India complete landmark victory
It has been eight years since India Women last played a Test match, but they made light of that lengthy gap by beating England Women by six wickets in Wormsley
India Women 114 (Gunn 5-19) and 183 for 4 (Mandhana 51, Raj 50*) beat England Women 92 (Niranjana 4-19) and 202 (Gunn 62*, Taylor 40, Goswami 4-48) by six wickets
When India Women secured their first ever Test victory against England it was Mithali Raj who hit the winning runs.
So there was a fitting symmetry that, eight years later, the Indian captain was unbeaten again and, while she did not score the final runs this time around, she was the key figure in the middle as she guided her team to another historic win.
Raj did it in magnificent style, playing an assured and intelligent innings alongside Shikha Pandey, as she calmly lifted the game out of England's reach on the final morning of the standalone Test at Wormsley.
India's requirement of a further 62 may have looked relatively simple, particularly with six wickets in hand on a flattening pitch, but in the context of this low-scoring match it was no surprise that Raj admitted to feeling nervous overnight.
Raj teased and frustrated England by consistently angling the bat and guiding the ball to third man with soft hands. When England put in a slip, she simply adjusted her timing and found the gap.
As victory drew closer she refused to give in to temptation, patiently taking the singles and waiting for her opportunity to strike. With nine runs needed she drove imperiously to the boundary and then brought up her half-century with another single. The match was hers.
She gave her opponents one chance, dropped when she smashed a Jenny Gunn delivery to Charlotte Edwards.
It was particularly unfortunate for Gunn, whose five-wicket haul and second innings half-century deservedly earned her the player of the match award.
As the England players watched the match slip away the Indian contingent hovered with evident excitement by the boundary. When Pandey dispatched Nat Sciver through the covers to pass the target her team-mates were halfway to the wicket before the ball had crossed the rope, mobbing their captain in delight as they celebrated victory in a format that is so rare.
"On a personal note, when I played the last Test and I got to know we wouldn't be playing any more it was sad for me," Raj said. "As a cricketer, you want to play more Test matches as it will challenge all your endurance levels. It's challenging but I am very happy that before I hang up my boots I got to win another Test."
The final two days were in stark contrast to the first two. The toss proved vital and Raj, who joked afterwards that she hardly ever chooses the right side of the coin, was given a huge advantage when she was able to give her bowlers the chance to attack with the seaming ball on a pitch that proved to be a minefield for the batsmen in the early sessions.
Edwards acknowledged after the match that few sides can go on to secure victory after making a first innings total of 92.
"We didn't play good options when we were batting," Edwards said. "I think they bowled well. Sometimes credit has to go to the opposition. Some of the decisions didn't go our way as well so that combined meant that we didn't quite get ourselves into the game."
But this match, along with the upcoming three one-day internationals between the two sides, need to be seen in a wider context.
There was far more at stake here than a winning total on a scorecard. This was a semi-professional team, containing eight debutants, taking on a well-supported England side whose players are centrally contracted and recently attracted stand-alone sponsorship.
It was a team whose players were on foreign soil, most of them experiencing English conditions for the first time and, ultimately, adapting better than their opponents.
And it was a team that must be aware that, by beating a well-resourced and highly fancied England side, questions should be raised as to why the world's richest cricket board is lagging behind their less wealthy counterparts in rewarding their players.
"Once you start playing well, you will get more support," Raj said. "I'm sure that if we start winning matches and bigger series the BCCI will someday take up this issue of payment."
For the sake of the future of women's cricket in India, one can only hope the right people are paying attention.