Thu. Jul 18th, 2024
India dominated in their home conditions, which Heather Knight described as “extreme”

Women’s Test matches are so few and far between, their results often mean little in terms of a wider context within the game.

There are exceptions, notably the Ashes, when the points for a victory contribute to a multi-format series.

England, Australia and now India play the most Test cricket but even then, it is usually a maximum of two a year.

But this latest result – India’s trouncing of England, and the fact they have another Test match in just four days’ time – may go down as a turning point.

India’s influence on cricket is unmistakable: its vast and immensely passionate fanbase, the superhero status of the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, the revenue it generates and, of course, the IPL – the T20 franchise tournament that changed the landscape of cricket forever.

This influence has dominated men’s cricket, with Australia playing the role of world-leaders in the women’s game.

Now it appears India are starting to crack women’s cricket too, particularly with the long-awaited emergence of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) this year, and in their 347-run thrashing of Heather Knight’s side, they displayed all-round talent that could potentially see them topple Australia as the powerhouse of women’s cricket.

Young stars shine after years of inconsistency

As an international team, India have often frustrated: they have had the talent, they have had occasions of brilliance but have not yet managed to get over the line and win a World Cup.

They reached the 50-over final at Lord’s in 2017 but lost to England, lost the T20 World Cup final to Australia in 2020 and lost the Commonwealth Games to the same opponents in 2022.

Inconsistency has plagued them – moments of magic are often juxtaposed by mistakes, an inability to nail the basics, but the results are special when they are able to put the full package together as they did against England.

It also ought to be noted that India were far from their best in the T20 series that preceded the Test, with England winning that 2-1, so there is a lot for them to improve in the white-ball game that dominates women’s cricket.

And while England captain Knight was correct in saying the conditions favoured India, and that playing a Test match straight after a T20 series is tricky, she was also quick to emphasise the undeniable fact that India were just very, very good.

That their match-winning performances came from a crop of young players adds to the excitement surrounding their potential: Pooja Vastrakar and Satheesh Shubha are 24, Jemimah Rodrigues and Yastika Bhatia are 23, and Deepti Sharma, who has been on the circuit a long time, is only 26.

Notably, their enjoyment during the Test match was evident: the noise, energy and smiles on faces even when the crowd was sparse in comparison to the white-ball outings suggests they will take heaps of confidence from this performance into all formats.

Can game-changing WPL halt changes inflicted on men’s cricket?

Mumbai Indians won the first edition of the Women’s Premier League in 2024

India’s influence in cricket is such that if they call for more women’s Tests, the rest of the world may follow suit.

Thursday’s Test against Australia, unbeaten in the format in 10 years, is a heavyweight showdown, and for a team to play two Tests in such a short space of time is unheard of in the women’s game.

International captains around the world frequently call for more Tests, and the players have the desire, but is it realistic?

The women’s game is starting to mirror the men’s in this regard as it is probably true that only England, Australia and India can “afford” to host women’s Tests, given the cost it takes to stage an event over multiple days and the fact they are unlikely to sell out grounds at this stage.

This leaves the likes of New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies falling even further behind than they already are.

Promisingly, South Africa faced England in a Test in 2022, and play Australia in 2024, but New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies have not played a Test match between them since 2004.

It does appear that India’s men are placing a greater emphasis on the longest format, where the world trend is that 50-over cricket is dwindling.

They are playing five Tests against England between January and March – though again, it is only the same three teams that express a desire for five-match series because they can afford it. But if that enthusiasm for Test cricket filters through to their women’s set-up, and If India can end 2023 with back-to-back Test wins, it could see the format accelerate.

Adding to the equation is the WPL, which started successfully in February and India look set to reap the white-ball rewards of a franchise competition to mirror its men’s equivalent which is the biggest in the world.

The positives of the competition include the money that players can earn, the opportunities given to players from other countries, the growing platform and profile of the female athletes – but the repercussions on international cricket could be significant and this is where lessons must somehow be learnt from the men.

For players like Hayley Matthews, the West Indies all-rounder who starred in Mumbai Indians’ WPL victory, they can earn significantly more playing franchise cricket around the world in India, Australia and the UK compared to what they would earn for their country – and a vast amount of men’s players have already made this choice.

The IPL now has its own exclusive window, and next year’s WPL in February could possibly clash with Australia’s Test against South Africa.

It will be intriguing to see the choices the players make, and it is one that will be significantly telling in terms of the direction in which women’s cricket is travelling, and the monumental shift it must make to keep the international game relevant.

So while there are positive signs for India (and England and Australia), that also also comes with a warning to the rest of the world.

How far ahead do they have to get before it becomes too late?

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