Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Can India make case for Test future?

The last time England Women hosted their Indian counterparts in a Test match Tony Blair was Prime Minister. It was a summer of turmoil in cricket with England dramatically awarded the fourth Test of their home series against Pakistan when the tourists refused to play following accusations of ball tampering. When England and India Women last played a Test, Beyonce and Jay-Z were top of the charts with their hit Déjà Vu.

India caused a major upset by securing their first series win against England with a five-wicket victory in Taunton in August 2006, but there will be no sense of déjà vu for most of the India squad when this year's stand-alone Test begins at Wormsley: only three of the players - Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Karu Jain - played at Taunton. In fact, they are the only current squad members to have experienced Test cricket at all.

This match takes place in a wider context than a four-day contest. It is more than a return to the international stage for India, or the first Test in seven years that does not involve England taking on Australia. And it is far more than an excuse to enjoy the picturesque surrounds of Wormsley.

International women's cricket stands at a crossroads, possibly the most important of its history.

Over the past 16 months, the ECB and Cricket Australia have thrown down the gauntlet to other cricketing nations by increasing player payments to the point where top-tier contracted players can be fully professional. England have also recently secured stand-alone sponsorship while other national boards have made their players semi-professional by introducing central contracts.

But there are no central contracts for the India squad. Many of the players have government jobs working for the railways, taking administrative roles such as ticket clerks. The railways offer security and allow players to take time off for training and competition.

While this set-up is regarded as semi-professional, it's a far cry from the facilities and opportunities now available to the England players and, while the BCCI should be applauded for supporting this Test and tour, there is a danger that India will be left behind if serious investment does not follow.

India have slipped from second to seventh in the World Cup-based rankings since the 2006 Test and the match at Wormsley could be an indicator of what is to come in international competition, a widening gap as Australia and England reap the benefits of full-time training and increased sponsorship.

While the rarity of Tests make it a challenge for female players to become accustomed to the physical and mental demands of playing the longer format, not to mention adapting to the tactical changes, the back-to-back Women's Ashes series have given England the chance to play two four-day Tests against Australia in the year leading into this match and should give them another significant advantage.

England may have buckled against Australia in the most recent T20 and 50-over World Cup finals but in Tests they have proven to be formidable opponents, holding out for a draw in last year's contest at Wormsley and securing a thrilling victory at the WACA in January.

Those two venues played a big part in the type of cricket played and it remains to be seen what the Wormsley pitch offers this time around. While the pace and bounce of the WACA provided the perfect conditions for both bowlers and batsmen to test each other, last August's docile pitch in Buckinghamshire offered little to the bowlers and made scoring runs tediously hard work - Laura Marsh scored the second slowest half-century by any England player - hardly what the women's game needs as it fights for recognition. To this end the ECB has specifically asked for a pitch that allows for more entertaining cricket.

Ultimately, though, it is difficult to make any educated predictions when virtually an entire side will be making their Test debuts. England must be favourites, based on experience and recent successes, while the Indian players have a rare opportunity to show they are worthy of investment and a place on the world stage.

And, if they do, it is to be hoped they will not have to wait eight more years to experience deja-vu when walking out to represent their country in a Test.

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