Why women should have more opportunities to fail in Tests

India returned to playing Tests after close to seven years. © Getty Images

India played out an exciting draw against the hosts England in the one-off Test at the Country Cricket Ground in Bristol on Saturday (June 19) prompting a demand for more women’s Tests from fans across the spectrum. The draw was headlined by the fight and gumption showed by the lower-order after India suffered a collapse for the second time in the match. Many batters were out to ill-advised shots and at the center of that collapse was Deepti Sharma, when she went for a slog and was bowled. But her patient knock of 54 off 168 meant she escaped with mild criticism. There was no such luck for Pooja Vastrakar, who went for an ugly hoick across the line off Heather Knight and was bowled. India had a meager 24-run lead at the point and were staring at defeat.

21-year-old Vastrakar’s shot was rightly criticised – it reminded us of Shannon Gabriel’s dismissal from the men’s Test of 2017 in Dominica that resulted in a West Indies defeat. While it’s difficult to argue who had more at stake – Vastrakar or Gabriel – depending on the match situation, it’s safe to say that Gabriel’s shot didn’t cost him his place in the side as he went on to play more Tests, nor a similar shot would be seen as a failure of his gender as a whole to play the format.

With the match ending in a draw, Vastrakar’s shot might not be much of a concern for her immediate future. But what about the immediate future of women’s Tests? What about the failures? What about the ineptness Vastrakar showed while playing that shot? What if Sneh Rana and Taniya Bhatia didn’t have that back-to-the-wall partnership to save the match? What if they all had failed?

That brings us to the question ‘are women cricketers allowed to fail?’ Yes, they are would be the answer in the larger sense. But they have to do something spectacular from time to time get more Tests, domestic T20 franchise leagues, or even a better domestic structure. Or so it seems. These exciting draws/wins are not always going to happen. Should be they be allowed to play more Tests then?

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The 27-year-old Rana came back from spending years in the wilderness. She had given away 32 runs in an over against Sophie Devine in a T20I and then played only three more internationals before being left out. She went back to domestic cricket, toiled hard and put in the tough yards and earned her place back, and then went on to hit a sublime 80 to save the Test match for her side. So, you don’t have to fight that fight for Rana; she will do that by herself.

What the cricketing community should fight for is for Rana’s right to fail and be utterly unremarkable and have a terrible time against one of the best batters in the world. You should be talking about Vastrakar getting more opportunities to attempt that swipe across the wicket and fail. You should be fighting for their right to exist in a system where they have more opportunity to fail (or succeed).

What about accountability, you ask? Yes, criticise Vastrakar for all you want. If she continues to do that and fails, dissect a pattern using data and analyse her technique. Let those in charge of selection pick someone else in her place while Vastrakar goes back to domestic cricket and learns why she shouldn’t have played that and have a shot at redemption. She should be allowed to even fade away without doing anything remarkable and the new player should be allowed to make similar mistakes and chart her path.

Shafali Verma, the player of the Test and current toast of all that’s women’s cricket, got out to shots in both innings that wouldn’t pass the ‘Why did she do that?’ test if not for what came before. She is not always going to score 96 and 63 for she is just 17. She is going to play those shots on the second ball she faces and you are going to be angry at her getting out in that fashion. Trust me, she will and she has every right to get out to a reckless shot. Heck, she is going to make some other mistake when she is 27 for cricket is set for more failures than success.

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India openers Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana against England

The onus of keeping Tests alive should not be on players like Shafali Verma (r). © Getty Images

The burden of keeping Test cricket traditions alive or Test cricket in itself is not hers; it’s not the job of the Vastrakars or the Ranas either. It’s not their job to make you feel vindicated for supporting them and their right to play more Test matches for they were brilliant yesterday.

It’s not just an Indian thing, it applies even to the ‘nice guys’. Suzie Bates, the legend that she has been for New Zealand, shouldn’t be retiring from cricket without having played a Test match ever, for that would be a bigger crime than 1000 ugly swipes across the wicket. Prodigious Amelia Kerr making a Test debut against India with figures of one for 150, and then going on to become the best leg-spinner the format has seen 15 years later is something we all should be rooting for.

In 2019, one Kate Cross video went viral with the caption ‘Women’s Cricket’. In the video, she was seen throwing the ball to the strikers’ end despite the non-striker being miles away. It was used as just another stick to beat women’s cricket with rather than being seen as a comical fielding. It is not that comical stuff doesn’t happen in men’s cricket. If my memory serves correctly, I have seen it once happen with India’s Yuzvendra Chahal in men’s cricket, and I will have to rely on my memory for there’s no viral clip with an accompanying caption ‘Men’s Cricket’ on the internet for me to find.

I enjoy funny cricket as much as anyone, for it’s just a game and a profession at the highest level – they should be fighting for it to be a profession at all levels but that’s for another day. Funny cricket is the best cricket and everyone should be allowed to fumble on their job and it’s great fun to see someone make a fool of themselves with their ineptness without attributing it to their gender. Women are allowed to be as miserable as men and we all should be asking for more women’s Tests not just because they are going to be brilliant at it but also because they are going to be miserable at it and they have every right to be!

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