CWC22 #4: Marizanne Kapp is a few emotions

Five years ago, an inconsolable Marizanne Kapp struggled to lift herself off the ground and the tears flowed freely after a close match against England in the World Cup semifinal. On Monday, in another World Cup, in another match against England, she again was on her haunches at the end of the game, but this time in prayer, this time in relief.

A minute before, even as Trisha Chetty hit the winning runs with three wickets and four balls to spare and her teammates invaded the field in celebration, Marizanne had stood at the boundary, fidgeting with her chain. Wracked. Contained. Before she dropped to the ground, head bent. Emotions still ran high, but this time – finally – a smile broke through as she was helped up off her knees and enveloped in the arms of her teammates.

All day, Marizanne had shown her class with bat, ball and on the field to spearhead South Africa’s victory. She’d earned a smile.    

Marizanne Kapp picked up career-best figures in the match against England at the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022.
Marizanne Kapp picked up career-best figures in the match against England at the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022. Photo: ICC

Five years ago, after an interview with Marizanne and her partner Dane van Niekerk, who is out injured for this World Cup, I had written that the two “are so expressive, you never want to look away”. And at the risk of overstatement, I had exhorted: “Whatever you do, don’t look away.”

And since then, I’ve taken my own advice. I can’t take my eyes away from Marizanne Kapp on a cricket field. I collect Marizanne moments with the enthusiasm of an ornithologist in the Amazon. It is my meditation, it is my exaltation.

Good sport makes you feel. Everything at times, and nothing, bereft at others. Marizanne is good sport. 

Her ritual is a reassurance. Watching her walk to the top of her mark, untying and retying her hair before every delivery in ritual, is the closest I will get to ASMR. Her smooth, rhythmic bowling action that follows is mediative. Breathe in, hold, breathe out.

Her wickets, then, are a release. On Monday, in her first spell, she was the fiery fast bowler that batters dream about hitting for six. The two early wickets, both the result of disciplined line and length, were accompanied by furrowed brows and cries of victory. In her final spell, she had turned into the thinking bowler, clinical with her slower balls. The wickets, which completed her first ODI five-for, were delivered with the quiet confidence of a master. And there was even a wry smile at the fifth.  

“I’ve played I think over 200 games for South Africa so I should be confident in my abilities,” Marizanne said after the match. “I think I just reached a point in my career where now I know what I’m capable of and, and I just have to back myself. And if I do that I usually perform well.”

If that sounds like an absence of humility, the assumption is misguided. If anything, Marizanne is self-critical to a fault. She felt her teammate Masabata Klaas was the best bowler on the day, and she apologised for not seeing through the chase.  

“I was a bit annoyed with myself,” she said. “I knew I probably should have finished that game. And I put a lot of pressure on the two batters that was in the middle.”  

Marizanne Kapp had a long chat with Trisha Chetty after her wicket at a crucial point in the chase.
Marizanne Kapp had a long chat with Trisha Chetty after her wicket at a crucial point in the chase.

If Marizanne’s bowling is an art, her batting is a lesson in perseverance. She knows her limitations, and makes up for it in smarts, picking the bowlers and balls to target. Against England, her 32 off 42 balls was crucial in the chase. The knock included another magic Marizanne moment: A six behind square off a Katherine Brunt full toss picked up around her hip. It seemed to turn the tone of the game.

“I just tried to be positive,” she explained that shot. “I struggled a bit against the left-arm spinner and I knew the pace bowlers I was going to try and take them on – I am strong through throughout that region and I just played the shot and it went for six and I’ll take it!”       

In recent months, even as she’s had all-round tournament-winning performances around the world, Marizanne, who makes no bones about being a family person, has found the long days in isolation sparking thoughts of retirement. She says she dislikes change, and when the retirement eventually happens, it might be too far a change for me too. So now, I double down. I’m more obsessed than ever. I won’t, I can’t look away.

CWC22 #3: Where is India’s planning?

I watched part of the New Zealand v India World Cup game on Hotstar in a doctor’s waiting room. I don’t know what was more frustrating: India’s batting or the two-hour wait in the hospital chaos.

Turns out, I’m mostly fine. The Indian team definitely isn’t. I returned with medication. Who’s going to be treating the Indian line-up?

The next few paras, rather than an attempt at a diagnosis, are a complaint. Not about the loss — those happen. But about why following and supporting this team is so *grabs own hair* frustrating.

Yes, even when they win.  

Because they can play like Harmanpreet Kaur did on Thursday, with her fluent 71. Like Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana did last game against Pakistan in a match-winning seventh-wicket stand. Did you see Pooja’s and Jhulan’s yorkers at the death against New Zealand? Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s flight and guile? They were brilliant! At those times, India can be fun to watch. Exciting. Like they can win the whole bloody thing. As if they want to entertain.

Harmanpreet Kaur batting in the India v New Zealand match at the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022.
India’s batting has been hit and miss. Photo: ICC

But at many times, like on either side of these performances, it’s like none of the things I just said are true.

This feels like a team that doesn’t know itself. 

We’re at a World Cup. They’ve had pretty good preparation playing South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand in the past year. The team/administrators/management have had five years to prepare for this moment. So why are we still watching an experiment? Why does it feel like they don’t know what their best XI, and the order of that XI, is?   

Two matches in, we’ve had as many opening combinations. Against New Zealand, Yastika Bhatia opened for the first time at international level. At No.3, there’s Deepti Sharma, who was already tried as a top order bat in 2017, and that plan abandoned midway through the World Cup that year after a sorry team performance against South Africa where the batting went nowhere, and then abandoned again in 2019. What has changed for faith to be put in her this time?  

At No.4 is not Harman, although that’s statistically her best position. Instead there’s Mithali Raj, consistency personified, but the second anchor in a row (and possibly the third on a bad day for the openers). So Nos. 3, 4, 5 are slow starters, and that’s what India are going with even though they’ve left out other candidates, arguably more in form, for the same supposed reason.   

And nobody seems to be convinced about what kind of cricket they want to play.

Against New Zealand, three left-handers occupied the top three spots. And New Zealand matched an off-spinner to them with little trouble. “It gives an advantage to the opposition tactically,” admitted coach Ramesh Powar. The batting coach too said after the game that India would probably relook that strategy. So great, another experiment.

India have accidentally stumbled into a bowling attack that somewhat works … when it works. Rajeshwari is in form with her left-arm spin, and although they have three off-spin options in Deepti, Sneh and Harman, the first two are fully effective in their 10. Meghna Singh as the second pacer is another experiment, but having begun it in October last year, at least it has some … erm … longevity. (Yes, two series; that’s how low the bar is for planning.)    

The coach speaks about process and plans. He says there’s work that’s been going on. He points out how the team scores 250+ more regularly now. He is happy with their preparation. “It is the pressure of the World Cup,” he said ahead of the West Indies game. “We messed up in the first 20 overs.”  

One-off, he seems to suggest. Except, it isn’t one off.

“I have been handed over a squad of 15, where I have a limitation of three openers,” he said defensively at one point, putting it on the players to perform. Except, it can’t be only on them, when there’s no clarity about positions or place.  

And that’s the point. India have limitations that have lingered for years.

The trouble is, as fans, we can disagree with many of these decisions. But anyone can argue for them too, because the alternatives aren’t great either. That’s what comes from building your team two months before a World Cup, at international matches, rather than at the domestic level, without a stepping stone between senior tournaments and playing for India. (No, the Challengers aren’t it.) Little wonder that selections seem ad hoc and rhythm is never really that.

The situation India are in is the result of a lack of planning, accountability and structure. Who’s going to fix it before it gets chronic?  

WWC22 #2: Are the new West Indies here to stay?

In her press conference before their opening game of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022, West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor, languid as ever, said her team were aiming to score above 200. She also said they don’t care too much for analytics and match-ups.

Which, given how the sport is progressing, seemed decidedly underwhelming.

It took five boundary-filled overs with the bat to put that first assertion to waste. And about five overs of bowling to smartly set fields to challenge the second one.   

Well bluffed, Stafanie.

In their opening win against New Zealand, former 20-over champions West Indies showed an awareness their 50-over was missing until recently. Could it be here to stay for the rest of the tournament?

West Indies women's cricket team celebrating a wicket in their ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022 game against New Zealand. Photo: ICC
Where did things change for the West Indies women’s cricket team in ODIs? Photo: ICC

A week ago I was wondering if I dared stick my neck out and name them as an outside shot at a top four finish. After the opening day, I’d feel less absurd doing so.

A year ago, though, I’d have called myself a fool to pick them as semi-finalists.

Since their run to the ODI final in 2013 and the T20 title in 2016, West Indies have been abject in the 50-over format. Their 2017 World Cup was terrible. Their post-2017 years were as bad. Batters were urged to be patient, but they rarely were. They made poor decisions in the name of Caribbean flair. It didn’t help that domestic competitions in the West Indies nations have been sporadic.  

“For a period of time we were stuck in 50-over cricket, not progressing as much as we wanted to,” admitted Hayley Matthews to the ICC ahead of their first match. “But I do believe in the last year or so we’ve made massive leaps and bounds.”

So where did things change? I don’t know.

Taylor hasn’t been particularly loquacious with details in her press interactions. She’s praised the coaching staff led by Courtney Walsh over and over, but in rather general terms. She’s spoken of them having a “huge” impact in putting the team in a “good space” and “avoiding bad habits”. But there’s been little said about what exactly those tweaks have been, what those plans and lessons are, which have made them more consistent.

A visible change has been to their batting and bowling line-ups. The big-hitting Deandra Dottin opening and Matthews moving to the middle order, where her strike-rate last year was slightly better than when opening, have been key to their stability. With the changes, the batting seems stronger. (Although for her match-winning World Cup knock, an injury to the regular opener meant Matthews was back as opener; so much for that theory.)

They seem to circle through their bowlers too in phases, with Chinelle Henry coming in and taking the new ball more. Perhaps this means there is better clarity of roles throughout?  

And the results are visible. In 2018-19, West Indies won just three of their 18 ODIs. But in 2021, they won more matches (8) than they lost (6). (They didn’t play ODIs in 2020.) All of Deandra Dottin, Taylor and Matthews have two centuries each since 2021. Four other batters have fifties, showing a depth beyond the big three.

Krissania Young, who knows the West Indies much better than I can ever claim, has an informative post where she breaks down an improvement in their dot ball percentages and bowling lines as well.

I’d love to hear more theories for this turnaround – and I think we can now safely call it one. Why that is, and if that’s here to stay is something we’ll probably learn through the tournament.  

“The team’s in a good space,” said Matthews after the win, again unhelpfully vague. “We’re peaking at the right time.”

Taylor, meanwhile, after the match, continued to underplay their chances. “We talked about how we need to be over 200 if we want to be competitive,” she repeated. “We like to stay under the radar, do our thing, one step at a time.”

I’m not sticking my neck out and saying “top four” yet for West Indies. But I’d love to see them do their thing.

WWC22 #1: The ones we miss

I’m not going to be on the ground covering the ICC Women’s World Cup 2022 in New Zealand.

Loads of people aren’t going to be at the World Cup, so boo effin hoo, you may think. And you’re right. Your eye roll is justified. But this is the first women’s world cup after 2016 that I haven’t been at, so allow me a moment of self-pity as I nurse my FOMO.

Tragedy is romanticised in a foreign language, so I’m embracing a word in Welsh: Hiraeth.

Hiraeth, I understand, is a deep yearning for something you can’t have. A longing for a place you can’t be, a place that feels like home.

It’s the crack of the bat I won’t hear, the roar of a crowd I will see but on TV, the echoes of victory bouncing off an emptying outfield and the calm of a sprinkler on the green I won’t feel.

There’s something calming when the sprinklers come onto an emptying ground.

When I’m not at my pity party, I think also of all the players that won’t be at this World Cup too. The amazing Dane van Niekerk, who broke her foot while mopping the floor. Shikha Pandey, whose in-swingers are made for these tracks, who’s been treated so unkindly by India’s selectors and management. Jemimah Rodrigues, Leigh Kasperek and, a personal hero, Kate Ebrahim, who lost out to competition to be in the 15. The powerful Chamari Athapaththu, who was hard done by the apathy of the Sri Lankan cricket administration. Of the whole delightful Thailand team who were so cruelly denied a place at the World Cup when the qualifying tournament was called off because of COVID and they found themselves in a Catch 22 situation: Only the top eight ODI teams would qualify, but Thailand isn’t considered an ODI team, so their wins didn’t matter.

I can’t even imagine the depths of their hiraeth.

Gymnast Mary Lou Retton is credited with this quote: “A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.” It’s a comforting thought, even though it sounds suspiciously like telling a poor person that money can’t buy happiness. I think it’s the memories I will miss most.

When I close my eyes and think about the 2017 World Cup, I see Harmanpreet Kaur at Derby, on the way to her 171*. I hear the cheer when her slogged six went into the midwicket stands. And I see my friend Sid going “wow”.

I miss Sid.

I suppose 2022 is about making new memories. Rediscovering a different kind of love for cricket, as a spectator, fan, journalist. I’m going to try to blog more during the World Cup. But this will be the last self-indulgent piece, promise.

Let the games begin.

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.

The great balancing act

Jarrod Kimber invited me on his Red Inker podcast to chat about my favourite chapter. Chaper 11, Moving On.

We spoke about Pramila Bhatt and Neha Tanwar and Punam Raut, their stories of family and babies, of miscarriages and depression, of success and satisfaction. And also about the many women whose names we won’t know because they never made it that far.

The chapter, and our chat, is about cricket and marriage and family and the many choices that women make, sometimes because they want to, sometimes because they have to, and sometimes because it’s not really a choice at all. It’s about personal and social expectations, and how a woman can be many things. But also a system that doesn’t do much to support her in all that she is and can be.

Women’s cricket in India: Then and now

The Last Wicket podcast had the very articulate Ananya Upendran and me on to talk about the evolution of women’s cricket in India.

How has the sport changed from the 70s? What are the pros and cons of women’s cricket coming under BCCI? What work needs to happen at the grass roots? Why has batting in the women’s game changed so much and so quickly, and has the bowling kept pace? What is the state of analytics? We touch upon all that and then a bit.

Crossword book awards: In great company!

Update: We didn’t win. Shanta Gokhale got the award. But I’m still kicked about just being nominated alongside Guha, Gandhi and Rajan. Phew!

Crossword Book Awards The Jury Shortlist 2019 Non-fiction
Crossword Book Awards The Jury Shortlist 2019 Non-fiction

The Fire Burns Blue is on the Crossword Book Awards Jury Shortlist 2019 for non-fiction ‘stories that inspire’ – and in some great company!