India women had a memorable return to Test cricket after a seven-year hiatus as the visitors, led by the off-spin of Sneha Rana and Deepti Sharma, made their presence known to restrict ENG W to 269/6 on Day 1. It was heartbreak for ENG skipper Heather Knight, who fell 5 short of a second Test ton.
Brief scores: ENG W 269/6 (Knight 95, Beaumont 66, Sneh Rana 3/77, Deepti Sharma 2/50) at stumps on Day 1
As has been the case with Indian women’s cricket over the course of the past month, the historic Test in Bristol was marred by controversy even prior to its commencement as the ECB decided to roll out a 37-over-old used pitch for the one-off Test between India and England. However, it did not take long for the on-field action to outshine the off-field controversy as donning the bright whites, the Mithali Raj-led India and Heather Knight-led England put on a show to mark what was a special day for women’s cricket.
India named as many as five debutants - with Jemimah Rodrigues being the unlucky one to miss out - but it was Heather Knight that won the toss and opted to bat. The decision was understandable, given the flat nature of the wicket and the sun shining in Bristol, and so the duo of Lauren Winfield Hill and Tammy Beaumont strode out to bat for the hosts to kick-off the Women’s summer.
But it did not take long for the visitors to make a mark as both Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey troubled the English openers, albeit with no luck. Both Goswami and Pandey swung the new Kookaburra ball around, and the former inflicted a thick outside edge off the bat of Winfield Hill in just the 32nd ball of the innings. However, what was ought to be a simple catch at first slip was fluffed by Smriti Mandhana, and the spill proved to be the shot in the arm the hosts needed.
Surviving the early scare, Beaumont and Winfield Hill started asserting their authority and the duo batted through the first hour and put up a fifty-run opening stand to frustrate the Mithali Raj-led Indian side. While Beaumont played the patience game, Winfield Hill went on the attack, clubbing not one but two sixes in the span of three overs to blunt the Indian attack. However, just as Winfield Hill was threatening to take the game away from the visitors, debutant Pooja Vastrakar, in her fifth over, provided a timely breakthrough to break the 69-run opening stand. Winfield Hill played one shot too many, and the opener’s lack of patience resulted in her undoing as, courtesy a stunning Taniya Bhatia catch, the 30-year-old perished for a well-made 35.
But the wicket provided no respite for the visitors as joining the experienced Beaumont, skipper Heather Knight picked up from where she left in the 2021 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy to pile misery on India. Knight got off the blocks quickly, racing to 30 in no time, and Beaumont brought up her second Test fifty as the duo, post lunch, milked the Indian spinners to bring up a fifty-partnership and put the hosts in firm control mid-way through Day 1.
But just as Beaumont was looking on course for a maiden Test century, a wonderful piece of conventional off-spin bowling from debutant Sneh Rana outfoxed the batter, who popped one straight to forward short-leg. Rana deceived Beaumont through dip and flight, and a stunning reflex catch from another debutant, Shafali Verma, gave India their second wicket of the day.
However, Déjà vu ensued post Beaumont’s dismissal as Knight joined hands with new-batter Nat Sciver to wrestle back the momentum for the hosts. Like each of the first two partnerships, Knight and Sciver kept the runs ticking without taking risks, and soon, in the blink of an eye, England passed the 200-run mark, with the skipper bringing up her third Test fifty. Knight was well supported by Sciver, who herself raced to 40 in no time, and at 227/2 after 72 overs, the hosts looked on course to end the day in a position of strength.
Much to the utter dismay of England, however, there was to be a stunning twist in the final hour as the hosts lost not one but four wickets in the last 20 overs of Day 1. At 230/2, Deepti Sharma trapped Sciver in front, eight short of a well-deserved half-century, and wicket-keeper Amy Ellen Jones followed suit three overs later, falling to the off-spin of Sneh Rana. While Sciver perished attempting a wild heave across the line, Jones was outwitted smartly by Rana, who pinned the keeper-batter in front of the stumps. 230/2 soon became 236/4, and all eyes were on skipper Heather Knight, who was edging closer to a second Test century.
But with less than an hour left for stumps, the visitors struck a body blow as Knight was trapped in front of the stumps by Deepti Sharma, five short of her ton. Sharma came round the wicket, and the ball rapped the pads of Knight, who played all over a straight one. ‘Out’ was the signal from the umpire, but Knight’s review proved unsuccessful as England lost their fifth to teeter at 244/5.
The duo of debutant Sophia Dunkley and all-rounder Georgia Elwiss batted the rest of the overs with the sole purpose of survival, but Elwiss failed in her quest to do so as the right-hander threw her hands at a loopy, tossed-up offie from Rana to gift the visitors their sixth wicket. The scalp was Rana’s third in the innings, and it would prove to be the last of the day as Dunkley and Katherine Brunt stayed put for 10.4 overs to take England to stumps unscathed. ENG W ended the day on 269/6, squandering an opportunity to bat India out of the match on what was an excellent batting wicket.
What the players said
Sneh Rana: "The pitch was a bit slow right from the early stage [of the day]. It did help us spinners since it was turning a bit. Ramesh [Powar, head coach] sir didn't put any pressure on me. He just asked me to stick to my basics and my routines, to do the things I would normally do. I didn't try anything extra except for just sticking to my strengths. And I'm glad it worked out for us."
Heather Knight: "[I'm] just really frustrated to be honest. I felt really comfortable out there. I felt like I was going really well and had worn the Indian bowlers down quite a lot and was starting to cash in a little bit on our hard work and was starting to score a bit more freely. The partnership that me and Nat had, we felt that we could take the game forward a lot faster because runs were coming a lot more easy, and then we lost a few wickets so I was frustrated at the time I got out as well for the team. We probably would have comfortably got up to 300, but that's Test cricket isn't it? It ebbed and flowed quite brilliantly throughout the day and the Indians pulled it back quite nicely at the end."