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Sophie Ecclestone aiming to 'win the battle' with Shafali Verma as England push for victory

"It's just trying to hold to our guns and basically not cracking first," says spinner

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Sophie Ecclestone is relishing the battle with Shafali Verma as England and India prepare to face off on the final day of their one-off Test in Bristol.
Ecclestone, England's left-arm spinner and the No. 1-ranked T20I bowler in the world, added three wickets to her overnight tally of one as the home side bowled India out for a first-innings 231 and enforced the follow-on.
But Verma, the No. 1-ranked T20I batter in the world, was India's star for a second day running, following her debut Test innings of 96 with an unbeaten 55 as her side closed at 83 for 1 on a rain-interrupted third day, still 82 runs behind.
She was joined by another India debutant, Deepti Sharma, who was not out 18 after opener Smriti Mandhana had been dismissed for 8 on the last ball before lunch, a wicket Ecclestone described as "crucial".
"It's always interesting when me and Shafali match up in whatever format of the game it is," Ecclestone said. "When it comes to T20 I think she's really highly rated so it's really interesting to bowl at her.
"You just never know what's going to happen with her, you never know if you're going to get whacked over the top or she's going to miss one so it's really interesting to bowl to her and it's quite a good competition for me."
Ecclestone rattled through the wickets of Harmanpreet Kaur, Taniya Bhatia and Sneh Rana as she took 3 for 9 in the space of 21 balls in the morning session before seamers Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole tidied up the tail, Brunt claiming the wicket of Pooja Vastrakar with the delivery of the day, pitching on leg stump and taking the top of off.
As Verma put on another show of immaculate timing and strokeplay in India's second innings, Ecclestone bowled six tight overs, conceding just 12 runs, including just one boundary as Verma smacked her over mid-off.
At the close of play, Ecclestone revealed a little of her mindset when trying to get Verma out.
"I think just bowl my best ball and vary my pace so when I come into a Test match it's like trying to bowl my best ball for longer but when Shafali's batting I think it's try and use my arm ball a few times and vary my pace, so just change it up a little bit," Ecclestone said.
"When Shafali's batting I always want to win the battle, definitely I don't want her getting one up on me. I always look forward to the competition of playing against her so yeah, I'm always trying to get her out first before she hits me for any sixes."
The rain, which had been forecast before the match, brought an element of frustration for England as it bought India valuable time. Play continued in very light drizzle until the lunch break but set in when tea was taken a few minutes early under a revised schedule because of earlier interruptions.
"It's very frustrating when we can't really get the wickets," Ecclestone said. "The ball's not doing too much out there with the wet conditions so it's not ideal really for us all and the seamers especially get frustrated.
"So I think it's just trying to hold to our guns and basically not cracking first, it's whoever breaks will obviously lose the battle.
"We were really positive going back out to field, not getting too ahead of ourselves, we needed to stay calm and stay patient out there. We knew they were going to play the long game when they came out to bat.
"Getting that first wicket quite early of Smriti was a good one to get. We just need to keep fighting tomorrow hopefully."
Reflecting on India's first-innings collapse, after they slipped from 167 for 0 to 231 all out, Mandhana suggested the visitors "threw" their wickets away but would be focused on saving the game on Saturday.
"I wouldn't say they aren't great [spinners]. Sophie Ecclestone at the moment is the world's No. 1 spinner [in T20Is]," Mandhana said. "Nothing to take away from them. They bowled well. But the balls weren't that great to get out, so I think we kind of threw our wickets [away] - all of us. That's the only discussion [to focus on].
"We need to play to our strengths, not think about the occasion. That will really help to perform better and just trying to get used to the conditions. The first innings is done. The second innings - we have a big day tomorrow."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo