England on top with a flurry of late wickets after a record Verma-Mandhana stand
England found themselves on the ascendancy after the bowlers brought them back into the game post a record opening partnership by India’s Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana to leave the visitors hanging in an enthralling day of Test cricket on the second day of the one-off Test at the County Cricket Ground in Bristol on Thursday (June 17). India are currently trailing England by 209 runs with two days of play left.
Indian openers were cruising after England declared their innings on a mammoth 396 for nine as they put on 167 for the opening wicket thanks to the heroics of the 17-year-old Verma and Mandhana. Post Verma’s dismissal by Cross, India suffered a collapse when Mandhana was dismissed in a similar fashion to that of Verma and lost Shikha Pandey, Mithali Raj and Punam Raut as well in a period that saw England take four wickets for just four runs. Heather Knight, who introduced herself as the sixth bowler, lead the late flurry of wickets with two wickets as she sent Pandey and Raut giving away only two runs. Sophie Ecclestone accounted for the prized wicket of Raj when she had India skipper caught at short-leg.
After having spent more than 120 overs on the field, some of it under the lid standing close to the batters, Verma and Mandhana started India innings with the prospect of having to face England’s experienced duo of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole under some cloudy conditions. Verma, in particular, was fidgety at the start as she survived some anxious moments against Brunt.
England opening bowlers, Brunt and Shrubsole, bowled an excellent length and tested Indian openers outside the off-stump as well as attacking their pads from time-to-time as they got the ball to come in. Verma got a streaky boundary when she edged Shrubsole’s outswinger through gully to get her innings going.
Although she looked clumsy against Brunt and tried to take on her albeit with varying degree of success, Verma didn’t let that affect her and soon got going with a cover drive against Shrubsole. Mandhana, at the other end, was at her imperious self and played a few trademark backfoot drives through the off-side.
Introduction of Natalie Sciver allowed Verma a breather as she lofted her over mid-off for a huge six. The pair brought up their fifty-run stand in the 18th over when Mandhana drove Kate Cross through cover but the elegant left-hander had a let-off in the same over with the bowler not able to latch on to a ball that was hit back to her. Verma slog swept Sophie Ecclestone for a four in the final over before tea as India finished the session on 63 without any loss in 23 overs.
However, India started the final session in an aggressive fashion with Verma deciding to attack her way out of trouble against Brunt. She cleared the front leg to hit Brunt over her head and then followed it up with late cut before missing one altogether and letting it go through her legs and the keeper. The fascinating dual continued over another over leaving the experienced pacer unimpressed.
Meanwhile, Mandhana took on Ecclestone when she was brought into the attack from the other end and got herself three boundaries in the over. Verma got to her maiden fifty when she heaved the left-arm spinner over mid-wicket. Despite being dropped twice, Mandhana looked more assured of the two on her way to the fifty when she pulled Brunt to backward square-leg for a four.
Mandhana parked herself on the back foot and drove frequently through the off-side with England bowlers’ length failing to bring her on to the front. Verma combined her aggression with a good front foot defense, she smashed Ecclestone over long-on for a big six before belting Cross over mid-on for a boundary as she sped into the nineties.
At 153, they also brought up India’s highest opening partnership in Tests going past Gargi Banerji and Sandhya Agarwal during their 167-run stand. On 92, Verma guided Cross to thirdman but trying to smash a fuller one out of the ground in the same over brought about her downfall four short of a hundred on debut.
Earlier, resuming on the score of 269 for six, it looked like skipper Knight’s target of 350 was far away when England lost Brunt in the second over of the day after they added only one more run to the overnight score. India were prompt to take the review reckoning it was pad first with Brunt being adjudged not out after getting struck in front of the bowling off Jhulan Goswami.
With their review getting upheld and having England at 270 for seven in slightly overcast conditions, it looked like Indian bowlers could do more damage and limit the hosts to a score of under 300. But surprisingly they removed both the seamers – Goswami and Shikha Pandey – from the attack and brought in the off-spin duo of Sneh Rana and Deepti Sharma.
Despite Rana beating Sophia Dunkley through the gate in the 99th over, 11th with the second new ball, and Sharma dropping her in the next over, both Dunkley and Ecclestone were fairly comfortable during their 56-run stand as they took England past the 320-run mark.
The period of play also saw a flurry of reviews being taken by both the sides with India using one when they stuck Ecclestone’s pad and both the batters also got the benefit of the DRS system when they were given out LBW. All three reviews saw the sharp turn making the ball miss the leg-stump.
Meanwhile, Dunkley got to her maiden fifty when she tucked Rana through to fine-leg for a couple. In the next over, India broke the partnership when Ecclestone tried to take on Sharma and was caught at mid-on by Pandey. That brought Shrubsole to the crease and she was looking at her usual aggressive self. England were comfortably placed on 357 for eight with both Shrubsole and Dunkley hitting five boundaries in little time.
Post lunch, the pair upped the ante looking with England looking for some quick runs ahead of the declaration. Shrubsole was devastating in particular as she took on Rana and Pandey to score a quickfire 47 off 33 balls before her dismissal brought the declaration call from Knight even as weary Indians walked back after bowling 121.2 overs.
Brief Scores: England first innings 396/9 dec in 121.2 overs (Heather Knight 95, Sophia Dunkley 74*; Sneh Rana 4/131) India first innings 187/5 in 60 overs (Shafali Verma 96, Smriti Mandhana 78; Heather Knight 1/2)