Test cricket may be the best way to move Indian women’s cricket forward.
You heard me right. Test cricket. Not the swashbuckling, abridged version of cricket that is Twenty20. I have just surprised myself by saying that: until recently, I was a big proponent of T20s as the best medium to promote women’s cricket in India. But after the Wormsley Test, I have changed my mind. Here’s why.
As of today, Test cricket is India Women’s strongest format.
Every team has a preferred format. The Indian men’s team just proved that, with table-turning wins against England in the One-Day Internationals after having had to hide under the same table in the Tests. England Women are a really good ODI side, while in T20s, you have to hand it to Australia’s Southern Stars. For India Women, it’s got to be Tests.
To win a Test you must be able to bowl the opposition out twice. Assuming that the wickets for women’s Tests would most likely be result oriented, there would be some seam, swing, bounce or turn. And India have the bowling options for all of those. In Jhulan Goswami, India have an experienced pace spearhead, who hits the deck hard. And Niranjana Nagarajan, Shikha Pandey and Shubhlakshmi Sharma proved at Wormsley against England last month that they have the skills to exploit favourable conditions. Add the loop of Gouher Sultana (who missed this tour because of illness) and the unpredictable turn of Ekta Bisht, and India have spinning options aplenty.
But most importantly, Test cricket provides the perfect cocoon to nurture India’s batting strengths and, more importantly, nestle its weaknesses. Indian batting is currently more about timing and placement than power hitting. That’s perfect for Tests. The longer format allows the batters to take their time to settle down, without the run-rate causing any panic. They can wait for the loose ball; the skill to put it away was always there. They can turn down those cheeky runs and bide their time. They can wage a war of attrition, and make merry when the bowlers tire.
As for fielding, after the first ODI against England this series, Lisa Sthalekar, the former Australia allrounder, tweeted: “India has never given time to fielding and it shows.” In the next game, the Indian girls fielded brilliantly. That’s often the case with Indian fielding: inconsistency. This counts for a lot in the shorter formats, but in Tests, with more spread-out fields, the odd misfield is less likely to cost the team a win.
So coming back to the theory that opened the innings for this post: Test cricket might be the best format to promote women’s cricket in India. Let’s be honest – there are no prizes in sport for coming second. No one commemorates you and the opposition only half mean it when they offer a ‘well played’ at the end of a game – they are too busy planning their party.
Nothing promotes a game better than a team that wins. England Women got that attention with back-to-back Ashes wins. The Southern Stars won three consecutive World T20 titles, and became the highest-paid female sports team in Australia. India have won back-to-back Tests in England, albeit eight years apart, and I strongly feel they will win more in this format. Those wins will help the game grow. But how many will they get to play?
There has long been a perception that the Board of Control for Cricket in India will only pay attention to the women’s team if and when they win. The win has happened in a Test, and it will happen more often if the BCCI work to make willing bedfellows of England and Australia, to schedule frequent Test matches. Clare Connor, visionary head of women’s cricket at the England and Wales Cricket Board, recently said the future of women’s Tests was hanging by a thread. India have a lot to gain by moving to preserve that future.
Of course, this is not to suggest that if we do play Tests, we shouldn’t raise our standard in the other formats. Globally, T20 cricket is the vehicle that will drive the growth of the women’s game, so India must become a world class T20 team. Athleticism and agility need to be long-term occupants, not frequent guests. And sustainable power-hitting must marry form and timing. This onus lies on us, the current crop of domestic players, to raise the bar.
Alongside, BCCI must realise what the women’s team’s strengths are, and play to them.