Valiant knocks from Sneh Rana, Taniya Bhatia help India draw the Test against England
Sydney 2021 was not too long ago. Though the circumstances were a bit different, the storyline remains the same. India held on to a fighting draw on the final day of the Test match. This time, it was the Indian women against England, thanks to match-saving knocks from Sneh Rana and Taniya Bhatia. The duo remained unbeaten till the end and save the day for India.
India were down to 199 for seven. Ecclestone had run through the Indian middle-order. That is when Shikha Pandey joined Rana in the middle. The 26-year-old bided her time to get used to the conditions and played with caution till England took the second new ball. There were a few nervy moments here and there with Sophie Ecclestone relentlessly targeting the stumps.
Both Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole tried to swing the new ball and hit the top of the off-stump. However, the Indian pair showed impeccable patience to get through their spell. When the ball was there to hit, Rana and Pandey did not miss out on those opportunities.
Rana, in particular, drove anything too full and outside off-stump to the cover boundary. Whenever it seemed like she lost a bit of concentration, Pandey was quick to have a chat and get her to focus. Although Rana’s cover drives were entertaining, the talking point of her knock was her off-stump awareness and the way she left balls on length, just outside off-stump. Together they added 41 runs before Pandey got out to one of the harmless down-the-leg deliveries from Natalie Sciver. She made 18 runs from 50 balls.
Meanwhile, Rana held forte at the other end as Taniya Bhatia joined her in the middle. With the wicketkeeper showing solid temperament and technique to handle Ecclestone and Heather Knight against spin, Rana was happy to play against the seamers. The pressure mounting on England bowlers to enforce a result helped the duo played positively from ball one of their partnership.
Knight rotated her seamers – Brunt, Shrubsole and Sciver – to put pressure on Rana and Bhatia. The off-spinning allrounder batted seamlessly, showing no signs of nerves and taking the attack to the bowlers whenever deemed necessary. She brought up her half-century in 91 balls. Bhatia was a perfect company for Rana, rotating the strike as much as possible, playing attacking shots only if it was risk-free. With the Indian lead going past 120 and the overs left in the day reducing, they started playing a bit more aggressively. Sneh Rana, in particular, opened up and started playing shot across the ground.
Soon, Bhatia brought out her shots against Ecclestone, slicing the star spinner through point and followed it up with a pull through midwicket. She hit a couple more off Kate Cross and closed in on her half-century. They added 100 runs together for the ninth wicket. With ten overs to go till the end of the play, both the teams agreed for a draw. Rana remained unbeaten till the end with 80 off 154 balls, while Bhatia made 44 from 88. Ecclestone was the pick of the bowler for England finishing with four for 118. The teams shared two points each going into the limited-overs leg of the series.
Earlier, Shafali Verma and Deepti Sharma started the day on a positive note. With Ecclestone and Cross opening the bowling, England bowlers tried to attack the stumps as much as possible. However, the tactics did not flutter Verma as she launched Ecclestone straight down the ground. Nevertheless, the left-arm spinner had the last laugh as she dismissed Verma in the final delivery of the same over. Trying to hit a low full-toss over long-on, Verma got out, thanks to a diving catch from Brunt. She made 63 runs from 83 balls.
Joined by Punam Raut, Sharma continued from where she left off. With the experience of batting together several times in the 50-over format, the duo had no issue whatsoever to build a partnership and reduce the deficit for India. While Raut was playing positively against the spinners, Sharma was happy to negate the seamers and ensure they did not get any wickets further. Once they got their eye in, Raut and Sharma started picking up boundaries with ease. Anything too full or too short, Sharma was quick to capitalise on it.
Raut was proactive in using the crease against the spinners – backfoot punch through the covers or sweep/whip through square-leg. She was smart enough to play with the spin, manipulating the field, getting those singles and doubles to keep the scoreboard moving. Meanwhile, Sharma brought up her maiden Test fifty in 157 balls.
India had gone past the deficit, and just when it seemed like they were closing on lunch, Sharma broke loose and flicked a full-length delivery on the middle-stump from Ecclestone to the deep midwicket boundary. A couple of balls later, the left-arm spinner followed it up with a bit fuller delivery, more on off-stump line, which Sharma tried to slog sweep on one knee and played it on to the stumps. Ecclestone had provided England with a crucial breakthrough and brought them back in the game.
Mithali Raj, who came in at five after lunch, did not last long. Ecclestone cleaned her up with a beautiful arm-ball that missed the outside edge of Raj and hit the bails over off-stump. Raut fell shortly after to Sciver, pulling a short-pitched delivery straight into the hands of the square-leg fielder. She made 39 runs off 109 balls.
From 171 for two, India slumped to 175 for five. Promoted up the order, Pooja Vastrakar joined vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur in the middle. The fast-bowling allrounder wasted no time to get herself going as she smashed Ecclestone for three boundaries in an over.
Soon, England brought spin from both ends with skipper Heather Knight taking things into her own hands. And she struck immediately, removing Vastrakar for a 21-ball 12. Kaur, at the other end, was in no hurry to score runs. However, Ecclestone was not out of tricks yet. Kaur tried to sweep a delivery that was too-full, went too low and top-edged it to Amy Jones, who completed an easy catch. She made eight runs from 34 balls.
Brief Scores: England 396/9 dec in 121.2 overs (Heather Knight 95, Sophia Dunkley 74*; Sneh Rana 4/131) drew India innings 231 all out in 81.2 overs (Shafali Verma 96, Smriti Mandhana 78; Sophie Ecclestone 4/88) & 344/8 (f/0) in 121 overs (Sneh Rana 80*; Sophie Ecclestone 4/118) PoTM: Shafali Verma