The Indian cricket team led by Mithali Raj will be playing a Test match after seven years, and are drawing on the experience of their veterans and landmark wins over England along with a positive mindset at returning to the longer format.
Despite inadequate preparation time in English conditions due to quarantine, and lack of practice matches and recent experience with the red ball in general, captain Mithali Raj was confident about her team ahead of the one-off Test in Bristol starting Wednesday.
While the hosts appear to be the favourites given form and the familiarity with the format, India can take inspiration from their past record in England, where they have never lost in eight games and won two Tests.
The last time India played a Test in England back in 2014, the team scored a memorable six-wicket win with seven debutants in the mix. Captain Mithali, a teenaged Smriti Mandhana starred with the bat in the second innings while Jhulan Goswami and Niranjana Nagarajan put up a display to remember with the red ball.
Seven members of that team – Mithali, Goswami, Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur, Punam Raut, Shikha Pandey, Ekta Bisht – are still around, and that experience would count for something against a seasoned English side that has played at least a few more Tests in the Ashes series. India will also look to make a mark with young talent, with 17-year-old batting sensation Shafali Verma, wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia and all-rounder Deepti Sharma almost certain to be handed debuts.
The big questions
The biggest question mark for India will be the team combination, specifically in the bowling department.
Batting is expected to be India’s strength with the seasoned Mandhana and teenage Verma possibly at the top of the order. A lot will also ride on the experienced middle-order trio of Mithali, Harmanpreet and Punam Raut in what will be challenging conditions. With the top five thus set, and Bhatia likely at No 7, it remains to be seen if Jemimah Rodrigues, or even Priya Punia, make it to the playing XI. The visitors already have batting all-rounders in the form of Sharma and Pandey.
When it comes to bowling, India will rely heavily on pace spearhead Goswami and her long-time new-ball partner Pandey for breakthroughs. It remains to be seen how they will deal with bowling long spells, having not done so for a while. There will also be a toss-up between Pooja Vastrakar and Arundhati Reddy for the third pacer’s slot, if India go with the three-pacers-two-spinners formula. The veteran Bisht will most likely find a place and partner with Sharma but the skill of Poonam Yadav and Radha Yadav could also be utilised. The spinners, who had a forgettable time in their last outing in the limited overs series against South Africa at home, could play a crucial holding role and possibly be aided by the fact that the game will be played on a slightly used pitch.
In a decision that was criticised by many, the pitch at the Bristol’s County Ground was used for a Gloucestershire T20 match last week. England captain Heather Knight expressed displeasure and said they tried to get it changed, as they would want to play on a fresh strip. However, due to the late addition of the Test (mid-April), the England and Wales Cricket Board said they could not arrange a fresh wicket.
There could also be some respite in store for the batters with England using the Kookaburra over Dukes ball, usually used in England.
Mithali said that while the team has just had net sessions in preparation, they made sure the younger players got a feel of the conditions playing in whites and get used to the red ball. At the same time, she did not want the youngsters to be burdened with expectations and just enjoy the game. This was evident even before the team left India, with a special ceremony to hand over Test jerseys. India will also be playing a Test against Australia later in the year, but that will be a day-night one.
If the Indian team plays to their immense potential, they will always be in with a chance to win despite the form guide and England’s superior match awareness and practise. After all, the last time they were in England their fearless cricket took them to the final of the 2017 World Cup. But whatever the outcome, this Test will be an important start, or restart, for Indian women’s cricket.
India: Mithali Raj (captain), Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), Punam Raut, Priya Punia, Deepti Sharma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma, Sneh Rana, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Indrani Roy, Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, Radha Yadav.
England: Heather Knight (captain), Emily Arlott, Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Tash Farrant, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Nat Sciver (vice-captain), Anya Shrubsole, Mady Villiers, Fran Wilson, Lauren Winfield-Hill.
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