By Anjum Chopra
In 2006, Adelaide, India women played their last Test match vs Australia. We lost that game in three days. In fact, between the second day’s tea session and by the end of third day’s play, we were already dismissed twice. We utilised our fourth day well by visiting the Cleland Wildlife Park.
That seemed like a long time ago with only one similarity remaining between the 15 years — Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. Both were there in 2006 and now in 2021.
The Pink-Ball Test result obviously reflects a lot. While it was a draw, for India, Smriti Mandhana got a century and all the batters had a reasonably good outing. The Indian bowlers managed to dent the Aussie batting line up before they managed to save the follow-on. Rain did play spoilsport for two days resulting in a greater loss of playing time. In all likelihood had that not been the case, the match would have seen a few more competitive battles.
A thought remains — had India/Australia not done well in this Test match, would the perception of women’s Test matches be any different than the one today. Maybe, maybe not.
India played their first-ever day/night Test as opposed to Australia women who were playing their second. Australia’s first being four years ago vs England in 2017. The challenge remained pretty big. Since the opportunities are limited, the pressure to deliver each time is huge.
Across all the women’s teams, it is only England and Australia that continue to play a Test match as part of their Ashes competition. The rest of the nations have hardly shown an inclination to resume the format over the last decade and more. The focus remains on white-ball cricket to promote the women’s game globally and not invest in a four-day Test match. Financially, it makes sense as one can get four ODIs or T20s instead of a one-off Test match.
Earlier this year, when it was announced that India women will play a Test during their tour of England and then a pink-ball Test (D/N) vs Australia, it made news and headlines for all the right reasons. But the challenge remained big for the players. Simply because the current crop of players have grown up playing only white-ball cricket.
In the last six years, domestic cricket in India for women has only been held in white ball. Players like Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh have grown up playing only one format and others may have hardly used the red ball in their practice sessions at home.
From getting accustomed to facing the swinging red ball to moving to the challenge of playing against the pink ball and that too under lights is a challenge well accomplished by the Indian players. The argument can stem again if more Tests should be played. Yes, they should be. A viability question will come in but if we are looking at it as an investment into the future of the sport, then undoubtedly, there needs to be a conscious thought given to it.
The ICC made a very significant and planned road map for women’s cricket. Starting 2009, the women’s T20 World Cup was held simultaneously along with the men’s tournament with the semis and finals played on the same day and venue as the men’s matches.
In 2018, the first standalone women’s T20 World Cup was held in the West Indies and in 2020 the finale in Australia had a near 90,000 audience inside the stadium.
The game is growing and each time a significant contest like the pink-ball Test comes around, it gives confidence and assurance of the women’s games’ growing popularity and acceptance. Let the Test continue to create those opportunities.