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Feature

'We've got the pedigree to win even if we haven't played too many Tests'

WV Raman, Hemlata Kala and Nooshin Al Khadeer look ahead to India Women's return to Test cricket

India won their most recent Test match in England, beating the hosts by six wickets at Wormsley in 2014  •  Getty Images

India won their most recent Test match in England, beating the hosts by six wickets at Wormsley in 2014  •  Getty Images

India Women are not only set to play their first Test since 2014 in England next month, they will also make history with their maiden day-night Test against Australia at the WACA later this year as part of an all-format tour. Here's what outgoing coach WV Raman and former India Women players Hemlata Kala, who was chief selector from 2015 to 2020, and Nooshin Al Khadeer, the current coach of the Railways side, have to say about what these Tests mean for the women's game in India and globally.
On the significance of two Tests in a year and the maiden pink ball Test
Raman: "The point is also about trying to sustain it. How many boards can sustain it is my question," he told Sports Today. "Maybe the top three-four can because it does take a lot of money as well, let's not forget the commercial side of it. Even if three-four boards are interested in making the girls pay Test cricket, it's fine, and we must try and give them back.
"What it does is that it gives them the opportunities to play the hardest format of the game and once they start doing well, they will be hailed even more than they are today. Performing in multi-day games is considered the hallmark of a great player, and that's how you really gauge players in men's cricket today. If they play regularly, that also gives them opportunities and tests them in every respect. The other thing is it also helps them become better in terms of match fitness because playing hard cricket for four or five days is going to be tough if you're not used to it. Once they start getting used to it, I'm sure they will also start enjoying it."
Al Khadeer: "The pink-ball Test will be a bit of a novelty because it's a shot into the unknown for the Indian team, but traditionally India Women have done well when there's been zero expectation. I remember, we went on that tour to England in 2006 and beat them in our first-ever T20I. We also won a Test on the same tour when no one expected us to. I'm not implying there aren't any expectations, but we've got the pedigree to win even if we haven't played too many Tests.
"It's exciting news for cricket fans and I can't be happier for the women's team. Playing a Test is the pinnacle of the sport and that is where your resolve, temperament and skills get tested. So, no better way to get tested than playing England and Australia in the space of a few months."
Kala: "It will encourage better and more professional approach in players across age-groups, and I think the multi-day format in our domestic cricket will also make a comeback over time. If Tests are to become a permanent fixture in India Women's calendar, the best way to scout and nurture talent would be through the multi-day domestic completion. So, the BCCI reintroducing the Test format for India could have a positive impact on our days' cricket in the domestic set-up."
How should the Test squad prepare for the pink ball Test?
Raman: "Getting a practice game now looks a bit impractical because there's a lot of restrictions and you may not have perhaps a good side to form from the local talent available. It's not just about playing a practice game, it's also about being a reasonably good quality side. So, the best option would be to try and play as much as you can with the pink ball, try and practice with it, try and see what the bowlers need to do, get used to it in whatever number of days they have available. It's the same for the batters as well, they've got to ensure that they get over whatever apprehensions and anxieties that they may have with the pink ball.
"It shouldn't matter because they should try and tell themselves that it's a case of just playing a sphere with a piece of willow, that's the best way to get into a game. And even if things go unexpectedly badly, they shouldn't be too disappointed because the important leg of the tour is the one-day series, and they enjoy playing the T20 format, and this is a situation where they're playing a Test match after nearly seven years, so it's not easy. We've seen that the best of sides can be a little bit rough getting into a Test game after a long break. A long break can even be three-four months, so seven years is a long time. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose."
Kala: "I'm certain the BCCI will do its best to give the players opportunities to get some preparatory experience with the pink ball before the Australia tour. The dynamics of playing with the pink ball are, no doubt, quite different to playing with the red or the white ball. A good way [to prepare for the day-night Test] would be to host intra-squad matches in India for the core pool of say, 30-35 players who might make the final squad. Once our players return from The Hundred, they could link up with the rest of the squad for the Australia tour in India and play a few warm-ups among them under lights with the pink ball. That way, it might be even easy to pick the best squad for the Test."
Al Khadeer: "As a batting group, we're technically sound to counter the pink ball and its movement. We've got quality batters in Mithali [Raj], Punam [Raut], Harmanpreet [Kaur], Deepti [Sharma] and Smriti [Mandhana]. With the ball, there's the experience of Jhulan [Goswami] to bank on. Rajeshwari Gayakwad is an excellent spinner and we've seen over the years how spin increasingly has played a big part. So, it'll be a challenge for the Australians too against our attack. I think there's a good balance.
"Also, a lot of the core group are slowly adjusting to playing around the world. With the likes of Jemimah [Rodrigues], Radha [Yadav], Shafali [Verma], Harman, Smriti playing in overseas leagues, the experience they'll carry will be invaluable. If they're able to pass that on to the youngsters, it'll be massively beneficial. They'll also have an opportunity to understand their opponents when playing in the same team, so all these are great signs."
Does the revival of Tests bring more opportunities to fringe players?
Kala: "If you look at our ODI and T20I teams, we already have some players, like Mithali and Jhulan, who are already one-format specialists. Now that Test cricket has been reintroduced, we will see specialists in the longest format also coming up. Players on the fringes might also get a chance because everyone has different strengths and talents and those who may not have been deemed best choices for the limited-overs formats could stand a chance to get maiden call-ups or make international comebacks."
Al Khadeer: "Developing players for Tests, preparing them temperamentally, would mean we're also able to produce players for the 50-overs format. From the time BCCI took over women's cricket, we've largely been inclined towards the limited-overs formats because that is the direction the ICC believed in as far as promoting women's cricket goes. Now, the addition of Tests is a welcome step and I hope we're able to bring back the three-day format in the domestic calendar."
How will Tests inspire young girls to take up the sport?
Al Khadeer: "Just imagine watching Jhulan Goswami bowl in a Test at Perth or Shikha Pandey in England, how many youngsters may want to take up fast bowling. Imagine them watching a three-pronged attack or four-pronged attack set up batters by hooping the ball around. That'd inspire a change over time at the grassroots and motivate youngsters to take up the skill more."
Interviews by Annesha Ghosh and Shashank Kishore