Bite of the cherry: Recent Test matches in women’s cricket proves the high demand for red-ball games

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Bite of the cherry: Recent Test matches in women’s cricket proves the high demand for red-ball games

By Samreen Razzaqui

There was joy on her face, but you could not ignore the bittersweet emotion etched on it. Over the previous few weeks, Harmanpreet Kaur had led the Indian women’s team to two record Test wins against England and Australia.

But the wins marked the end of a rare occurrence for Indian women’s cricket.

“Hopefully, after these two wins, we will get more Tests in the upcoming years,” she said after the triumph over Australia at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday.

The two-Test home season for India had left players and viewers wanting more. The hosts first registered a world record 347-run win against England on December 16 – the biggest in the history of women’s cricket. Then, on December 24, they scored their first-ever victory against Australia in Test cricket.

India had gone nine years without playing a Test at home and no one knew when the team would play red-ball cricket again.

Jemimah Rodrigues, who has taken to Test cricket like a fish to water after her debut two weeks ago, explained, “Test cricket is something that I have always wanted to play. The first thing is to play in the India blue jersey. For me, that was the dream because we did not play a lot of Test cricket then. But then from there, to wear these [Test] whites was a dream.

The feeling, however, is not confined to just India. As of now, there are only four active Test-playing nations in women’s cricket – Australia, England, India and South Africa. In fact, South Africa are scheduled to play only their second Test since 2014 when they tour Australia later in January.

Doubts about Test cricket dying continue to creep into the discussion about the format even today. It explains the hesitation about making women’s Test cricket a five-day affair or curating a largely white-ball dominated women’s cricket schedule.

For context, only 11 Test matches have been played between India and Australia since they played the first one in 1976. And India have played against England only 15 times in the format since they first played them in 1986.

However, even as questions were raised around the format in the men’s game, the disparity of Test matches between the two is appalling.

The Indian women have played a total of 40 Tests since their first-ever match in 1976. By contrast, the Indian men’s team has played 98 Tests in the last decade alone.

The Australian men have played 99 Test matches in the past decade while the women have played a total of 78 since their first game in 1934. Meanwhile, the England men’s team have played 123 Tests in the past decade while the women’s squad have featured in 100 Tests since their first in 1934.

As one tries to make sense of the disparity, another problem rears its head. The occasional Tests, as exciting as they end up being, are missing a frame of reference. 

Unlike for men’s cricket, there is neither a World Test Championship title nor a top-ICC ranking to play for, as Australia captain Alyssa Healy pointed out.

In women’s cricket, lucky are those who get to experience the “pinnacle” of the game and play Test cricket. Ask some of the cricketers with the longest-spanning careers who are yet to don the whites. New Zealand skipper Sophie Devine, in an interview with this publication, had noted the imbalance last year.

It is becoming increasingly clear after contests as riveting as those in the past few weeks, that as cricket administrators try to navigate the sport’s expansion, they also have a chance to satiate the red-ball appetite in women’s cricket too. 

Fun fact of the week: This is the week of Boxing Day Tests. It started out as a holiday to offer gifts to those in need, by the 21st century, Boxing Day had evolved into a day for sports and shopping. Fans in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are often treated to a Test match beginning on December 26. India is a part of that Boxing Day celebration this year, with their match in South Africa.

Here's a recap of the top stories from this past week

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