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Match Analysis

Four-day cut-off robs yet another women's Test the room to thrive

Scheduling intransigence causes series of outstanding performances to be overshadowed

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Rain interrupted play on the final day, and highlighted the problem of staging women's Tests over four days  •  Getty Images

Rain interrupted play on the final day, and highlighted the problem of staging women's Tests over four days  •  Getty Images

England were desperate for a result. South Africa hoped to hold out for a draw. In the end, the latter got their way as the weather had the final say when their Test in Taunton finished in a stalemate.
What cricket there was - and there was plenty over the first two days in particular - was hard-fought and full of highlights.
There was Marizanne Kapp's heroic 150 to keep her side in the contest after England's debutant seamers Issy Wong and Lauren Bell combined with new seam-bowling leader Kate Cross and Nat Sciver to reduce them to 45 for 4 on the first morning.
Then there was Player of the Match Sciver's unbeaten 169 and Alice Davidson-Richards' century on debut before England's sporting declaration, 133 runs ahead.
When Wong took two wickets at the end of a frustrating third day full of rain delays to leave South Africa 45 for 3, the hosts' prospects of pushing for victory looked very good. But then came the stunning resistance of Tumi Sekhukhune who came in as nightwatcher and proved to be immovable, as did Kapp, so that by the time the rain came back one last time there was no chance of a result.
Poignantly, nearly every player who spoke about this match, in the lead-up and during, talked of feeling a responsibility to "put on a good show" in the context of questions over the future of women's Tests.
A great contest ruined by the weather has been the fate of countless Tests down the years, regardless of which gender is playing, and yet there is one key difference. This match boosted the argument for women's Tests to be played over five days rather than four.
Cross, who stepped up in the absence of the retired Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt and took six wickets for the match, posted on the subject on Twitter while Heather Knight, England's captain who has long been a supporter of five-day Tests for women, was hopeful that things might change for the Ashes in England in 2023.
"I can give my opinion, I've given that before and that hasn't changed," Knight said. "And also with the rain, it's kind of reinforced that opinion a little bit and hopefully it happens. We've got an Ashes Test match in in the summer next year, and hopefully the ICC gives the option for the boards to choose four or five days, and hopefully that'll be the case.
"When we play Tests so rarely... I think it's important that it has the chance to come to a crescendo and to finish and the stats in terms of the amount of draws speak for themselves a little bit. It's hard to keep trying to fight the corner for women's Test cricket when a lot of the games finish in a draw."
But Knight was also hopeful that people would look beyond the scoreline - this was the sixth women's Test in a row to end in a draw - and recognise what a good contest full of wonderful performances the match had been.
"We came here today thinking the weather might play a part but thinking we could still push for that victory and it's just a shame that it has intervened and probably now the conversation is going to be about four or five days, rather than the really amazing cricket stories that came from the Test," she said.
"I do think some brilliant cricket's being played. Nat's hundred, ADR's hundred, how exciting was last night, Issy Wong tearing in trying to take those South African wickets? It was so much fun being out there and some really exciting stuff, so I do hope people can look beyond that and if you have watched any of the game, I think you'll naturally do that."
Another challenge for women's Tests is ensuring that more countries have the resources to play the format. This was only the second time since 2007 that a team other than England, India and Australia have played a Test, and South Africa's first since 2014.
As a result, South Africa fielded nine debutants, including Sekhukhune and Sune Luus, their captain, who felt her side had done enough to prove they should play more Tests.
"I think it was exciting," she said. "We got a lot of positive feedback and I think if Tumi's innings didn't show the character and the fight and didn't persuade a lot of people back home, then I don't know what's going to.
"Everything was quite a new experience for me, but I think the girls thoroughly enjoyed it. Every day we came off the field, there was still lots of laughs and although it was tough situations at certain points, I think the girls really enjoyed it and some of the girls stepped up and hopefully we get some Test matches in the near future as well."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo