S01E03: Why don’t women play more Test cricket?

India are set to play two women’s Tests in 2021. After India draw the Test against England at Bristol, Episode 3 of the Holding the Line minicast asks, why don’t women play more Test cricket? And a throwback to 1995, for a bowling record and a heartbreaking loss.


The players love it.

Feels good when you’re in full whites and you’re playing with a red ball.

Harmanpreet Kaur

It doesn’t come around often for us, makes it really special when it does. We all get really excited when the whites come out.

Kate Cross

The fans agree.

I would have liked to have more Test matches

Mithali Raj

A whole new generation is tuning in and turning up for it.

We’re not quiet about the fact that we want to play more of it.

Mithali Raj

So why don’t women play more Test cricket?

Welcome to episode 3 of the Holding the Line minicast. I’m Karunya Keshav.

After seven years of no Test cricket, the Indian women’s cricket team play two in 2021. In this series, I’ll tackle five questions to help understand where women’s Test cricket is at. I’ll tell you stories from Indian cricket’s past, and talk about just what these Tests mean for the future. 

I’m still buzzing from the last day of the India-England Test in Bristol. I despaired when India collapsed. I began comfort eating when they collapsed again. And then, in the last two sessions of the day, when India’s lower-middle order of Sneh Rana, Shikha Pandey and Taniya Bhatia did the improbable and ground out a draw at a time when a loss looked inevitable – I had nothing but admiration and pride.  

And now I can’t wait for the next Test. Fortunately this time, my wait isn’t going to be 7 years. India play Australia in a pink-ball game in three months, and England have the Ashes coming up.   

But after that, apart from the women’s Ashes that happen every two years, there’s no saying where the future of women’s Test cricket lies.

So why don’t women play more Tests? Well, I’m a fan of the format. So I’m going to say there are no good reasons, but more excuses.  

The one I like the least goes in circles. Women don’t play Tests because there is no long-format cricket or days cricket at the domestic level in any country right now. But why is there no domestic red-ball cricket? Because, well, women don’t play Tests, so they don’t need the practice of playing long-format cricket.

You see why that argument is frustrating?  

Here’s another reason given. It has to do with money and marketing. At a time when the people running the sport are trying to promote women’s cricket and get more countries to play the game, T20 cricket is where they want to put effort and resources, not Tests. You want a product that’s quick and colourful and entertaining to talk to new fans. Something that could potentially be in the Olympics. Not a match that’s slow and sober and with no winner after playing for four days.    

This is a fair point. Especially when investment into the women’s game is still low.

But I don’t see why we should have just one or the other. India’s men play Test cricket even though Thailand don’t. And we still haven’t got a good reason why investment into women’s sports continues to be so low.

And then there’s the argument that we don’t have women’s Tests because well, they’re not very entertaining. They don’t finish in results. 63% of all women’s Tests have finished in draws. For India, this figure is 70%.

Most people who watched the draw at Bristol might disagree that it was “boring”. But let me tell you of another Test. Back from 1995. Again between India and England, but this one happened in India, in Jamshedpur.

This match stands out for a few reasons: It was the 100th official women’s Test. It had what is still the best bowling figures in an innings in the format. A win margin of 2 runs, which is the narrowest in Test history. And there was heartbreak, real heartbreak, off the field.

India’s captain that game was Purnima Rau. And she was playing the match just a few days after losing her husband. She was emotionally shattered, but with India needing 128 in 40 overs in the fourth innings, she was going for a win. That’s just the kind of player she was, attacking, aggressive. Both as a batter and a captain.  

Neetu David, one of the greatest left-arm spinners of the game, had brought India to this position. She took eight wickets in England’s second innings. Those who watched her that day said she bowled beautifully.

We can’t confirm it, but the story goes that Purnima gave her nine fielders on the offside at one point.

But batting last on a crumbling surface, India struggled. With 7 overs left, they needed 21 runs, They had two wickets left. They could have shut shop and settled for a draw then. But Purnima was not that kind of captain.

They went for the win. It would have been India’s first win since 1976.

They needed 4 runs in 12 balls, but then everything went wrong. The set batter was run out and the last wicket fell lbw. The team of course insists this was a dubious decision, the fact remains that India lost by two runs.  

Purnima was replaced after that match. Even though she’d had a lot of success coming into this Test. Even though she was a grieving young widow.

I tell this story for two reasons. As a reminder of just how rich the history of women’s Test cricket is and the incredible strength of the players. And to say, women’s Tests don’t have to be boring.

Years of playing on slow surfaces with little in them to help bowlers take 10 wickets twice and force a result have given women’s Tests a bit of a reputation. That’s why the used pitch for this Bristol Test became such a big issue. Throw in the fact that Tests these days are often part of multi-format series and they count for a big chunk of points, and captains may not be always ready to take chances. You do end up having more draws.

The women playing the game know this. And they still do what they can, when they can to force a result. They do this constant dance of needing to win and get points, while also showing the world again and again that they’re worth paying attention to. They seem to be constantly playing for the future of the game.  

You obviously want to be entertaining and put on a show and show off the best of your skills and the best of women’s cricket, but our job first and foremost is to try and win and be successful. That’s at the forefront of our mind, and if we can do both at the time, even better. I think often in women’s cricket, when we want to play Test matches, we’re judged to a different standard than the men’s game is. There are games that you look at in isolation, Test matches in the men’s game, that if it was in the women’s game it would have been looked at differently and judged on a different pedestal, that it was attritional cricket or whatever, which I hope doesn’t happen this week. We as a group of players want to be successful and we want to win. Obviously if we can entertain whilst that goes on, that can be even better. We certainly don’t want to be known as a boring side and have a draw, but our first port of call is to win games of cricket.

Heather Knight

That was England captain Heather Knight. And as she said, nobody judges the men from the top Test-playing nations on these same standards. And frankly, it’s exhausting.

When India play their next Test in Australia, they’ll be asked to do this again. Knowing that even though they don’t want it, even though it shouldn’t be that way, even though they can do so little about it, the future of the game is again, somehow, in their hands.

Thanks for listening. On the next episode, another story and another element of women’s Test cricket.

S01E02: How do red-ball skills evolve when women don’t play Tests?

India are set to play two women’s Tests in 2021. After two days of the Test against England at Bristol, Episode 2 of the Holding the Line minicast wonders how red-ball skills evolve when there are so few red-ball matches played. And a throwback to 2006, when another India batter missed out on a century.

Some notes and corrections to this audio:
There were six debutants in the Bristol Test, not five.
And the 2006 win was the first series win in a series of more than one Test.


Of course, getting out in the 90s is always a regret. But looking at it another way, this innings will give me confidence for future matches.

Shafali Verma

Shafali Verma is 17. And she’s just made 96 very entertaining runs in her first time playing Test cricket for India.

As I record this, I’ve watched two days of India’s Test match against England in Bristol. I’m still catching my breath after some roller coaster action.

As she just told us, Shafali isn’t dwelling on her missed hundred. But it got me thinking. Back to a time when Shafali was just two years old. When another Indian legend got out in her 90s in a Test match in England. 98 to be exact, in what would be her last Test appearance for India.

And one of Shafali’s teammates from Bristol? She was there back then too. A younger bowler, but just as hungry, taking 10 wickets to set a record and help India make history.  

I’m Karunya Keshav. And thanks for joining me on the Holding the Line minicast.

The Indian women’s cricket team play two Test matches in 2021. Over five episodes of this minicast, I’ll tackle five questions to help understand where women’s Test cricket is at. I’ll tell you stories from Indian cricket’s past, and talk about just what these Tests means for the future. 

In episode 2 I’m thinking about this: How do red-ball skills evolve when women play so little Test cricket?

But first, we go back 15 years.

It’s 2006. Indian women’s cricket is in the process of being taken over by the BCCI. The Women’s Cricket Association of India used to run it before. There’s anticipation for the team’s tour of England. They are wearing the BCCI crest for the first time and they’re looking good.

The final Test is at Taunton. India have had a mixed tour so far. They won their first ever T20I, playing a format they had no clue about, and playing under lights for the first time. They drew the first Test. But then they were swept in the one-dayers. Now here they are for the final match of their tour.

Sudha Shah, the coach, has insisted on a song-and-dance show as part of their preparation. A bit of fun to get them out of their funk.

It evidently works. Because two people in the team are especially on song in the Test, Anjum Chopra and Jhulan Goswami.

You may know Anjum as the voice you hear on commentary during the IPL. When you go to the Delhi stadium, you may walk through the Anjum Chopra gates. She has that rare honour.   

Jhulan is the legend, who at 38, is still taking wickets and still showing 17-year-old Shafalis how it’s done.

In that Taunton Test, Anjum is in the zone. Middling the ball well, she finds the gaps, runs hard, and takes India to 307. She deserves that first Test 100, but at 98, she is declared lbw to Isa Guha.  

Jhulan still feels it was not the right decision. Because Anjum had stretched forward a fair bit. But they have no video, so who knows.

Then, it is Jhulan’s turn. India’s pace bowler is struggling with niggles on her hamstring and glutes. But something is special about that day. One of those days that bowlers dream about, where the ball just follows their mind and does everything they want of it. For Jhulan, it moves, it bounces, it hits the right areas, and England are bowled out for 99.  Jhulan has five wickets, and another five wickets when England follow on.  

Jhulan was 23 then. She’s now 38. Her opening spell in Bristol was a treat.  

When I see a Jimmy Anderson at 38, having got cannier with every passing season, I wonder what kind of bowler Jhulan might have been, if she’d had half as many opportunities.   

And that’s where my question comes in. Without playing enough Tests, how do these players become the best red-ball players they have it in them to be?

You’ve probably come across Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice rule.

Where are these women going to get their 10,000 hours? They play Tests once or twice in 7 years, they don’t have first-class cricket, they don’t have the equivalent of a Ranji trophy or county cricket. So how do they get better?

Right now, a lot of the skills development in the longer format happens in real time.

I’d asked England’s Kate Cross about this.

There is always pressure when we play Test cricket because we don’t know much about it. We actually do a lot of our learning in four-day cricket while we play it. If we played a little bit more of it, whether that’s domestic level or whether we played more international Test cricket, then it would naturally be a better game because we’re more used to the format, how it works, and those ebbs and flows are spread over a longer period whereas we’re used to the white ball game where it happens a lot quicker.

Kate Cross

Kate’s right. However much you prepare, the twists and turns and demands of Test cricket catch you by surprise.

This is true for every aspect of the game. Take the fielding for example. In Bristol, India seemed to be working out their best slip cordon and their bowling plans as the day went along.

Or even captaincy. Mithali Raj hasn’t had to plan Test tactics in seven years. She hasn’t had the experience, and she doesn’t have access to format-specific analytics either.

So how do red-ball skills evolve when women play so little Test cricket? The sad answer right now is that for people like Jhulan, they cannot. At least not in the way they have for Anderson or Ishant Sharma.

But at the same time, we now also know that that 10,000 hour rule is not as simple as that. And maybe we need to change our expectation of what it means to be good at women’s cricket.

Because the women’s red-ball game as a whole is evolving in front of our eyes.  

In the Bristol Test, two women hit two sixes each. That’s never happened before. The Test, so far, has the highest run-rate of any women’s Test ever.

Six players made their debut and all of them were brilliant. Shafali, who’s never played a formal red-ball match before, and never even played first-class cricket, almost got a 100. England’s Sophia Dunkley, another of those Six debutants, has possibly put her team in a winning position.

And they are all using those hours they’ve put in in other formats to move women’s Test cricket into a new future.

That match in 2006? India won that, and won the series, their first ever multi-format series win. It wasn’t easy. Chasing 98 in the fourth innings, they collapsed and lost five wickets. Reema Malhotra, another excellent voice behind the mike now, remembers walking in nervously to a lot of chatter, a lot of sledging. The buzz, she said, was like walking into a swarm of bees! Mithali told her to just laugh at it all and shut it out.   

This one is just the third Test India have played since that day. But they’ve come such a long way since then.

Thanks for listening. In the next episode, another story and another element of Test cricket.  

S01E01: Test cricket is back! So what should we expect from the England v India match?

India are set to play two women’s Tests in 2021. Ahead of the game against England at Bristol, Episode 1 of Holding the Line minicast explains what new fans to the sport can expect from this one-off Test. With a detour to 1986, and India’s first tour to England.


One side complained about poor umpiring. The other about time wasting. Some fielders said the glare from vehicles parked near the boundary was too much. So play had to be stopped while those cars were moved. Strong words were exchanged. Apologies demanded. Governments got involved. And somewhere in the middle, a world record for batting in women’s Test cricket was set.

The first tour by the Indian women’s cricket team to England was nothing if not full of drama and controversy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m Karunya Keshav. And thanks for joining me on the Holding the Line minicast.

The Indian women’s cricket team are set to play two Test matches in 2021. And this is probably the first time many of us will watch these amazing women play cricket in whites.

Over five episodes of this minicast (at least I think it’s five, we’ll figure it out as we go along) I’ll tackle five big questions about women’s Test matches and try to explain why this is such a big deal. I’ll tell you stories from Indian cricket’s past, and talk about just what these Tests means for the future.   

It’s the lead up to India’s Test against England women in Bristol, and in episode 1, I’m going to try to answer the question: What should people watching this Test expect?

It’s a totally different scenario when you play red ball cricket

Harmanpreet Kaur

That was Harmanpreet Kaur, India vice-captain. She’ll be playing her third Test match. The first came seven years ago in 2014, also in England.

She’s talking about batting, but it’s kind of the same for the fans of the game too. It’s a totally different scenario when you watch women’s Test cricket. We may have watched loads of men’s Tests, and we may even have followed plenty of women’s cricket. But there are so few women’s Tests, that even for the most experienced Test cricket watchers, a few little things are going to stand out in a few little ways.  

For starters, women’s Tests take place over four days, not five. Which means a follow on can be enforced if a team is 150 runs short, not 200.

It also means teams have to bowl 100 overs a day, not 90 like in men’s Tests. So, they get through their overs quicker. The latest playing conditions say they have to go at 17 overs an hour. The men who will be playing the World Test Championship final around the same time, will be looking to bowl 15 overs an hour.  

So, expect to watch a match that goes along a little bit faster than you’re maybe used to.

But that doesn’t mean the scoring itself will be faster. In fact, it’s probably not going to be.

I know it’s a game of patience, and however long I can we need to spend time at the crease.

Harmanpreet Kaur

Here are some numbers. Since 2013, the average for a top-order batter in the women’s game is around 30. And they score at a strike-rate of just 39.62. For reference, the average in the men’s game is 36 and they score at a rate of 59.57.  

This isn’t to compare the skills of men and women and show one is better than the other. Or to say that you should expect boring cricket. Far from it. There’ll be some of the best skill and technique on show, in both batting and bowling. I mean, Jhulan Goswami will be playing. But do remember these numbers when you set your expectations of performances and criticise a performance as good or below average.  

I’ll explain this further, but before that I want to take a detour to 1986, and that story I began with. When India women toured England for the first time, and a Test unfolded so slowly, that it was compared to watching paint dry.

And I want to introduce you to Sandhya Agarwal.  

My favourite photo of Sandhya Agarwal is from this same England tour. If it were on Instagram, you’d say this photo has a sepia filter, and the colours aren’t terribly bright. But you see this small-ish woman, with her bindi and two plaits, padded up and ready to bat. She’s wearing a floppy hat and T-shirt with a photo of Sunil Gavaskar. Remember, this was the 80s. She’s standing hand on hip, bat in hand, and she looks so serene, it’s such cool look, I love it.

A photo of India women cricketers on their tour of England in 1986. Sandhya Agarwal is in the middle.
Sandhya Agarwal (left) and Arundhati Ghosh. (Thanks to Arundhati for sharing the photo!)

That first tour of England was Sandhya’s tour. Sandhya, who’s from Madhya Pradesh, made 359 runs from three Tests back then, at an average of 71.8. She had two 100s, including a top score of 190 in the third Test, the highest in women’s cricket back then. You know how long she took to get there? 526 balls, and all of nine hours and 23 minutes at the crease.

The team coach still says it’s the best innings he saw in his life. Ask her teammates, and they’ll tell you, she was an incredible example of technique and concentration.

In the previous Test, Sandhya’s 132 came in 328 balls. That’s a strike rate of around 40.

But these knocks got Sandhya, and the Indian team, a reputation for playing slow, dull cricket, and wasting time. One English author called the team’s batting “the dullest on record”.  

Now, the events of the first Test didn’t help this reputation for the Indians. What happened, was this. In that Test, India had set England a target of 254. It was close, England in fact were 229 for 5 when play ended. But those last few hours of the Test got really controversial. The English accused the Indians of wasting time, while the Indians were angry at what they saw as biased umpiring. Some players told me how close-in catches were not being given.  

You know how I said bowlers need to get through 17 overs an hour these days? Apparently, in that match, the Indians, who were frustrated at the umpiring, managed just around 7 an hour.

They complained about the ground size. They said the sun reflected off the cars parked around the ground, and they wanted the vehicles moved. So much so that the spectators were asked to try and form a human wall to stop this glare!   

The match was drawn, but after that, came allegations of racism. The chairperson of the host association sort of scolded the Indians at the presentation ceremony. And then went to the dressing room and told them that they would be ostracised from international cricket if they kept that behaviour up. Many of the Indian players were driven to tears. The host association says in its report that there was, and I quote, “complete ignorance of the Spirit of the game” from the visiting side.

But the Indians didn’t take kindly to this. Leading the side was Diana Edulji. You might know her as the lady who was always in the news a few years ago, when she was part of the team running things at the BCCI. So you probably know how she wasn’t going to take things lying down.

India demanded an apology from the chairperson. They felt the tricolour was being insulted. And they threatened to take the next flight back unless they got an apology. We came to play cricket the hard way, not make friends, Diana said. She still considers this whole incident an example of racism.

Things go so bad, the government had to step in to cool things down. Finally, a written apology came and the tour continued. But of course, in the next two Tests, Sandhya continued to frustrate everyone with her determined batting.   

Both teams have come a long way since then. Relations are much better, and there’s so much respect.

So why bring up this story of 1986? Apart from the fact that it’s fascinating af, I’m hoping to put Test batting in context.

Ironically, back in 1986, the English players’ hundreds too came just as slowly. And mostly because of a pitch that was described as “dreadfully boring”.

And that’s something to remember in 2021 too. This Test match in Bristol between England and India is being played on a used pitch. And English captain Heather Knight is not happy.

“It isn’t ideal.”

Heather Knight

Nobody is quite sure what a used pitch means. But it might be that batting gets difficult. And there’s not much in there for the pace bowlers.

The swing you usually expect in England? You might have to reset those expectations too.

“We don’t play with the Dukes ball. I would love to have a new Dukes ball in my hand! I don’t think Dukes makes a women’s red ball.”

Kate Cross

That’s England’s Kate Cross. Pointing to another element of difference. Women don’t really play with the Dukes red ball in Tests in England.

Of course, nobody really knows if that used pitch will in fact be sluggish. And maybe Shafali Verma will come out swinging and make a joke out of those strike rate numbers I just gave you.

The truth is, there’s so much uncertainty around this Test match. We don’t know what to expect. Even the players don’t. Because these teams aren’t used to playing Test cricket. They play 50-over and 20-over cricket. They don’t even play this format in domestic cricket. There is no such thing as first-class games in any country right now. Many of these women are going to be playing red-ball cricket in a match situation for the very first time. And honestly, that just blows my mind.   

So for now, when I sit in front of my screen on day 1 of the Test, my expectation is simple: I expect to see 22 players giving it their absolute best in going for a win, whatever the pitch, whatever their experience. And I’ll cherish a chance to watch a form of cricket that we so rarely get to see.  

Thank you for listening. On the next episode, I’ll look at a new element of women’s Test cricket.