India-Australia Pink-ball Test shows why women deserve better
India and Australia teams after the pink-ball Test © Getty Images
"It would have been nice if we could have had a couple of more days with the pink ball. Having just one session and the way the girls have responded at the ground, I think with so many players playing different formats and leagues, they understand how quickly they have to change the mindset and fit into a format."
That was India skipper Mithali Raj's response to the query about the changes in schedules and adapting to Test cricket in the post-match press conference of the pink-ball Test on Sunday (October 3), which could potentially be her last in the format. She also thanked both cricketing boards - BCCI and Cricket Australia - for organising the series before the World Cup.
Though the players shook hands and walked off the field before the final hour of play on day four at the Carrara Oval, both India and Australia did their best to try and eke out a result in a match that saw almost 100 overs lost to rain. Both teams declared their innings on the final day, with India leaving the hosts an improbable 272 to win in the final session - a valiant attempt at providing the viewers with a memorable finish.
If anything, the pink-ball Test between India and Australia showed why women cricketers deserve five-day matches, better scheduling and most importantly, more Tests. Shortly after the match, England skipper Heather Knight and star batter Danielle Wyatt took to social media, wondering what could have happened had there been a fifth day. Earlier, in June, the Test match between India and England, too, ended in an exciting draw, with similar questions around the possibility of a result on a fictional day five.
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Of the 142 Test matches that have been played in 87 years, 91 have ended in a draw. However, in no way does it imply that the teams play conservative cricket or that they play for a draw from day one. John Leather, who goes by @_hypocaust on Twitter, has explored how Test cricket has evolved over the years in the fifth issue of Women's CricZone magazine.
When the players have only four days to get a result, a lot of factors kick in. Unless the pitch is as lively as it was in Wormsley, or as spin-friendly as it was in Mysore in 2014, it is unlikely that a team will have the ammunition to push for a result in what is an unfamiliar format.
India, for instance, were returning to the format in 2021 after seven years, with only England and Australia playing Test matches during this period. They held on for a draw on both occasions - a come-from-behind one in England, followed by a dominating performance in Australia. They did so while handing out debuts to seven players, without any warm-up matches and getting to practice with the pink-ball only in a couple of sessions before the Test. Despite the poor preparation, had there been a fifth day in both matches, India may have managed to add two Test wins to their kitty.
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Australia head coach Matthew Mott, too, agreed that five-day Test matches would be the ideal to ensure a result. "The last couple of Tests, we have lost a full day to rain. So, we are essentially playing a three-day Test on a surface that doesn't have any wear and tear. It is difficult; if this game had got another day, I think we would have seen a very good Test match," he said in the post-match press conference.
While having five days or an extra reserve day in case of rain is an issue, the more pertinent one would be to organise more Test matches for the players. Mithali made her Test debut way back in 2002 against England along with Jhulan Goswami. In 19 years, the duo have played only 12 Test matches, with the last two coming in 2021.
It is not just about India. South Africa last played a Test match in 2014, New Zealand, West Indies and Pakistan last donned the whites in 2004, and Sri Lanka are yet to play a Test match this century. Think about it, the likes of Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, Stafanie Taylor and Amy Satterthwaite might end their careers not having played any Test cricket.
DOWNLOAD: Women's CricZone Magazine: Issue 5
For India, Mithali did not have a memorable 2021 with the bat in whites. However, the two Tests India played led to the (re)discovery of Goswami for those who haven't seen her bowl much in Tests. Her performance at the Carrara Oval has made everyone wonder what cricket missed out on by not giving enough opportunities to an athlete of her caliber.
To put this lack of opportunity into context, England men's fast bowler James Anderson made his Test debut almost a year after Goswami and has played close to 14 times the number of matches the Indian has. The 38-year-old seamer led the young Indian pace attack, giving her heart and soul on the field. She was relentless and consistently troubled the Australian batters through the pink-ball Test to an extent where Mott said that he was very happy whenever Goswami was not bowling. Her elaborate setup to dismiss Alyssa Healy in the first innings was one for the ages and will be talked about in the years to come.
The Indian team received some criticism for the pace at which they batted on days two and three. However, a loss here at the Carrara Oval would have meant that the series was almost lost. And for the women, the stakes have always been higher.
Hence, it is only fair to say that they did what they thought was best for them in the context of the match and the multi-format series. Hopefully in the years to come, India will get to play more Tests. Even though it's a small sample size, if their performances in Bristol and the Gold Coast prove anything, it is that they deserve to.