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Melinda Farrell at Wormsley
August 13, 2014
India Women 87 for 6 (Gunn 4-13) trail England Women 92 (Niranjana 4-19) by five runs
The dawn of the fully professional era for England Women did not exactly unfold as planned.
This was expected, by many, to be a lop-sided affair between a team of full-time athletes, most with Test match experience, and a team containing eight players on Test debut. Between a side which has played two Tests in the preceding twelve months and a side which has not played a Test in eight years. Between a team which has won back-to-back Women's Ashes Series - and reached the finals of the most recent 50 over World Cup and World T20 - and a team which has slipped to seventh in the world in the shorter formats of the game.
Based on the opening day of the stand-alone Test at Wormsley, it was difficult to tell which side was which.
In fact, at one point in the afternoon, when India reached 40 without losing a wicket after bowling England out for 92 runs - their lowest ever Test total against India - it was the tourists who looked comfortable, in control and with the perfect opportunity to take a significant first innings lead.
India will undoubtedly rue the fact they squandered the chance to seriously press their advantage with the bat after their bowlers had performed so admirably. Instead of going on the offensive, India batted defensively and allowed the hosts back into the contest, losing 6 for 24 in the evening session. Thanks largely to the efforts of the excellent Jenny Gunn, who took 4 for 13 in 12 overs, the match now rests evenly poised, although India, trailing by five with four wickets in hand, still have the chance to establish a decent lead in the morning of the second day.
After Mithali Raj won the toss it was no surprise to see her elect to insert England and give her seamers the chance to bowl on a green-tinged pitch - a stark contrast to the slow wicket on offer here a year ago when England and Australia fought out a frustrating and slow-scoring draw. In the lead up to this Test the ECB asked for a more lively pitch to allow both sides to display their skills with bat and ball. They perhaps got more than they bargained for, with 16 wickets tumbling on a day when only seven players reached double figures.
The question of professionalism in the women's game must also include the location of future Tests. While the surrounds of Wormsley provide a stunningly picturesque backdrop, the remote location of the ground, the cost of travel and lack of nearby public transport must be an impediment to attracting crowds, particularly on weekdays.
As a result it is understood the ECB is considering moving future women's Tests to more accessible locations, with Lord's the likely venue for next summer's Test against Australia as part of the 2015 Women's Ashes Series.
India's opening bowlers certainly rewarded Raj's decision to field. The veteran Jhulan Goswami and Nagarajan Niranjana bowled intelligently and accurately, consistently delivering full-length outswingers that forced the England batsmen to play their shots but also regularly beat the bat.
The deliveries that jagged back were more than effective. Seduced by the balls that moved away, seven England players were trapped lbw - setting a new record for number of lbws in a women's Test innings - one was caught behind, and another was clean bowled. Only the final wicket, when Kate Cross was run out chasing a second run, which was never really on offer, provided any variation.
Although they had the advantage of greater experience, England's batsman looked somewhat nervous and uncomfortable at the crease, with the exception of Sarah Taylor, who compiled 30 runs - the highest score of the day - before she was trapped by one of Goswami's inswingers.
In contrast India's openers, Thirush Kamini and Smriti Mandhana, looked almost too comfortable - generally content to prod and defend. England had made the unusual decision not to play a specialist spinner and rely on their seamers to do the damage and, while Anya Shrubsole had two big appeals for lbw turned down in her opening over, it was not until Charlotte Edwards brought Gunn into the attack that the breakthrough was made.
Whatever happens from here, India's competitive display sends a message to the BCCI that there is talent here worthy of investment. If a semi-professional side can compete with players who now have the opportunity to train full-time together, it remains to be seen what could be achieved if central contracts were introduced to the India players.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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