Women’s Test cricket: To be or not to be

Test cricket © Getty Images

“If you look at the way cricket is going, there is no doubt that white-ball is the way of the future. That is the game that is sought after by the fans, where the broadcasters are putting their resources, and what is driving the money. Therefore, the countries that are developing women’s cricket will focus on that. In order to play Test cricket, you have to have the structures in place domestically, and they don’t really exist. So I can’t really see women’s Test or long-form cricket evolving at any speed at all.

That’s not to say they can’t choose to play Test cricket, but I don’t really see that as part of the landscape moving forward to any real extent.” 

When Greg Barclay, the Independent Chair of ICC expressed what he thought the future holds for the game’s oldest format while speaking to BBC Radio’s Test Match Special, it aroused responses and plenty of them.

“As a coach and being in women’s cricket for a few decades now, it’s disappointing to hear. I feel like we can challenge him and we can show that we want to lead the way and the way to that I suppose is to play more Test matches,” said England’s Head Coach Lisa Keightley.

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England’s skipper Heather Knight didn’t mince any of her words either and outrightly disagreed with Barclay’s statement.

“Sad, yeah it made me sad. As a player, I obviously want to play it. Test cricket is marked as the pinnacle. It is seen as the best, most challenging form of the game. The comments from Greg suggested that women shouldn’t be playing it, I think that’s quite a dangerous message to send that women shouldn’t be playing in the future what is seen as the pinnacle of the game,” Knight said.

India skipper Harmanpreet Kaur echoed Knight’s statement and gave reasons why the format needed more time in the women’s circuit.

“If I talk about my Test career, I only played 2-3 games. If we get more games then only we can decide if there is a future or not. As players, we always want to play more Tests because it is something we grew up watching. You cannot compare all the formats together, but Test cricket is a different format and has its own level of excitement.

Whenever we get a chance to play a bilateral series, if we can get at least one Test back-to-back for 2-3 years then only we can decide these things.”

Harmanpreet Kaur on Women’s Tests © Women’s CricZone

Shelley Nitschke, Australia’s interim Head Coach, had also spoken in favour of more Test cricket while addressing a presser a few weeks ago.

“I think if we keep talking about it (Tests) and keep it on the agenda, then hopefully that will start to evolve a bit more.”

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And it’s just not about a handful of players or coaches, there are many more hearts that beat for the format and are advocating for the same in the women’s circuit.

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The women’s game is on an ascent. With more televised games, rise in the media coverage, the proliferation of several T20 leagues worldwide, women’s cricket is witnessing a chain of events it had never experienced before.

You can view all of this from a distance and argue that the women’s game is heading in the right direction, is destined to get bigger, and can garner popularity without Test cricket. But that’s a misconception.

How is it a misconception?

No Test cricket in the women’s circuit would mean players won’t ever get to realise the depth of their capabilities and parts of their potential will remain untapped – and that will neither do them any good nor the game will benefit from it.

The recent one-off Test between hosts England and South Africa gave a vivid understanding of how significant Test cricket is for the women’s game.

Had it been a T20I or a one-dayer and South Africa would have gone in with the same bowling attack and got hammered the way they did then many people would have brushed it off by calling it a bad day on the park.

But the fact that we saw them toil the way they did and witnessed their best not being good enough (for an extended period of time) gave us and must have also given them the realisation that their bowling was below par. It’s paramount for teams and their respective players to have an understanding of the same. So, that they could identify their weaknesses and work on them and no other format can make them realise the same better than Test.

Also, the world took notice of a different Marizanne Kapp. It’s not that the world hadn’t seen her take responsibility and win games for South Africa or do well for them previously but the Kapp at Taunton on Day one was something else.

Her tactical nous as a batter against the moving Dukes, enterprise to take on the short ball, art of batting with the tail, and above all the tenacity and sheer grit she displayed right throughout her innings were all a spectacle enthralling enough to keep us hooked till her dismissal.

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Her act of brilliance was of such high quality that it even made the spearhead of England’s bowling attack in Kate Cross doff her hat in appreciation.

“I thought Kapp was absolutely outstanding. Just how she manipulated the field, how she maneuvered balls, and how she managed to keep the strike it was just like she has been playing Test cricket for years which I think is a testament to how good a player she is. It was really difficult when she was looking to score,” said Cross.

No more Test cricket in the women’s circuit will deprive its die-hard fans of more such absorbing exhibitions of art and defiance.

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There are reasons why it is known as ‘Test’ cricket. The longevity of a Test match tests players to their cores and puts them into situations they wouldn’t otherwise want to be in. 

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that ODI cricket or T20Is do not test players but the challenge is not as stern as what we witness in the Test arena. It could be argued with facts that the wicket, the ball, and the rules in the limited formats of the game can be lopsided in favour of the batters at times and no one bats an eyelid about what a bowler goes through.

But Test cricket acts as a leveller. Batters who wield their marauding bats in the other formats do not get the same luxury because Tests evens up the contest between bat and ball and allows bowlers to make their presence felt and create bigger impacts on the games because of the nature of the format.

Now comes the question of the sustainability of the format. Experts often argue that there aren’t many takers for Test cricket and that brings into question its business model. 

But the point is that you can’t question the entity of a model without giving it a proper time to see whether it thrives or not. The dearth of Test cricket in the women’s circuit is staggering. The fact that a player like Kapp, who has already played 13 years of international cricket and only featured in her second Test this week in Taunton highlights that dearth in bold letters.

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ICC needs to understand that its vision of spreading the game in more countries other than the ones that have been playing it for a very long time won’t yield much success without them playing red-ball cricket and four-day or five-day games. T20 and ODI cricket will help them reach the international standard but it is Test cricket that will see them prevail. Simply because it will help them raise the overall facet of their game.

No sport can continue to flourish without superstars but for the sport to thrive and keep shining on the horizon the players need to burn and burn brightly and Test cricket is the furnace that can make it happen. Test cricket will add plenty to the repertoire of players and help the women’s game grow in stature. It will continue to inspire the young girls out there to fall in love with the sport and take it up for a living.

Hence going ahead in the future, the little Heather Knights, Meg Lannings, Harmanpreet Kaurs, and the likes should be taken into account whether they want to watch Test cricket, instead of those in power calling shots while sitting at the helm of the sport being aloof to the interests of the next generation.