What will England do after Charlotte Edwards? And will the BCCI invest in their women? Raf Nicholson reviews the women’s Test and one-day series between England and India.
Three weeks ago most people were predicting that England Women would walk all over India Women in the Test, and most likely in the three ODIs too. It feels a world away now, after the result at Wormsley, and the tight-fought nature of the second ODI up in Scarborough. England are now gearing up for another change of format as they face South Africa in three T20Is next week, but what have we learned from their performance in the Test and 50-over formats against India this summer?
Nothing better illustrates the pressures of professionalism than those first two sessions at Wormsley which saw England bowled out for 92, with only three players making it into double figures. Yes, it was a green wicket, but this kind of performance with the bat, against bowlers who have far less experience of both English conditions and the Test format, was a massive shock. England need to adjust to the type of pressure and scrutiny which will always be present from now on.
On the flip side, India have 100 per cent made a case that they deserve greater respect from their board. After all, if a semi-pro side with next to no financial support from the BCCI can perform like this against England, how much better might a team with central contracts, with the time to train together as a team, fare? Keep your fingers crossed that the folks at the BCCI see sense as a result of this summer.
Women’s Test cricket
Women’s Test cricket is a format which sadly looks to be dying; every Test is therefore a point of scrutiny – will it spark a future for the format, or will it signal its death knell? Some might argue that England’s nervous performance at Wormsley reflected the fact that they are just not used to playing multi-day cricket, even domestically, and provides a rationale for ditching women’s Tests altogether.
Presumably the Indians, who secured a historic victory against England (only their second ever in Tests) would disagree. Mithali Raj, in the wake of her team’s victory, sung the praises of the Test format: “I’m very happy that I got to play another Test before I hang up my boots… it feels something very different when you play Test matches”. And her team looked far more comfortable out there playing Test cricket than they did in the ODIs – is this their natural format? Perhaps after such success, the BCCI might be amenable to scheduling further Tests; and if England-India Tests could become a regular fixture in the international calendar, as a result of this summer, that would surely make up for any disappointment felt in the wake of England’s poor show at Wormsley.
England’s choice of batting order must surely be reconsidered in the wake of this series. The lack of success achieved by the opening partnership of Lauren Winfield and Heather Knight in the Test match is in direct contrast to the fluency with which Knight and Charlotte Edwards batted together at the top of the order in the first ODI. Why change a winning formula, even in a different format? If Edwards is to anchor the innings, why not do it from the off?
There are also, of course, doubts surrounding the underperformance of the middle order, who bar Sarah Taylor looked in poor nick in both the second ODI and the Test match. Indeed, England only managed to push the Test into a fourth day due to the batting of Jenny Gunn. Should your No.8 batsman really be your top-scorer in a Test match? England are missing the patience and grit of Arran Brindle; this is their first summer without her for some time. They need to learn to adjust.
England’s performance with the ball
The worry for England here is that neither of their two world-class bowlers, Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt, looked anywhere near their best, with both bowling a great deal more slowly than we have become accustomed to. Brunt, of course, is fighting her way back from the back injury which she reignited out in Australia, and it remains to be seen if she can regain the pace she used to enjoy. On the bright side, Kate Cross has show that she can step up to the role of new-ball opener with confidence; she was the pick of England’s bowlers at Wormsley, finishing with figures of 6-71.
A further worry is England’s lack of a quality spinner, a problem which seems to have endured since Holly Colvin announced she would be taking a career break, back in November. Knight will no doubt be revelling in the fact that her off-spin yielded 3-28 and 2-29 in the two ODIs – but it must surely be cause for concern that England’s most successful spinner so far this summer is someone who only took up the art eight months ago! The selectors have much to think about.
It rains in England in August
Okay, so we knew that already. But you have to feel sorry for the Indians, who shivered outside the pavilion during the first ODI at Scarborough (decided, ultimately, by the D/L method), and who saw the third ODI at Lord’s abandoned without a ball being bowled. This was a disappointment not just for a group of Indian players for whom this would have been their first and possibly only opportunity to play on the hallowed turf, but for England, who were denied the chance to secure the maximum points in the new ICC Women’s Championship which they would have been hoping for. Due to the lack of a reserve day (this will be a requirement for Championship matches in future), the two sides secured one point apiece, meaning the points tally finished 5-1 to England.
Looking to the future
If India were thought to be no more than the sum of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami before this series, that is certainly not the case now, after a succession of performances from several young players who were on their first tour of England. Their 23-year-old off-spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad starred with the ball in the second ODI at Scarborough, finishing with 4-42. Shikha Pandey, 25, showed her talent with the bat as, originally sent in as nightwatchman, her 28* in the second innings on the final morning at Wormsley made India’s victory look straightforward. And of course there is 18-year-old Smitri Mandhana, who batted better than even Raj this series. If the BCCI are looking for reasons to invest in women’s cricket, they need look no further.
There is a contrast here with an England team for whom, this summer, two players have stood head and shoulders above the rest. Firstly, Jenny Gunn, who top-scored for England in the Test with a second-innings 62* and whose 4-23 and two spectacular catches in the second ODI effectively won the game for her side. Secondly, Charlotte Edwards, whose runs in the two ODIs, including 108* in the second, were crucial. Yet the worry for England is that both these players must surely be nearing the end of their careers (Gunn is 28, Edwards is 34). Where is the future of England women’s cricket? Other players need to stand up and be counted.
There is certainly plenty of food for thought for England, looking ahead to the next ODI series they will play in, against New Zealand in February, and the next Test, which will be against Australia in 12 months’ time.