Mlast year, the very idea of a test team for women of the year would be superfluous, but 2021 has remedied this trend: It is the first calendar year since 2014 that offers two tests for women. India (last played the format seven years ago) were in both – against England in Bristol in June and a pink-ball affair against Australia in Queensland in September / October.
Both matches resulted in draws, and in a surprising turnaround, India matched their opponents: held out in a nail-biter in Bristol before collecting a total of 377 for eight declared in their first innings against Australia. Australia coach Matthew Mott later admitted that his opponents had “kept all the aces” throughout the duration – a condition reflected in the presence of only two Australians on the team that follows.
India’s excellence, however, could be good news. Should BCCI come on board, 2021 could represent the early days of a revival of the test format for women. With crossed fingers.
1) Smriti Mandhana, India
Hit the only test century of the year in October, and the first by an Indian woman on Australian soil. The recipient of a bizarre decision from Australia to bowl first, she made hay with all her usual elegance – after hitting 78 against England in Bristol. It’s a format she’s made to play.
2) Shafali Verma, India
Defied critics who said she was not fit for the longer format by beating three-half-centuries in her first four Test rounds (two against England and one against Australia) and sharing a record of 167-race opening grandstand with Mandhana in Bristol. Hold out at 96 in her first Test appearance, but not before she drew the first blood in her fight with Katherine Brunt, smashing 25 runs from 24 balls against an experienced sailor who had no answer.
3) Heather Knight, England (captain)
Hit a chanceless first-innings 95 and chose to force the follow-up in Bristol to take her side within a hair’s breadth of their first home Test victory since 2005. Choosing a team with only one specialist spinner proved to be a mistake, but, after battling back from a back injury, the Knights’ part-time off-spin helped a bit, yielding first-innings of 11-8-7-2.
4) Ellyse Perry, Australia
Could not quite copy her 2017 double-century heroism, but once again proved to be undeniable with scores of 68 not out and 1 not out. Now averages 87 in test cricket and you would not bet she improved it in Canberra in January. Can anyone get her out?
5) Sophia Dunkley, England
After years on the fringes of the squad, Dunkley’s cap presentation was a special moment – not least because it made her the first black woman to play test cricket for England. “If it inspires any boys or girls, it’s great,” she said before seizing the chance to secure her place with an unbeaten 74.
6) Taniya Bhatia, India (wicketkeeper)
Shared an unbroken stand of 104 with Sneh Rana in Bristol, to be the brains of one of women’s biggest crickets. India had been seven down and only 34 races ahead, with a new ball on the way and a session and a half left to bat, but – subject to what they described as “constant sledding” – Rana (80 *) and Bhatia (44 *) simply put their heads down and got started on it, putting the top order of their side to shame.
7) Snow Rana, India
See above. An extraordinary performance from a player who was ridiculed as an insane selection who has not played an international since February 2016. Selected by India for his off-spin (totaling four wickets in Bristol) but has been given the role of all-rounder in this team.
8) Sophie Molineux, Australia
Went into the Carrara test with a scar from the ODI part of the series, after being smashed in the face when he felled a rogue ball. Got some degree of revenge by taking three wickets at a financial rate of just over two – impressive in a match dominated by the Indian batterers.
9) Sophie Ecclestone, England
Throwing everything after India in an attempt to throw them out twice, including a mammoth, exhausting, 15-over spell on the final day. Finished with match figures of eight for 206, after beating 64 overs in the test (including 15 girls). If everyone could have bowled like Ecclestone, England would have won.
10) Pooja Vastrakar, India
Some questioned the decision to play against Vastrakar at Carrara in front of the more experienced Shikha Pandey, but the sailor proved her doubts wrong when she finished with the leading move in the match – four for 62, on a batter-friendly pitch. Had previously enjoyed smashing Ecclestone in 12 runs off one over in a 21-ball cameo in Bristol.
11) Jhulan Goswami, India
Pepped the normally confident Alyssa Healy with short balls on Carrara and got her successful in both innings – a key factor in India’s dominance. She may be 39, and it will almost certainly be the last two tests of her career – but she still has it.