Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick
Heather Knight has welcomed the return of Test cricket to the women's schedule after England's fixtures for the summer were announced. Knight, the England captain, said it was "really important that we keep Test cricket going in the women's game", with confirmation that India will tour this summer and play their first Test in six years.
The BCCI secretary, Jay Shah, had tweeted on International Women's Day in March that India would play England in a one-off match. The Test will take place at Bristol on June 16-19 - starting two days before India's men take on New Zealand in the World Test Championship final - to be followed by three ODIs and three T20Is. England will also face New Zealand in T20I and ODI series in September.
England's last three Tests have all come as part of the multi-format points system used for the women's Ashes. They entertained India at Wormsley in 2014, losing by six wickets, and have not won in the format since the 2013-14 Ashes at Perth. India's most-recent Test was an innings win over South Africa in 2014-15.
With an Ashes tour looming this winter, England's women are in the unusual position of having more than one Test in their schedule. Knight described scoring a hundred at Wormsley during the 2013 Ashes as one of her "proudest moments" and said she was pleased to be involved in Bristol staging its first Test.
"It's a great addition," Knight said. "To know that we've got two Test matches within nine months is really nice actually. Usually it's one every two years, so that's more frequently than we normally have them.
"I love playing Test cricket. We don't play much of it, but we really enjoy it and really enjoy the challenge of doing something we don't do very often. It's really important that we keep Test cricket going in the women's game. Realistically, T20 is the sport that's going to grow women's cricket around the world and we've seen that over the last five years, but I'd love to keep playing Test cricket.
"I'd love to see the multi-format series that we do for the Ashes as the norm going forward. I'd love to play a Test match in India, I think it would be a massive challenge.
"One of my proudest moments in an England shirt is scoring a Test century, and that speaks to the way that Test cricket is seen.
"It's going to be a really big occasion, and coming from the South West I'm really chuffed that it's going to be down at Bristol as well."
England Women were back in training at Loughborough last week and Knight said there had been "loads of chat about the Test" among the players. Given how little practice they have in the four-day format, the game against India could provide useful pointers ahead of the Ashes.
"It will help our preparation in terms of getting our head around red-ball cricket and what skills we need for that, and how we're going to approach it," she said. "It will be really useful for that Test match that we're going to have next year.
"Generally it feels like in a Test match you're finding your feet in the first couple of days, working out how to go about things, and you get to grips with it towards the end. So it's going to be really key that we're clear on how we want to go about that Test match, and that will be key going into the Ashes as well."
Matches of any kind have been hard to come by over the last 12 months, with women's sport disproportionately hit by the effects of the pandemic. England were grateful to West Indies flying in for five T20Is last summer - after India and South Africa pulled out of tours - but they now have a full schedule to look forward to ahead of a busy 2022, which includes the postponed 50-over World Cup and cricket's return to the Commonwealth Games.
"It's absolutely lovely knowing we've got such a packed schedule," Knight said. "Last year was quite tough not knowing what we were preparing for or what we had coming up, so to have two big international tours, the Hundred, and then a trip to Pakistan, and then a massive year next year with Ashes, World Cup - this year's going to be massive in our preparation for that."
With their World Cup defence in mind, England will play a five-ODI series against New Zealand at the end of the summer. They recently returned from New Zealand having swept the T20Is 3-0 and won the ODIs 2-1 (their first fixtures in the format since 2019) but, with Australia extending their recent run of dominance in the format, Knight said England had room for improvement.
"It was a really positive tour, I felt like we learned quite a lot from it," Knight said. "We were successful, which is great, and I think a real key thing that came out of it, a real positive, was we challenged the bowling unit to be more aggressive and look to take wickets throughout the innings, in one-day cricket mainly but also T20.
"We also got to look at a few players that we haven't seen loads of, Freya Davies took her chance in the T20s. We're starting to build a big group of players who are really challenging for selection now, which is brilliant. And with the amount of cricket we've got coming up, hopefully that will give more opportunities for players looking to push for their place.
"The game we did lose [in Dunedin], we didn't find a way to a score that would have won us the game. I think we had a really good start on a pitch that did move around a lot, and then we didn't build on that with our middle order. So I think that was a really good learning and one that we want to improve at, particularly because we're going to be playing on similar wickets in New Zealand next year."