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Melinda Farrell at Wormsley
August 15, 2014
India Women 114 and 119 for 4 (Raj 20*, Pandey 0*) need 62 more runs to beat England Women 92 and 202 (Gunn 62, Taylor 40, Goswami 4-48)
The way India Women celebrate taking a wicket is, perhaps, revealing.
Not content with individual backslapping or a gleeful group hug, each time an England player is sent back to the pavilion the entire team forms a huddled circle, arms around one another, while captain Mithali Raj reminds them of the need to stay focused.
It is as if they believe they are playing for something far more significant than back-to-back Test victories over England - albeit separated by eight years - although that, alone, would be an historic achievement.
It could be that they believe a win over a fully professional and well-supported England side will give them the strongest possible case to convince the BCCI to introduce central contracts that are generous enough to allow them to become full-time cricketers.
And after three days of play, with the match delicately poised and victory a real possibility, a team that remains the only major national women's side to lack centrally-contracted players has more than proved itself on the world stage in a format only three of their number have previously experienced.
Needing 62 runs for victory and with six wickets in hand - although it would be astonishing if Shubhlakshmi Sharma will be capable of batting after she dislocated her shoulder diving in the outfield - India's chances could now lie with the experienced Raj, who will return to the crease with Shikha Pandey on the final morning.
"It's a very well poised game," said Kate Cross, whose wickets kept England alive. "We only need five wickets knowing that the poor girl is injured.
"Mithali is always going to be a big wicket and if we could get her quite early that's a massive positive for us. We knew that if we could get her tonight then we were on a massive high going into tomorrow.
"She's a game changer and I think I've done really well to keep her quite quiet. She's a very attacking player and she's gone into her shell a little bit."
That India have a chance to secure victory is largely due to a classy and mature half-century by the 18-year-old Smriti Mandhana. The teenager captains her state side, Maharashtra, in the Indian domestic competition and recently scored a double century against Gujarat so perhaps it was no surprise that was not overawed by playing her first Test on just her second trip abroad.
"We were playing interstate U-19 and I just went out and batted," she said. "It's my debut Test match and if we win this it will be a dream come true. You want to win your first Test match. I will be very happy if we win it."
While her opening partner Thirush Kamini was solid but defensive, Mandhana was more assertive, clipping the ball off her toes and cover driving with perfect timing and elegant execution.
Apart from a difficult chance offered to Lydia Greenway at backward point on 36 off the bowling of Cross, Mandhana was flawless until she misjudged a straight delivery, again from Cross, which trapped her on middle and leg stump.
India were steadily building, if not quite cruising, at 76 without loss until the medium-fast Cross entered the attack and broke the opening partnership by dismissing Kamini, also leg-before-wicket. The two wickets took the match tally of lbws to 20, equalling the Test record for that type of dismissal.
Cross bowled superbly as she somehow extracted life from the flattening pitch and finished with 3 for 35 off her 17 overs while Heather Knight, recently adding some gentle off-spin to her game, took her maiden Test wicket when Punam Raut prodded outside off-stump and Jenny Gunn showed brilliant reflexes at first slip to take the catch.
"We just tried to bowl gun-barrel straight and there been so many lbws in this game we've tried as hard as we can to put pressure on them and slow them down," Cross said.
After recording her best Test bowling figures of 5 for 19 in the first innings Gunn was wicketless after bowling 11 overs, but she kept England in the match with the bat after Sarah Taylor departed in the morning.
England had started the day cautiously, Taylor and Gunn gradually emerging from survival mode as they accumulated runs with increasing confidence.
Taylor looked the most likely to wrest the momentum back England's way as she began to open up and play her shots but there was still enough movement in the pitch for Sharma to send a delivery nipping back in to clip the bails.
After scoring five runs off 67 deliveries before Taylor walked back to the pavilion Gunn took up the mantle admirably with an unbeaten 62, lifting gears with the support of Anya Shrubsole until Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey robbed her of batting partners.
Now it is Raj who must heed her own advice and hope her middle and lower order players can support her as they attempt to successfully complete the second highest run chase in women's Test history.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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