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.

Transcript

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.


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