England adapt to keep Test in balance
England 92 and 110 for 6 (Winfield 35) lead India 114 (Gunn 5-19) by 88 runs
Test matches are often decided by a team's ability to adapt. Bowlers who can adapt to a flattening pitch, batsmen who can adapt to a change in the attack and captains who sense when the time is right to switch from defence to offence can all change the momentum of a cricket match as it ebbs and flows in its longest form.
In 50-over cricket, there's a limited amount of time to adjust a plan. In the T20 format, there's virtually none. It is worth remembering this when considering the one-off Test between England and India. It is also worth remembering that in this calendar year only two women's Tests will have been played.
And, while England are considered to be the experienced side in this contest, it is also worth pointing out that since India played their last Test match, in 2006, England have only played five.
After being fed a regular diet of limited-overs matches the players must change their tactics, find the physical stamina to bowl long spells or bat for sessions and summon the power to concentrate for long periods at the crease and in the field.
England seemed to have adapted their approach on the second day and gave themselves a chance to establish control. Jenny Gunn made the early breakthrough to claim a well-deserved five-wicket haul while Kate Cross and Sonia Odedra finished off the India tail.
Trailing by 22 runs after posting their lowest-ever Test score against India, the England batsmen came to the crease with a more positive attitude than they had shown in their nervous and tentative first dig. In the first seven overs on the opening day the hosts had scored three runs and lost a wicket; at the same point in their second innings they were 30 for 1. Not only had they adapted their mindset, they had also learned from their mistakes, playing straighter to India's seamers.
Although Heather Knight lasted just two balls, the Jhulan Goswami delivery that claimed her wicket was at least as good as any wicket-taking ball in this match: a quick, back-of-a-length, swinging delivery on the perfect line to entice the edge. Tammy Beaumont was less convincing, leaving her bat behind her pad as she attempted to defend against the left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht ten overs later.
Lauren Winfield seemed to have adjusted best, the debutant looking confident as she compiled 35 runs. But once Mithali Raj brought spinners on from both ends after lunch, the runs dried up for Winfield and Charlotte Edwards.
Raj has proved to be a canny tactician and, after bottling England up for several overs, the India captain offered up the more tempting pace of Shikha Pandey. Winfield took the bait, pulling Pandey's first delivery to the boundary and briskly collecting four runs off the next three balls. But Winfield attempted another pull of a shorter-pitched delivery that stayed low, missing it completely and becoming yet another leg-before statistic in a match that will surely set a record for such dismissals.
Pandey bowled just one more delivery before the heavens opened and offered another test of each side's ability to adapt and sustain concentration, this time around a two-and-a-half hour rain delay.
India were the clear winner of this particular challenge, Edwards playing a forward defensive shot to Bisht's first ball after the break and somehow feathering it to the keeper. When Lydia Greenway became the 16th player to fall lbw shortly afterwards, followed by an unconvincing Nat Sciver being bowled for another single-figure score, England had lost four wickets for the addition of 11 runs.
It was hardly surprising to see England retreat into survival mode at this point. It was, however, surprising to see the diminutive Bisht, on a pitch deemed such a green seamer that England chose not to select a specialist spinner, virtually shut down the naturally aggressive Sarah Taylor and the workmanlike Gunn and finish the day with the outstanding figures of 2 for 15 off 21 overs.
Taylor, certainly, understands the challenge. "This work will be for nothing if we don't kick on tomorrow and I think me and Jen have got to be the ones to stick around and keep pushing and just accumulating," she said. "I don't think we'll be looking to take the bowlers out of the attack at all.
"My cricket's probably matched towards the T20 style of cricket but actually it was one of those battles I relished and really enjoyed."
With a precarious lead of 88, England's chances of snatching victory will largely lie with Taylor and Gunn's ability to rein in their natural instincts and continue to adapt.