Rana, Sharma keep India in contest after a hard-toil on day one
Making a comeback to the format after seven years on a pitch that had very little help for their seamers, it was the Indian spinners who reaped the wickets on day one of the Test match against England at Bristol on Wednesday (June 16). While half-centuries from Tammy Beaumont and Heather Knight might have put the hosts in the driver’s seat, late strikes from the spinners brought India back into the game.
Going into the match with three off-spinners, including the vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur, Mithali Raj’s team selection surprised many. It also seemed like not a great decision until the third session when the two debutants – Sneh Rana and Deepti Sharma – turned things around for India.
England were cruising at 230 for two, with Knight nearing her century and her deputy Natalie Sciver, a half-century. Together, they had added 90 runs for the third wicket. Sciver missed a full delivery from Sharma as the off-spinner trapped her in front of the stumps. She got out after scoring 42 from 75 balls. A couple of overs later, Rana dismissed Amy Jones cheaply. The wicketkeeper-batter made just one run from nine balls.
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Four overs later, Sharma was back in business as she trapped Knight on the back foot with an around-the-wicket delivery. Nearing her century, Knight went on the back foot to a ball she could have come forward to was out LBW. She fell five runs short of a well-deserved century.
Rana struck again when she deceived Georgia Elwiss with a full-length delivery – drifting away from the right-hander – and made her edge it to Sharma at first slip. From 230 for two, England slumped to 251 for six. Katherine Brunt and debutant Sophia Dunkley negated the rest of the session cautiously and ensured that England did not lose any further wickets. The hosts finished with 269 for six after 92 overs.
While Sharma and Rana were the picks of the bowlers for India, Goswami’s first two spells ought to be credited for keeping India in the game when there was very little help for the bowlers. She bowled 14 overs, giving away just 38 runs at 2.7 runs-an-over when all the other bowlers were operating at an economy over three in the first two sessions.
Earlier, opting to bat, England openers Lauren Winfield-Hill and Beaumont negated the new ball cautiously and got them off to a steady start. They were happy to leave the balls outside off-stump and play only if necessary.
With Pandey struggling to get her line and length right, debutant Vastrakar came in to bowl as early as the eighth over. Known for her extra pace, the youngster was clocking around 110 kmph. However, she overpitched at times, trying to get some sideways movement. The openers, particularly Winfield-Hill, capitalised on every possible opportunity driving and pulled her to the boundary.
As not much sideways movement was on offer for the seamers, Rana came into the attack early, while Pandey was bowling from the other end for a second spell. Bhatia was standing up to the stumps for the medium-pacer, attempting to stop the openers from using their feet.
However, it did not matter as Winfield-Hill picked up a back of a length delivery and pulled it in front of the square for a six. When Vastrakar replaced Pandey, she whipped her over deep backward square for a massive six. Beaumont, at the other end, was as solid as ever, picking up risk-free boundaries, keeping the scoreboard moving.
With Winfield-Hill, she added 69 runs for the first wicket. Once her partner got out, Beaumont took the mantle and hit a few boundaries off Vastrakar and Goswami to keep the momentum going.
She brought up her second Test fifty in 99 balls. Beaumont was proactive against the spinners using her feet to come down the track, trying to sweep and paddle-sweep, just to put them off rhythm. She even changed stump guard a couple of times, forcing the spinners to bowl the line she wanted them to.
Eventually, it took a brilliant diving catch from Verma to dismiss Beaumont during a momentary concentration lapse as she came down the wrong line against Rana, inside-edged to the short-leg off her pads. She made 66 runs from 144 balls.
Playing her hundredth match as England skipper across formats, Knight was at her dominating best. Walking in at number three, she joined Beaumont and got off the mark with a crispy cover drive off the debutant Pooja Vastrakar.
Once Beaumont got out after lunch, Knight and Sciver took on the attack to a rather tired Indian bowling attack, which had not had any match practice before this Test match. While Sciver hit back-to-back boundaries off Jhulan Goswami, Knight capitalised on anything too short or too full from the India spinners. She made 95 runs from 175 balls before getting out to Sharma.
Brief Scores: England 269/6 in 92 overs (Heather Knight 95, Tammy Beaumont 66; Sneh Rana 3/75, Deepti Sharma 2/50)