The first women’s Test match between India and Australia in 15 years has come to a disappointing finish.
The rain-affected pink ball Test predictably ended up with in a draw, with the night-time sessions of Days 1 and 2 lost to the elements. That is the period of the match most conducive for quick wickets. It signalled very early what the result was going to be. However, it wasn’t just the weather conditions that led the two teams to that result.
The Australians overall were poor in multiple facets of the game. Bowlers struggled for rhythm and struggled to execute plans for a prolonged period of time.
It was highlighted by Lisa Sthalekar during the telecast that many of the Australian bowlers have been training predominantly for the short formats, which require changing line, length and speed consistently.
Settling into a spell of five or six overs and hitting the same areas to build pressure and working batters over is a skill that remains foreign to some of them and that lack of a Test match skill set was apparent for sizeable periods of the Indian first innings.
Australia were uncharacteristically poor in the field as well with some key chances going down. Shafli Verma was given a reprieve three times in her short stay at the crease.
It was the Indian batting that played the largest part, outside of the time lost, in this game becoming a draw. After a sparkling start from opener Smriti Mandhana, the eventual loss of her partner, Shafali Verma, who had lived a charmed life, brought Punam Raut to the crease.
She had no interest in helping her swashbuckling partner continue to put the Australian’s to the sword. It was an attitude that continued down the order with most of the Indian women, who had the fortune of batting exclusively during the day on a pitch that offered very little once the shine had come off the ball.
The middle order struggled to play with a strike rate of 40 runs per 100 balls. The Indians seemed to have one plan for this game, which was to bat themselves into a position where they couldn’t lose and see what happens.
Aided by being able to bowl at night against the Australians and some loose Australian stroke play, India seemed well on top. But once Australia made it past the follow-on score it seemed a forgone conclusion that a draw was coming.
That was until Meg Lanning declared, trailing by 136 runs, in a desperate attempt to force a result with two sessions to play. As we know it was in vain as the Australians were left a run chase of 272 runs but after 15 overs both captains accepted the draw.
Overall the game was a pretty disappointing spectacle and not a great advertisement for women’s cricket. There were some impressive individual displays. Mandhana and Ellyse Perry excelled with the bat. Stella Campbell picked up two wickets on her debut and Annabel Sutherland looked impressive with the ball despite not being rewarded with any wickets.
The Indian bowlers all executed very well but the end product was not an appealing spectacle with the Indians’ lethargic attitude towards pushing for a victory.
This propensity of women’s Test matches churning out draws is not limited to this game. In fact the last time there was a result in a women’s match was in 2015 when Australia defeated England.
There are a number of factors to this. Firstly, the lack of red-ball cricket means these women don’t have the same Test match skills that we come to take for granted in the men’s game.
The same basic skills are the with bat and ball but effectively executing them over a course of several days isn’t as simple as playing a longer 50-over game. To expect them to perform at the same level as seasoned Test veterans is naïve.
The other factor working against them is this multi-format-style series that has been used for the Ashes series and now this series against India. They play an assortment of ODIs, T20s and a solitary Test match with points awarded for victories and the winner decided by having the most points.
To give the teams incentive to push for the win, the Test is weighted the highest. In this series the short-form games are worth two points each and the Test is worth four points.
Unfortunately, the opposite has happened. Teams being so unfamiliar with the format have played themselves out of danger first, not prepared to risk losing a glut of points. As it stood, if the Indians lost this Test, even winning all of the remaining T20s, they would have only drawn the series.
By sharing the points, the calculations for victory are much easier. This is a trend that has plagued the Test matches all through the multi-format. The points were recently reduced from six points for a Test win to four to help combat the safety-first attitude of teams.
But when you have to go back six years for the last time a team has won a Test, clearly not enough has been done to promote positive play in the Test arena.
It’s easy to understand why. Winning a Test match is hard and winning a limited-overs game is comparatively easy. Limited overs games are ‘make the runs or don’t’. Drying up the runs is a legitimate way to win the game.
However, as we know, you need to take ten fourth-innings wickets and as we have seen over the years in both the men’s and women’s games, teams facing defeat can dead bat their way to the end and aim for a draw.
Not only is winning in a limited-overs fixture more straight forward, it is far more familiar so the attitude of damage limitation and getting back to the devil they know is understandable.
Adopting something from the men’s game and implementing a Test championship with a fixed cycle of two years and having those matches separate from the limited-overs games should improve the positive play.
No longer worried about saving the points from the multi-format series, they will be move motivated to win the game and gain points for a larger competition.
In an ideal world, you could bookend the short-form fixtures with a Test match. Teams would have more opportunities to play Test matches, which is a good thing to grow the game and teams can play a little more freely if they know they have to chance to level the series should they lose the first game.
An Australian summer could have alternating years of India touring one year and England the next. In turn the tours would be reciprocated respectively between the three nations, which would allow the teams to play each other four times in a two-year period.
To grow the game even further, each of those three nations could have another team tour as well. For example, a summer in Australia could have a series against New Zealand and England one year and South Africa and India the next.
That’s the potential for four Test matches in a home summer for the Australian women and if the Test matches are part of their own competition like the men’s World Test Championship, it will hopefully lead to some entertaining, attacking cricket.
The more the women are exposed to the format, the more they will be forced to develop the skills to truly excel at Test cricket.
Another move that will certainly help more matches end with a result would be the addition of a fifth day. Since the year 2000, wickets in a women’s Test match have come at a strike rate 64.44. That means you would need 2578 balls to take 40 wickets, which happens to be 178 balls more than a full match.
Before a women’s game even starts, it is statistically likely to finish in a draw. The men’s game works out to be 4.7 days to take 40 wickets at their average strike rate in the same period, comfortably within the five-day time limit. There is no real reason why they can’t play the extra day and it would certainly allow for more results.
Cricket in general has taken great strides recently to improve the women’s game, especially in Australia. We have established that there is enough talent to make a women’s competition viable. The WBBL, the women’s Hundred and a proposed women’s IPL have gathered more and more momentum. Women’s cricket has never been more prominent and Australian women should be afforded every chance to don the baggy green.
Arguably the most revered part of Australian sport, wearing one is the dream for all young Australian cricketers, boy or girl. After seeing the emotion that Alyssa Healy spoke with when being interviewed about receiving hers, the same passion for the iconic cap clearly resides with our female cricketers. But they have only been given the chance to wear it seven times in the last decade and that simply is not enough.
In fact, other than Australia, England and India, the only other team to be given the opportunity was South Africa. But the world has become smaller, and with the prominence of professional women’s leagues around the world, the talent gap is reducing and there is no reason other nations can’t be involved in more long-form cricket.
Great strides have been taken in the women’s game and now it is time for more Test cricket and to properly incentivise it to give the young girls of today their own baggy green-clad heroines to inspire them to be the heroines of tomorrow.