for a four, a team with 8 players donning the whites for the first time ever for Indian Women, won the Test match against England in England with 6 wickets in hand. The same team went on to win the only other Test match scheduled that year, against South Africa in November. And then they never played another Test for seven years.
The Indian Women Test team, having an impeccable record in the format since the beginning of this century, where they have won four out of 10 matches, drawn five and lost only one, stayed hugely deprived of this format throughout the years. When it was announced this year on International Women’s Day that India is going to play a Test match with England again this year after this long wait, it felt like a dream come true moment for many young players in the team and as well as the fans. Many players including Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami expressed their joy and thanked the board.
But is India ready to take on England?
Past records are hugely in favor of India. They are still unbeaten in this format in English soil. They have won two of the eight matches they played, and have drawn the rest. Point to note here is, they won those two matches eight years apart, with only 3 players in common. Even though the current English side have more experience in playing the red ball format, we cannot write team India off as they are known to somehow pull it off with or without practice, just like they did seven years ago by beating the Ashes-winning side in their home.
Is this Indian Women Test side capable of repeating the history?
When the Indian Women Test squad was announced, experts and fans almost unanimously agreed that these were the best possible selections. The squad comprising of experienced and young guns alike, is hugely balanced. But the tough part starts now, choosing the best XI that takes the ground on June 16th. With very less reference of performance in red ball cricket, its almost impossible to predict how the players will accommodate to this format.
With multiple records behind their name, Raj and Goswami are the only two players with moderate experience in red ball cricket, whereas Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur, Shikha Pandey, Punam Raut and Ekta Bisht have also got just a little taste of red-ball cricket. The rest of the squad is completely new and thus it makes the selection interesting.
Shafali Verma is a popular choice to open the innings with Mandhana, but for Shafali it will be a direct jump from the shortest format to longest format of the game. The world no. 1 T20 batter is yet to play an ODI match for India. Although, if she is able to accommodate and plays her natural game, she can pull the match towards India in just one session.
Jemimah Rodrigues on the other hand is another contender for the batting unit. With major experience of playing in the English conditions, Jemimah is a popular choice among the fans for her outstanding fielding ability as well. She will be an asset for India in the slip or short leg positions in a game where India needs 20 wickets to win.
Priya Puniya has also shown good temperament and has proven that she has everything that is needed to be successful in the longer format.
With so many options in hand it will be interesting to see whom the management selects as the fifth batter with Mandhana, Raj, Raut and Kaur.
In bowling department, Goswami and Pandey are certain to start. The pitch for the upcoming game will be a used one, which could mean heavy assistance for the slower bowlers. As all of India’s part time bowlers are spinners, it is very possible for India to start with a third seamer in the playing 11, but it should not come in as a surprise if two specialist spinners take the field.
However, with no practice matches as reference, there is a lot of tough decisions to be made for this Indian Women Test side.
Will they be able to surprise and conquer England just like they did last time with an even younger team? Or will they give in to the pressure?
One thing is certain, whatever the results may be, the fans will be glued to the TV screen to experience every moment of the first-ever televised Test match of the Indian Women Test team.