Thin on preparation but India women confident
Niranjana Nagarajan still has a stump and her whites from the last Test she had played. After all it was the Tamil Nadu bowler’s all-round show that had set up India’s six-wicket victory against the England women at Wormsley in 2014. After taking 4/19 to restrict England to 92 in the first innings, Nagarajan featured in a 31-run partnership with Jhulan Goswami to help India take a slender 22-run lead from 64/6. England replied with a strong 202 but led by captain Mithali Raj’s unbeaten fifty, India chased down 181 with six wickets to spare.
On the eve of India’s first overseas Test—they play England at Bristol from Wednesday—since that match, Nagarajan is understandably nostalgic. “It was my Test debut and I was so excited bowling with the Dukes ball in those lovely conditions. Mithali didi just told me to enjoy and bowl in the right areas,” said Nagarajan over phone from Chennai. “Test cricket is all about holding your nerves and playing session by session. That’s what we did,” added Nagarajan, who scored 27 in the first innings.
Like now, even then India were playing a Test after eight years (last being in Taunton, 2006 that they won by five wickets). But they had a good buildup—a 12-day camp at Bengaluru followed by a two-day tour game. This time though, India are going in without any warm-up at all. Can they repeat history in alien conditions, that too with the Kookaburra ball? Nagarajan, 32, is hopeful. “It is great that the BCCI is now focusing on Test cricket as well. The present team is a very seasoned outfit. With experienced coaching and support staff and Jhulu and Mithali didi at helm, I am sure India would do well. I am looking forward to seeing Shafali Verma and Jemimah Rodriques in whites,” said Nagarajan.
Karuna Jain, who had kept wickets against England in 2006 and 2014, feels India had benefited from being labeled underdogs on both occasions. “No one really expected India to win both times. There was absolutely no buzz about the 2006 Test match in the media back then and the association too had meager funds.” It was only a few months after that the BCCI took women’s cricket under its wings from the Women’s Cricket Association of India.
“In 2014, only Mithali, Jhulan and I had previously played Test cricket. There were eight debutants but the team gelled and delivered,” said Jain. Opener Thirush Kamini was one of those debutants. “I felt butterflies in my stomach. As the match progressed the feeling finally sank in,” recalled 30-year-old who had scored a magnificent 192 in the next Test at Mysore (India beat South Africa by an innings and 34 runs). The 2014 Test at Wormsley was closer and stretched to the fourth day. “As soon as Shikha (Pandey) hit the winning runs, everyone was on the field. I am looking forward to a similar finish in Bristol too,” said Jain, who wants the BCCI to re-start red-ball domestic tournaments. The last domestic red-ball tournament was organised in 2018.
India Test and ODI team vice-captain and T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur thinks India team is mentally prepared for the Bristol game. “We may not have much practice, but mentally we are prepared. We have discussed a lot of things so we have prepared ourselves well for the match,” said Kaur in a virtual press conference on Monday. She also said the players had got an opportunity to interact with men’s Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane ahead of the one-off Test against England. “Even in the nets, we try to be in the right frame of mind. When you are happy, you play good cricket. We try to play to our strengths. We had an easy and friendly talk with Rahane. He is very experienced. He told us about the kind of approach we need to adopt in the red-ball format, about how to build an innings.”