England vs South Africa: Laura Wolvaardt, Sophie Ecclestone among names to watch out for in Taunton Test

Laura Wolvaardt (L) and Sophie Ecclestone (R) © 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.” 

Those were the exact words of the ICC Chairman, Greg Barclay when he was asked to give his opinion on the future of Test cricket in the women’s circuit at BBC Radio’s Test Match Special earlier this month. His statement didn’t go down well with some of the reputed names in the women’s game as they expressed their disagreement with the same.

“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.

“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,” told England captain, Heather Knight.

With the Taunton Test between hosts England and South Africa almost upon us, all that remains to be seen is how and in what ways it adds to the debate. Hence, let’s take a look at some of the names from both units whose performances can add a new spark to the argument.

Laura Wolvaardt against England A © Getty Images

Laura Wolvaardt

Arguably the most technically correct batter in South Africa’s Test squad, Wolvaardt will be looking to pick up from where she left during the recent three-day warm-up match against England A. She looked in her elements and the game saw her score a century. Although yet to play a Test match in her career, Wolvaardt’s game makes you believe that she has the goods to hit the ground running. But how? The answer lies in her technique.

Her head position is always stable and doesn’t drop regardless of the angle from which the bowler is operating. And the thing which gives us that cue is the drives that she plays down the ground – especially the on-drive. 

A batter can’t execute the on-drive unless her head is right on top of the ball. The moment her head position is on either side of the ball, she is bound to lose her balance and the execution goes out of the equation.

The other thing that stands out about Wolvaardt is her foot movement. She is one of the very few who do not commit one on the front foot as the bowler is about to deliver the ball. That quality of hers keeps all her options open. 

The batters who are reluctant to plant their front foot forward and drive to deliveries that are fuller in length always find themselves in a disarray. Similarly, the batters who tend to commit on the front foot find it very difficult to rock back on the back foot the moment there is a vicious bouncer bowled to them. Wolvaardt doesn’t belong to any of the two categories. 

Additionally, one more trait that is going to help her in this Test and also going ahead in her career is the fact that she always has her hands close to her body while going for a stroke. It minimises the risk of getting caught in the slip cordon and proves that she is not someone who prefers fishing outside her off-stump.

ALSO READ: We need to keep Test cricket on the agenda: Shelley Nitschke

 

Nat Sciver © Getty Images

Nat Sciver

If you would missed Nat Sciver’s name while going through England’s team sheet a few years ago, then no one would have questioned you much as the batting allrounder was still trying to find her feet in international cricket. But today, even the thought of repeating the same mistake is certain to land you into a lot of trouble. Such has been the growth in stature of the 29-year-old allrounder.

Sciver has the patience to occupy the crease for extended periods and that’s what Test cricket demands from you as a batter. Her last outing in England’s jersey was testimony to the same. Chasing a mammoth 357 to retain the World Cup, Sciver played an unbeaten marathon innings of 148* and kept the defending champions in the hunt. Although the knock came in a different format, it made us witness ‘Sciver the batter’ who trusts herself more than ever and it is one of the prerequisites to batting in the Test arena.

We need not forget her bowling ability as she will be an integral part of skipper Heather Knight’s bowling plan. With her seam ups, she becomes a threat in the English conditions and will surely test the resolve of the South African batters in the middle.

ALSO READ: Emily Arlott, Lauren Bell earn call-ups as England announce squad for South Africa Test

Sophie Ecclestone © Getty Images

Sophie Ecclestone

 Well if you are a finger spinner, then the idea of playing red-ball cricket in England might not amuse you that much. Cloud cover, gentle breeze blowing across the ground, a green tinge on wickets, conditions in England have always favoured swing bowling and those who know the craft. 

But if you are the number one spinner in the world, then conditions do not matter to you as much as they do to others on the block. The 23-year-old has far too many tricks up her sleeve to miss out even on a surface that might have nothing in it for a spinner.

She initially puts enough side spin (revolutions) on the ball to test how much turn is available on the surface. If there is enough affirmation from the wicket, then she keeps at it. But if not then she resorts to the other arrows she has in her quiver and that includes a deceptive arm ball.

It (her arm ball) always flies under the radar and does batters before they even manage to gauge what has hit them. There are two reasons why her arm ball is as effective as it is. First is the use of the crease – Ecclestone has the remarkable ability of delivering her arm ball from exactly the same spot that she uses to land her conventional off-spinning delivery. In addition to that, she bowls it without any change in her action and the point of release is the same as any other delivery of hers.