Ind vs Aus Test review: ‘Aus-some’ win, but rocky road ahead

India’s victory was its second in Tests this month, having thrashed England by 347 runs in Mumbai. But its future in red-ball cricket is still in a limbo.

Published : Jan 04, 2024 10:30 IST - 5 MINS READ

Picture-perfect: India’s win is its first in 11 women’s Tests against No. 1-ranked Australia since the sides first played in 1977.
Picture-perfect: India’s win is its first in 11 women’s Tests against No. 1-ranked Australia since the sides first played in 1977. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Picture-perfect: India’s win is its first in 11 women’s Tests against No. 1-ranked Australia since the sides first played in 1977. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Mithali Raj had shared a noteworthy insight before India Women’s solitary Tests against England and Australia. The former captain emphasised the significance of increasing the number of multi-day red-ball games at the domestic level to provide the players with ample experience before participating in Test matches.

“If you are having a Test match, it should never be a one-off Test because then it gets very difficult for the current lot to learn about the format, how the format is played, and change the strategy or the skill according to that. It gets difficult for them to add a bit of dimension or work on the variation because it takes time,” she told  Sportstar.

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But for India, which was playing Australia in a Test at home for the first time in close to 40 years, a lack of Test experience did not manifest in its performance. Instead, it dominated all departments, securing an eight-wicket win, the team’s first against Australia in this format.

Securing consecutive Test victories within a week posed a significant challenge. But on a spin-friendly surface, India relied on the experienced duo of Sneh Rana and Rajeshwari Gayakwad to dismantle the touring side. This triumph was iconic for several reasons — it reaffirmed the women’s team’s readiness for the longer format and underscored the need to incorporate more Tests in bilateral tournaments.

According to the ICC’s Future Tours Programme for 2022–2025, India women won’t play any Tests till March 2025. There will be a Women’s Premier League (WPL), a T20 World Cup, and three bilateral series — an away outing against Australia in December next year, followed by home assignments against the West Indies and Ireland — in between. “The girls certainly need more Test matches and not one-off assignments,” said former India captain and coach Sudha Shah. “Ideally, it should be a three-match series.”

Sudha was part of the Indian team that played its first-ever Test against Australia in Perth in 1977 under the leadership of Shantha Rangaswamy. Against an experienced Australian team, the Indians lost by 147 runs. Sudha believes the current crop needs to ride on the momentum and play as many Tests as possible. “The girls now know they can beat stronger teams. That certainly gives them confidence. It’s a good thing for the game,” Sudha said, hoping these victories pave the way for longer format fixtures.

IND v AUS Women’s ODIs: Test queens get harsh white-ball reality check

The Indian players would hope so too. Otherwise, the noteworthy achievements, such as Richa Ghosh’s fifty on debut, Sneh’s seven-wicket haul, and Jemimah Rodrigues’ back-to-back fifties, might not contribute much to India’s progress. Instead, they would merely be footnotes in the history of the game.

In recent years, the BCCI has reiterated its commitment to women’s cricket. It has ensured pay parity between male and female cricketers, introduced the WPL, and, notably, scheduled four Tests for the team since 2021 — two at home and two away.

However, despite these initiatives, there is still much work to be done. Aligning with Mithali’s suggestion, reinstating multi-day games at the domestic level, reminiscent of earlier times, would facilitate a smoother transition for players from white-ball cricket to Tests.

For seasoned campaigners like Sneh, the shift hasn’t been a concern. “Earlier, our domestic tournaments were played with the red ball, so we have that experience. White-ball came in much later. But for me, it’s just about a change in the colour of the ball; everything else remains the same,” Sneh said, adding, “It’s a game of the mind.”

It, indeed, is. The hundred or so spectators cheering for the home team at Wankhede Stadium witnessed an intense rivalry between captains Harmanpreet Kaur and Alyssa Healy. The match featured nervous moments, displays of attitude, and appeals for obstructing the field. “That’s the beauty of Test cricket; it brings the best out of the players,” said Richa, who made her debut against the Aussies.

The 20-year-old from Siliguri had to warm the bench for the game against England.

However, an injury to Shubha Sateesh opened doors for her. Her crucial partnership with Jemimah in the first innings brought India back into the game after Smriti Mandhana was run out.

“The fact that you have to take things session by session itself is a huge learning experience for India’s youngsters. They seemed to be in no hurry to score runs, nor did they press the panic button when there were no breakthroughs. They handled things according to the situation. That was a very impressive thing,” said Sudha.

The team, under new head coach Amol Muzumdar, had extended preparation at the National Cricket Academy, including a multi-day side game, which reflected in its organised performance under Harmanpreet’s leadership.

While the result was undoubtedly gratifying, the broader question revolves around whether India intends to increase the number of Tests in its schedule. Does it have the necessary time and capacity? The players and visiting teams maintain an optimistic outlook.

“We would love to see more and more Tests, and I think it would create a real contest over three games. But the nature of the female game at the moment is that it’s very white-ball dominant, and trying to fit it all into the calendar, and fit all the white-ball games in particular, seems to take precedence. You take three one-day games out, and we could probably play two more Test matches,” stated Australia captain Healy.

She, surely, would have the support of the Indian players. Ahead of the Test against England, Mandhana had wished to be part of the World Test Championship someday.

And the two wins against England and Australia would only bolster her hopes of Tests gaining more dominance in women’s cricket in the near future.

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