Sophie Ecclestone thrived on a turning wicket

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

  • Only Test: Day Three – India (f/o) 231 & 83/1 (trail by 82) v England (396/9d)

Symmetry is a wonderful thing in sport. As England took to the field for day three of the four-day Test against India, there was an air of the 2017 World Cup Final about things. Then, it was an Indian collapse of seven wickets for 28 runs. On Friday, at one stage, worse. India managed just 20 runs for as many wickets.

In 2017 Sophie Ecclestone was yet to cement herself into England’s plans. Something to forgive, perhaps, at just 18-years-old. However, this week, in just her third Test, the Lancastrian was front and centre of England’s finely laid scheme. So much so that on a used pitch she was the one front-line spinner picked to start. England expected.

Only her figures in Test cricket aren’t, or weren’t, a match for those expectations. Certainly considering the calibre of bowler that she is, ranked the world’s best in the shortest form. As Ecclestone first tussled with India’s own wunderkind, Shafali Verma, holder of the equivalent T20 crown in the batting discipline, Verma got the better of her. Nerves perhaps? Inexperience? Too full, too straight, too fast. The expectation weighed heavily.

Then things turned in the final hour on the second day, the ball amongst them. By the end of it, although having only contributed to one of the five wickets to fall, Ecclestone was ebullient. Visibly flushed in the post-match interview – she knew. 

She knew what she could do, what the pitch might offer and what India’s batters wouldn’t. Ecclestone, and England, returned on day three in confident mood. The scorecard suggested some depth in India’s tail, but no one told the young left arm spinner. It took one ball, Ecclestone’s first and the morning’s seventh, to prize out Harmanpreet Kaur, a batter who poses no small threat when given half a chance. Ecclestone’s tempting drift had returned, the turn and bounce retained, but the Lancastrian was now bowling almost three miles per hour slower. Something had clicked – the adjustment from white ball to red now fully implemented. 

“I’ve not played a Test match for a while," explained Ecclestone at the close. "So it’s just getting back into it. It’s a weird situation that I’m not used to. It helped this morning getting that first wicket with my first ball, made me a bit more relaxed.”

Relaxed, but ready. Her next scalp, six balls later, fell in similar fashion. But it was Ecclestone’s fourth which startled. Still in just her fifth over of the morning, the ball pitched outside leg, ripped in the rough and the bounce surprised not only Sneh Rana, batting, but keeper Amy Jones too, who only took the catch at the second time of asking.

It was around this time that the rain really set in down the road in Southampton. This was where the men’s World Test Championship Final, the blockbuster matchup between New Zealand and India’s male counterparts, was supposed to unfold. Suddenly, instead of the women being second billing, the eyes and ears tuning in for the men found themselves drawn to the skill on show in Bristol.

Ecclestone’s start beguiled, before the experience of Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt took hold. Brunt’s delivery to dismiss Pooja Vastrakar was one to drool over, and many did. "Absolute seed of doom," tweeted Durham’s Mark Stoneman, as the seaming delivery clipped top of off and all our childhood dreams played out as one. 

YES BRUNTY!

Scorecard & Videos: https://t.co/AJk5wA8p4T#ENGvIND pic.twitter.com/EQIgSl8bYL

— England Cricket (@englandcricket) June 18, 2021

Job done and India, 16 shy of their follow-on target, were asked to return with pads on. It has been 61 years since England enforced the follow-on in a women’s Test match. There was a giddiness about things.

Enter Shafali Verma, again. The kind of actor who’d have skipped drama school altogether, eschewed the obligatory understudy role and been placed centre stage as a teen sensation. And succeeded. We’re running out of superlatives to described this prodigy – her timing, temperament and temerity of the kind the women’s game has never seen before. As Verma left the field, the drizzle bringing a premature close to play, she was 55 not out, a neat 150 in this Test to her name already. Add Ecclestone’s first innings four-for to Sophia Dunkley’s unbeaten 74 the previous day and the message is clear: the kids? They’re alright.