Shafali, Deepti keep England at bay on a rain-affected day
Shafali Verma (L), Deepti Sharma (R) © Getty Images
When Shafali Verma walked off the field with disappointment after getting out on 96 on day two, little did she know that she would have to replicate a similar performance a day later. On a rain-interrupted day of play, Verma's half-century and Deepti Sharma's patient innings have kept India in the game after England enforced the follow-on.
Trailing by 165 runs, coming into bat under immense pressure, the Indian openers Verma broke no sweat in taking the attack to the England seamers. Her partner Smriti Mandhana started it off with a backfoot punch of Katherine Brunt, but since then, it was Shafali's show till the end of the day's play.
The 17-year-old started by whipping Brunt through the mid-wicket region as the seamer got the line a little bit wrong early on. A couple of overs later, Brunt was treated with two gorgeous cover drives by Verma - one, shuffling across, walking a step down the pitch and punching through extra cover and the other an all-hands-no-foot shot through covers.
ALSO READ: Shafali Verma and the unbridled joy of batting
Shafali did not spare Anya Shrubsole either. In the very next over, she brought out a textbook-high-elbow punch through the covers and followed it up with a flick to the square-leg boundary. When it seemed like Shafali and Mandhana are teeing off, the latter got out to Brunt, edging a full-length delivery to second slip.
Deepti Sharma, who was left stranded in the first innings, was promoted up to number three. Both Sharma and Shafali started of cautiously after the lunch break. After a few quiet overs, Shafali cut loose. It wasn't necessarily the classic drives or the brutal punches. Sometimes, a slight dab or a deft touch was enough for her to sneak in those crucial boundaries. Not once or twice, but thrice she late cut, or rather guided Shrubsole to backward point and gully boundary.
Sharma, at the other end, held forte, not worrying much about the scoring rate. She knew she had to give herself time before playing her shots, especially with intermittent interruptions due to rain. Off the first 57 balls she faced, Sharma scored only ten runs. The idea must have been to keep one end strong and let Shafali play her role.
When Kate Cross came into bowl, Verma slapped one over her head and edged one past the diving first slip. Soon, Sharma joined her partner as she drove Cross through the cover region. The partnership started picking pace as Shafali brought up her fifty in 63 deliveries.
However, drizzles came down again, and the players went off for an early tea break. They never came back, and the play was cancelled due to rain. Ideally, India would not mind as they trail by 82 runs. On the final day of the Test, 108 overs are to be bowled, hoping to get the best possible result.
Earlier, aiming to pick up a couple of quick wickets, England started day two Natalie Sciver from one end and Ecclestone from the other. And the left-arm spinner delivered on her first delivery of the morning. A full-length delivery hit Harmanpreet Kaur on the pads as the Indian vice-captain could not get her bat down on time. Although the umpire did not give it out, England went upstairs and got the decision overturned.
The left-arm spinner repeated the feat in her next over as she deceived Taniya Bhatia with drift and trapped her on the pads. This time, the on-field umpire had no hesitation in giving it out. Sharma, joined by - her spin partner - Sneh Rana, in the middle, tried to build a partnership. With Knight and Ecclestone operating from either end, the India spin duo was more than happy to bide time in the crease.
ALSO READ: Sneh Rana 2.0: India’s new lean, mean spin machine
However, the plan did not last long. Ecclestone provided England with another breakthrough, this time, with a beauty of a delivery that pitched on middle-and-leg-stump line, turned away from Rana, taking the outside edge and landing into Amy Jone's gloves.
With 50 runs required to avoid the follow-on, Pooja Vastrakar and Sharma picked up a few occasional boundaries and took India closer one step at a time. They batted 63 balls together, adding 33 runs before England took the second new ball. Things changed quickly from thereon.
Brunt bowled what could arguably be the ball of the match that pitched on middle-and-leg-stump, swung away from Vastrakar, beating the outside edge of her bat and hit the top of off stump. Shrubsole followed it up with a big inswinger to get rid of Jhulan Goswami, bringing the Indian innings to an end. Sharma remained unbeaten with 29 runs from 73 balls as India were all out for 231. Ecclestone was the pick of the bowlers as she picked four for 88.
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 231 all out in 81.2 overs (Shafali Verma 96, Smriti Mandhana 78; Sophie Ecclestone 4/88); Second innings (F/O) 83/1 in 24.3 overs (Shafali Verma 55; Katherine Brunt 1/21)