Monday, 1 September 2014

More TESTS, more WINS..

More tests will mean more joy for India women.

Test cricket may be the best way to move Indian women's cricket forward.

You heard me right. Test cricket.  Not the swashbuckling abridged version of cricket that is T20. I have just surprised myself by saying that. Until recently, I was a big proponent of T20s as the best medium to promote women's cricket in India. But after the Wormsley test, I gave it some thought, and I have changed my mind. Here's why.

As of today, Test cricket is the Indian women's cricket teams strongest format. 

Every team has a preferred or natural format. The Indian men's team just showed that, with table turning wins against England in the ODIs (after having had to hide under the same table in the tests). The English women's team themselves are a really good ODI side, but in T20s, you have got to give it to Australia's Southern stars. For India women, its gotta be tests.


To win a test you must be able to bowl the opposition out twice. Assuming that the wickets for women's tests would most likely be result oriented, there would be some seam, swing, bounce ,or turn . And India have the bowling options for all of the above. In Jhulan Goswami, India have an experienced pace spear head, who hits the deck hard. And Niranjana, Shikha, and Shubhlakshmi proved at Wormsley that they have the skills to exploit favourable conditions. Add the loop of  Gouher Sultana (who missed this tour due to illness) and unpredictable turn of Ekta bisht, and India have spinning options aplenty. 

But most importantly, test cricket provides the perfect cocoon to nurture India's batting strengths and, more importantly, nestle it's weaknesses. Indian batting is currently more about timing and placement than power hitting. Thats fine for tests. The longer format allows Indian batsmen to take their time to settle down, without the run rate causing any panic. They can wait for the lose ball, and the skill to put it away was always there. They can turn down those cheeky runs and bide their time. They can wage a war of attrition, and make merry when the bowers tire. For dot balls matter less in tests.

Now to fielding. After the first ODI against England this series, former Aussie all rounder Lisa Sthalekar tweeted ,''India has never given time to fielding and it shows". In the next game, the Indian girls fielded brilliantly. That's often the case with Indian fielding. Inconsistently brilliant. These small factors count for a lot in the shorter formats, but again in tests, with more spread out fields, the odd misfield is less likely to cost a team a win.

So coming back to the theory that opened the innings for this post. test cricket might be the best format to promote women's cricket in India. 'cos lets be honest. This is sport. There are no prizes for coming second. No one remembers you, no one commemorates you, and the opposition only half mean it when they say "well played" at the end of a game. They are too busy planning their party.

Nothing promotes a game better than a team that wins. A win demands to be seen. England women got the attention with back to back Ashes wins.The Southern stars won three consecutive world T20 titles, and became the highest paid female sports team in Australia. India have won back-to-back tests in England, albeit eight years apart, and I strongly feel they will win more in this format. And those wins will help the game grow. But how many will they get to play?

There has long been a perception that the BCCI will only pay attention to the women's team if and when they win. Its happened in a test, and it will happen more often if the BCCI cajole the other willing bedfellows; England and Australia; to schedule  frequent test matches. Clare Connor, visionary head of women's cricket at the ECB, recently said that the future of women's tests is hanging by a thread. India have a lot to gain by moving to preserve that future.

Of course this is not to suggest that if we do play tests, we shouldn't raise our standard in the other formats. Globally, T20 cricket is the vehicle that will drive the growth of the women's game, so India must become a world class T20 team. Athleticism and agility need to be long term occupants, not frequent guests. And sustainable power hitting must marry form and timing. This onus lies on us, the current crop of domestic players, to raise the bar.

But alongside that, the BCCI must realise what it's women's team's strengths are, and play to them.

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