Sneh Rana hit an unbeaten 80 for India against England
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- Only Test: Final Day – India (f/o) 231 & 344/8 v England (396/9d)
It has been a match framed by moments of brilliance interspersed by those of madness. Of glorious knocks ended in ugly swipes across the line. Of centuries and five-wicket hauls being there for the taking but never quite taken. And for England a match that was there for the winning but never quite won.
That the match ended in 15 minutes of folly, with a result no longer possible but India refusing to shake hands, was, well, it was okay all-in-all. They have been chasing England’s tail throughout the four days. So when, on finally cementing the draw and preventing that win, job done and the drinks on ice, who could deny India a bit of fun in the Bristol gloom, some light trolling of a frustrated England and a moment for the tourists to savour. Then, when the umpires decided that enough was enough and that bad light had sunk in, that seemed okay too; it has been a fun-filled few days, time to turn the lights out.
If most of the match had been dominated by individuals taking the headlines, by Shafali Verma, Sophie Ecclestone and Sophia Dunkley, the closing scenes belong to those who motor on in the paragraphs below. For England, it was Natalie Sciver, a disciplined, persistent bowling display on a pitch not conducive to seam. Her first ten over spell produced a wicket for one run: an economy of, yes, 0.1.
In the absence of another frontline spinner to partner Ecclestone’s probing, hunting slow-left armers, all England could rely on was its seamers bowling with unrelenting discipline. If they were to close out the game, England couldn’t afford to let India recompose between Ecclestone’s mammoth haul of 38 overs. Sciver obliged, producing nine maidens in her 16 overs, her two wickets a testament to the bowling of an unrelenting metronome. If Test cricket recorded assists in the scorecard, in the same manner that they do in ice hockey, Nat Sciver takes that accolade.
For India, Sneh Rana, back from a spell of five years in the domestic wilderness before returning to represent her country, must take the plaudits. It has been a long time coming for the reliable all-rounder, whose half century was marked by a nod to the heavens, in tribute to her recently deceased father.
If Shafali Verma (63 from 82) demonstrated what the new breed of Indian cricketer might be capable of in the near future, Rana demonstrated the power of perseverance and the importance of the domestic structures beneath international cricket. Her Test debut in Bristol ended a five-year absence from international cricket. A four-wicket haul and unbeaten 80 suggests her next cap might not be quite so far away.
Rana’s entrance to the crease occurred at the peak of England’s confidence that they might, finally, snaffle the win. At 199 for seven, India’s star striker of Harmanpreet Kaur had just been dismissed for the second time in the game for single figures by Sophie Ecclestone, just like her captain Mithali Raj not long before. Quite the bunnies for the young spinner, who had already prized out the two half centurions of the innings so far, in Shafali Verma (63) and Deepti Sharma (54).
The visitors were only 34 ahead and there were plenty of overs to spare. England’s first Test win under Heather Knight was pencilled in. We’d already seen how spectacularly India could, and likely would, collapse, both in this innings (four for 18 either side of lunch) and the last.
But this was forgetting the inventiveness of India’s lower order. They tried everything they could. Aside from the solid defensive strides of Rana and her capable deputy, Taniya Bhatia (44 not out), which may have taught those further up the pecking order a thing or two, there were other tactics India turned to as well.
The obligatory reshuffling of various bits of cricketing equipment aside, there was a moment where India’s 12th woman, Jemimah Rodrigues had made it all the way to the crease, angling her run behind the umpire’s turned back, water bottles in hand, to try and capture a few more minutes without England bowling. But it had been just one over since drinks. The umpire summarily ushered Rodrigues away and she sloped off to the sidelines, India’s support team roundly applauding. India did, truly, try everything; a further attempt elicited an umpire warning that five penalty runs would be gifted England should similar feats be repeated.
It made for compelling viewing. The closer the prospect of a win, the worse the nerves got to England. The flow and rhythm, the determination we had seen in the middle overs was disrupted and India, outplayed through much of the match, leave Bristol the merrier of the two. But this match went beyond just two teams: it marked a sign of things to come, a wave goodbye to a bygone era of turgid run rates, lower order fragility and long-form naivety. It is, hopefully, just the beginning.