In the last couple of years, the Indian women’s cricket team have breached barriers both in terms of performance and public perception.
Never before has the women’s game seen a more universal following across India and the record-breaking viewership figures from the recently-concluded ICC Women’s T20 World Cup are further proof.
But even as we celebrate the rise in popularity as a consequence of reaching the finals of both the ODI World Cup (in 2017) and T20 World Cup (2020), it’s hard not to rue the one that got away – Test cricket.
Some of the recently-turned fans and followers after the twin runner-up trophies in 2017 and 2020 might not know or remember, but there was a time, not too long ago when India not only play Test cricket but notched up historic wins, even in England.
Of course, even then women’s Test cricket was a sporadic affair at best, but the 2014 victory in England – in the one-off Test that had replaced the series – was special in many ways for Indian cricket.
Turn back the clock to the English summer in 2014 and many Indian fans will recall a few other pivotal moments. India winning a Test match at Lord’s after a sensational spell by Ishant Sharma or Virat Kohli’s infamous lull in form that is still discussed. While the men’s team lost the five-Test series 1-3, the women went on to win their stand-alone Test at Wormsley by six wickets.
It was not difficult for many to have missed on this bit of news – the one-off Test did not have a fraction of the coverage or conversation surrounding women’s cricket today. But even with the lack of fanfare, the effort was extraordinary; it was almost an unbelievable win.
First up, India were playing a Test match after almost eight years. Their last five-day game was also in England, back in 2002 when Mithali Raj – whose Test double century also came in the country – led India to their first-ever Test win there.
Secondly, eight of the Playing XI were making their Test debut, a list that included Punam Raut, Harmanpreet Kaur, Shikha Pandey, star of the first innings Niranjana Nagarajan and star of the second innings, an 18-year-old Smriti Mandhana. Only three of the players – Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Karu Jain – had donned the whites previously.
Third, India were still a semi-professional out with no central contracts for the women’s cricketers unlike their opponents.
And then there were the on-field odds. England were the reigning Ashes champion with plenty of experience. India were a player down while chasing in the fourth innings as Shubhlakshmi Sharma had injured her shoulder.
But in a moment that should be celebrated more often, a rookie Indian side beat England for the second straight time on their home soil, even after eight years. Raj, Goswami and Jain were a part of that side too.
All Test matches/series India Women have played
|West Indies in India Test Series||1976/77||drawn||1-1 (6)|
|India in New Zealand Test Match||1976/77||drawn||0-0 (1)|
|India in Australia Test Match||1976/77||Australia||1-0 (1)|
|Australia in India Test Series||1983/84||drawn||0-0 (4)|
|New Zealand in India Test Series||1984/85||drawn||0-0 (3)|
|India in England Test Series||1986||drawn||0-0 (3)|
|India in Australia Test Series||1990/91||Australia||2-0 (3)|
|India in New Zealand Test Match||1994/95||drawn||0-0 (1)|
|England in India Test Series||1995/96||England||1-0 (3)|
|India in England Test Match||1999||drawn||0-0 (1)|
|England in India Test Match||2001/02||drawn||0-0 (1)|
|India in South Africa Test Match||2001/02||India||1-0 (1)|
|India in England Test Series||2002||drawn||0-0 (2)|
|New Zealand in India Test Match||2003/04||drawn||0-0 (1)|
|England in India Test Series||2005/06||drawn||0-0 (1)|
|India in Australia Test Series||2005/06||Australia||1-0 (1)|
|India in England Test Series||2006||India||1-0 (2)|
|India in England Test Match||2014||India||1-0 (1)|
|South Africa in India Test Match||2014/15||India||1-0 (1)|
Here’s how the four-day Test panned out.
Mithali Raj won the toss and elected to bowl first – a gamble for many. But the Indian bowling lineup – Goswami, Niranjana, Pandey, Bisht and Sharma – skittled the hosts for only 92 runs. It should be noted that this was a batting unit consisting of heavyweights, many of those who are still around: Charlotte Edwards, Heather Knight, Sarah Taylor, Tammy Beaumont, Jenny Gunn, Nat Sciver.
But Niranjana’s figures read 14.2-6-19-4 – a match-winning spell right at the start – but for India being bowled out for 114 in their first innings. Niranjana top-scored with 27 while Mandhana made 22 on debut as the visitors took a slender lead. Jenny Gunn took a fifer, Kate Cross got three.
In the next innings, England’s batting showed up as they made 202 with a half-century for Gunn and four wickets for Goswami. India were set a target of 181 in the fourth innings to win against a solid bowling lineup. And then the batters stepped up and how.
The opening stand between Thirush Kamini and Mandhana was worth 76 alone and the teen opener went on to score a sublime half-century to keep India in the hunt. Heading into the final day, India needed 62 runs to win with six wickets in hand (five in reality, given the injury to Sharma.)
It may looked a simple ask, with someone as solid as Raj on crease. And the captain led the inexperienced unit from the front with another fifty, partnering Raut and then Pandey, who hit the winning runs.
The celebration from the bench was ecstatic – uprooted stumps and pitch kisses. It was a big win for a young Indian team, a Test won in England, by a rookie, semi-professional band of women. It was a memorable one for fans, even those who paid more attention to Dhoni and Co.
Back then, it even looked like a win for Test cricket; this was the first encounter in seven years to not feature England and Australia. India’s win could have been the push the format needed, a call echoed by Raj, Goswami, Diana Edulji among others.
But it was not be as Wormsley was the penultimate Test India played. In fact, 2014 was the last year India played a Test match. Maybe if this landmark win happened more recently, the future of the format would have panned out differently. But as things stand, the Ashes is the only women’s Test cricket going around.
England: 92 and 202
India: 114 & 183/4
Here’s the highlights of all four days