England Women will find their defeat at the hands of India in the one-off Test at Wormsley hard to forget, says Raf Nicholson reporting from the fourth and final day.
As Shikha Pandey hit the winning runs through extra cover at Wormsley, the other Indian players ran onto the pitch, whooping with delight. India had won this one-off Test match by six wickets, and the delight on the players’ faces – eight of whom have never played a Test before – was plain for all to see.
England, meanwhile, simply looked dejected, and shell-shocked – like they were wondering what on earth had happened over the past three and a half days.
When a Test match ends, you often wonder how it will be remembered. I speculated yesterday about the bizarre qualities of this Test. And in terms of stats, this match will go down in the record books as equalling the record – 20 – for most ever lbw decisions in a single Test, men’s or women’s.
It is, too, an historic victory: in reaching the 181 required in their fourth innings, India have surpassed their previous highest successful fourth-innings run chase by a fair way: it had long stood at 149, which they achieved against England at Taunton back in 1998. It is also only the second time ever that India have beaten England in a Test match. The first time was, in fact, the last Test they played, at Taunton in 2006.
To captain Mithali Raj, though, this win means even more than that one did. “Back in 2006,” she said, all smiles after close of play, “our players were experienced players. England were an improving side. Now, after eight years, England have won World Cups, and won Ashes, so we’ve played against one of the best sides. So I think this victory is sweeter.”
This Indian team, many of whom have been playing international cricket for less than two years, will certainly remember their victory. As 18-year-old Smriti Mandhana, whose 51 helped India begin their cruise to victory yesterday evening, said yesterday: “It’s my debut Test match, and if we win this it will be a dream come true.” Judging from the looks on their faces, the same is also true of the other seven Indian debutants. It is not just that this is against England, probably the best team in international women’s cricket at the moment. It is because, whether the boards recognise it or not, Test match cricket is the biggie as far as the players are concerned. A Test match victory in women’s cricket is never easily forgotten.
England, too, will remember this Test: and despite it being a one-off, the loss is bound to hurt. Losing always does, and though the players have stressed that they have long seen themselves as professionals, the public expectations in this era of new contracts are higher now, whether they like it or not. Even Jenny Gunn, who was awarded £1,000 and a magnum of champagne, looked dejected as she accepted her Player of the Match award.
Gunn, along with England’s other bowlers, was wicketless this morning, as India moved slowly but surely from 119-4 to their target of 181, without further loss. The bowlers were clearly tired – Gunn had been off the field the evening before, suffering from cramp; and Kate Cross, in the middle of her fourth over of the morning, simply lay on the ground for a minute or two, stretching, likely suffering from a similar affliction. Such tiredness was also, perhaps, reflected in the mistakes an increasingly dispirited England made in the field, including several dropped catches, the worst of which was a straightforward chance shelled by Charlotte Edwards at mid-off which would have seen Raj dismissed when on 40. These players are not, of course, used to multi-day cricket.
Yet neither Gunn nor the other bowlers can really be blamed for failing to make the breakthroughs England so desperately needed in the morning. The wicket was flatter, now; the conditions for batting were the best they have been all game, with the sun shining down on the Indian batsmen. As Edwards recognised, it was the mistakes her side had made with the bat, on the first and second days, which proved costly. “It wasn’t a 92 all out wicket”, she admitted. “We didn’t play good options when we were batting and ultimately that’s cost us this Test match.”
In this case, there is no doubt that this match, a historic occasion given that it has been eight years since India played a Test, will be remembered. The catch for England, of course, is that what they really need to do, with the three-match ODI series against India starting at Scarborough on Thursday, is forget this inauspicious start to their professional era, and move on. That will be hard to do.