Big picture

They call it the seven-year itch, and after so long in the Test-match wilderness, India are ready for a change of scene that they and their opponents, England, hope will be anything but dull or scratchy. So rare are women's Tests that there is a sense of pressure to provide excitement, not least to a live TV audience, as well as to fans who are just beginning to whet their appetites for witnessing the action in person as pandemic-enforced restrictions slowly ease.
But more pressing for two professional sports teams is the will to win. England haven't done so at home to India in eight completed Test matches while India are playing just their second Test since their last meeting in the format in 2014, having also played and beaten South Africa later the same year. In fact, India are on a three-match winning streak in Tests - if you can call it a streak given that that streak began in 2006 - and victory in Bristol would pull them clear of Australia to a women's record number of Test victories on the trot.
Both sides boast Test-match experience, with eight members of India's squad and 11 of England's having played the format before. The home contingent's recall may be better given that it hasn't quite been two years since their last match, the 2019 Ashes affair at Taunton that became a bit of a talking point for petering out to a rather dull draw.
News that this match will be played on a pitch used for the men's T20 Blast last Friday may boost hopes of a result but it doesn't exactly buy in to the hype surrounding this match, which has been considerable given that the men's WTC final between India and New Zealand starts on Friday. At least an otherwise iffy weather forecast is clear for the first day of the Women's Test, offering them a prime chance to turn heads and perhaps even seduce a wider audience.
It also sets the stage for more to come with the Test forming the first part of a multi-format series incuding three ODIs and three T20Is.
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Heather Knight: Jhulan Goswami is 'one of the best of our generation'
Heather Knight: Jhulan Goswami is 'one of the best of our generation'

In the spotlight

Lauren Winfield-Hillwas identified early on in England's preparations to open the batting alongside Tammy Beaumont. While experienced in Tests - she has played three, including the last time these two sides met - it will be her first since the 2017 Ashes. It also marks a comeback of sorts to the England set-up after struggles with Crohn's disease caused her to battle for game time over the past year. But with her illness under better control, she has found form in lead-up matches - practice and domestic - which could make her one to watch.
Punam Raut made a breakthrough of sorts during India's 4-1 ODI series loss to South Africa in March. A match-winning century partnership with Smriti Mandhana followed by two fifties and an unbeaten 104 off 123 balls finally showed she has more than one dimension. While her long-earned reputation as slow accumulator is suited to the Test format, showing an ability to step up the scoring rate when needed suggests an emerging adaptability that could prove useful depending on the match situation.

Team news

England have settled on their XI but captain Heather Knight wouldn't reveal her side before all the players had been told. Knight has spoken glowingly of fast bowler Emily Arlott since before she earned her maiden England call-up to the squad and has been further impressed during practice by her pace and "handy" form with the bat, suggesting she could be in line for a debut that would mark a stellar rise. Knight could be tempted to roll over some of her offbreaks with two left-handers in India's line-up and having overcome a recent back problem that forced her to put bowling on the backburner in training for a while. She could call up another offspinner in Mady Viliers but left-armer Sophie Ecclestone seems too good a weapon to leave out.
England (possible): 1 Tammy Beaumont, 2 Lauren Winfield-Hill, 3 Heather Knight (capt), 4 Amy Jones, 5 Nat Sciver, 6 Sophia Dunkley, 7 Fran Wilson/Georgia Elwiss, 8 Katherine Brunt, 9 Anya Shrubsole, 10 Sophie Ecclestone, 11 Emily Arlott/Kate Cross
India are expected to opt for three frontline pacers in Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, and either Arundhati Reddy or Pooja Vastrakar. Their main spin option will come down to a choice between Poonam Yadav and Ekta Bisht bowling alongside Deepti Sharma and Harmanpreet Kaur. It's most likely fans will have to wait at least until the ODIs starting next week to see the exciting 17-year-old batter Shafali Verma in action with India's top order well-stocked with experienced campaigners.
India (possible): 1 Smriti Mandhana, 2 Jemimah Rodrigues/Priya Punia, 3 Punam Raut, 4 Mithali Raj (capt), 5 Harmanpreet Kaur, 6 Deepti Sharma, 7 Taniya Bhatia (wk), 8 Jhulan Goswami, 9 Shikha Pandey, 10 Poonam Yadav/Ekta Bisht, 11 Arundhati Reddy/Pooja Vastrakar

Pitch and conditions

The match will be played on a pitch used for Gloucestershire's T20 Blast match against Sussex last Friday, which Knight branded "not ideal" and tried in vain to have changed. The weather could well play a big part with warmth and bright sunshine forecast for the opening day, followed by a high chance of rain, particularly on Thursday and Saturday.

Stats and trivia

  • England are seeking their first home Test win against India in eight completed matches
  • The game will be Heather Knight's 100th as England captain
  • India will be playing their first Test in 2401 days
  • If India win, they will break the record for most consecutive wins in women's Tests pulling clear of Australia, with whom they are currently tied at three apiece.

Quotes

"You obviously want to be entertaining and want to put on a show, and show off the best of your skills and the best of women's cricket, but our job first and foremost is to try and win and be successful. That's at the forefront of our mind, and if we can do both at the same time, even better."
Heather Knight on winning vs playing pretty
"You ask any modern-day cricketer, they still want to play the longer format because they eventually know that the format tests the skill of a player."
Mithali Raj on players' love of Test cricket

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo