NEWS: Counties – “We Will Continue Playing County Cricket From 2020 Despite ECB Plans”

In response to ECB plans to restructure women’s county cricket from 2020, several of the counties who will be relegated to “feeder county” status are planning on launching their own league in order to keep women’s county cricket alive below the top division.

The ECB’s restructure would see only the top 10 counties fielding senior county women’s sides in the new 1-division Women’s County Championship, with all other counties serving as “feeders”, developing age-group players who will then join their closest full county side.

Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire are the counties currently involved in the plan, which would see a new East of England Competition set up, contested by the 6 counties.

“We are still going to play county cricket,” one Hertfordshire official told CRICKETher. “Removing county cricket doesn’t make any sense when we are trying to grow the women’s game.”

CRICKETher understands that the ECB are aware of the plan and are attempting to limit it to an Under-21 age-group competition, in keeping with the new restructure.

However, the counties feel this would defeat the purpose of the competition, which is to ensure that older players continue to have opportunities to develop their abilities. One senior county executive said that they would play overage players even if an age limit was imposed by the ECB.

“We don’t want to interfere with the ECB’s new structure, and we will schedule our county matches so that they don’t clash with the ECB’s fixtures,” he said. “We aren’t waging war on them – we just want our girls to continue to have the opportunity to represent their county.”

It will be difficult for the ECB to force the issue, given that the new competition will formally be played outside of their direct jurisdiction, and will be independently funded by the counties from sponsorship and fundraising.

Several existing county players have already expressed disquiet about the restructure, which will see them restricted to playing club cricket – seen by many as a backward step. In the East of England, where the club structure is almost non-existent, those involved in county cricket are particularly worried that many players will be forced out of the game altogether come 2020.

“This is being driven by the players themselves,” one official told CRICKETher. “They want to carry on playing county cricket. If there isn’t that step up, they are much more likely to drop out when they turn 18.”

Should the Eastern Counties be successful they may well inspire similar independent county competitions around England in other areas where club cricket is struggling.

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NEWS: County Players And Coaches Feel Proposed Restructure Is “Backward Step”

The ECB’s planned overhaul of women’s county cricket, whereby from 2020 only a top tier of 8 or 10 counties will participate in the County Championship, is sparking concerns among players and coaches that it will stymie the development of the sport.

The proposals would mean the end of the careers of approximately 250 senior county players, who the ECB hope will move into the club structure from 2020.

However, the weakness of the underlying club structure in some regions of the country effectively means that some of these players may be lost to cricket for good.

One player from a Division 3 county said:

“I understand the intent, but can’t help that feel a lot of women like myself will suffer.”

“Some of us are perhaps ahead of the varying standard of women’s club cricket, and were finding our feet in Division 3 and 2. To make these feeders and have a select few ‘elite’ sides, where the net will be cast wider and subsequently, numbers harder to compete with, I fear my hopes of competing at a standard suitable for myself will dwindle.”

“I feel this is a backwards step.”

Another, responding to the proposals on Twitter, labelled the move a “massive shame”: “Been playing county senior cricket for 10 years and to see it end will be pretty rubbish”.

CRICKETher understands that the proposals were presented to those working in the current women’s set-up at four consultation meetings held around the country in 2018.

However, while these meetings presented an opportunity to provide feedback on the proposals, some working in county cricket feel their views have not been taken into account.

One county coach told CRICKETher:

“I think the narrowing of a growing market could do a lot more harm than good. It would strangle the rapid organic growth and increase in quality that we were witnessing at the coal face.”

“There is some wonderful cricket going on in Division 2 and 3. That is a result of hard work and natural growth and evolution of the women’s game that is going to be squashed.”

OPINION: Reading The Runes On England’s Warm-Up Win In Sri Lanka

England began their tour of Sri Lanka with a comfortable win in a “jumpers for goalposts” warm-up match against a relatively inexperienced “Emerging” Sri Lanka team in Colombo.

England fielded 13 players, with most of the squad getting a run-out with either bat or ball. Lauren Winfield top-scored with 82 (retired) as England posted 319, before bowling the Sri Lankans out in exactly 40 overs, with Heather Knight taking 4-13.

Reading the runes on England’s selections, it looks like Amy Jones, who scored 56 (also retired) will continue to open the batting in the ODIs with Tammy Beaumont; with Lauren Winfield maybe coming in at 3 ahead of Heather Knight and Nat Sciver, as she did in the 3rd ODI in India.

Bowling-wise, although Katherine Brunt has travelled to Sri Lanka, she was originally planned to be rested for this tour, and she didn’t play in the warm-up. Instead, Freya Davies opened the bowling with Anya Shrubsole – Davies finishing with 1-16 from 6 overs.

Does this mean Davies is nailed-on for the ODIs? It would be a bold statement of faith from the coach… but that’s exactly the sort of thing Mark Robinson likes to do! (Remember Linsey Smith, Sophia Dunkley and Kirstie Gordon all making their debuts together at the World Twenty20?)

England’s bowling is obviously a bit injury-ravaged at the moment, with Georgia Elwiss and Sophie Ecclestone both having flown home and straight into rehab, so other options are obviously on the table, but it looks like Sophia Dunkley is not one of them – she didn’t bowl in the warm-up, and it seems like England see her as a pure batsman at the moment.

Danni Wyatt however, did send down some overs – they were rather expensive (going at 7.8, compared to Freya Davies’ 2.3) but England clearly do have her in mind as an option.

NEWS: Bidding Process To Decide Which Counties Field Sides In Women’s County Championship From 2020

More details are coming to light regarding the ECB’s proposed restructure of women’s county cricket from 2020.

CRICKETher understands that the top 10 counties will be decided by a bidding process, whereby counties will put forward expressions of interest and the ECB will then grant hosting rights to the strongest proposals.

The top counties will be supported by 10 Academy “hubs”, and will play in a one-division Championship, while the old Division 2 and 3 counties will simply serve as “feeders”, developing age-group players who will then join their closest county side.

Revenue from the ECB’s new TV deal will be used to enable the top 10 counties to offer professionally staffed set-ups. Players will also be remunerated, though this will likely fall short of fully professional pay, at least initially.

While the bidding process is ostensibly an open one, it seems logistically unlikely that the 8 “Hundred” counties will not feature in the new Championship – not least because this will limit the amount of travelling which the top women’s players will need to do.

CRICKETher understands that Sussex are confident they will be one of the selected counties, given their extensive facilities at the Aldridge Cricket Academy funded by millionaire Sir Rod Aldridge, which leaves just one spot in the top flight remaining.

The traditional prominence of the southern counties in the women’s game means that large areas of England are likely to be unrepresented in the new Women’s County Championship.

Current players who represent the counties which are not successful in the bidding process will be encouraged to play club cricket as an alternative.

MATCH REPORT: 3rd T20, England v India – “Walk this way…”

Ravi Nair reports

In the intervening day between the second T20I and today, there was some talk about India’s running (or walking) between the wickets. India’s captain Smriti Mandhana in an interview said, among other things, that India needed to work on their running, that they hit either fours or dots, that they needed to rotate the strike more, and so on. CRICKETher’s very own Syd Egan then proved this, using numbers and tables, and probably slide rules and the differential calculus as well. But a lot of this sounds like captain’s waffle, or overanalysis to the spectator, until she sees it exemplified for herself in an actual match. And that, as if made to order, was what happened in the third and final (“dead rubber”) T20I between India and England in Guwahati.

Simply put, England won by one run, after a fantastic final over by Kate Cross in which she took two wickets and gave away only one run. But behind this lies a tale. In their last three overs India scored three boundaries, England none. Yet in their 18th, 19th and 20th overs India scored 19 runs, while England scored 26. It means that Shrubsole and Dunkley, one extra from a wide aside, ran the equivalent of nearly 500 metres each in 19 deliveries. The Indians managed 60. England allowed one dot ball in those three overs. Mithali Raj alone played out six, with Fulmali adding another three at the end of the Indian innings. Just one more would have given India a tie. Two more, the match.

Even without the final score and these reflections on it, the match was an exciting one. It was a dead rubber, the series had been decided. But it was a Saturday and the eventual crowd at Barsapara was the largest of any of the six matches in the tour. Mandhana wanted her first win as captain, and her team wanted to keep the overall score all square, at three matches each team. Heather Knight, however, may have been thinking slightly differently. Katherine Brunt, England’s most effective bowler this tour, was rested. And, on winning the toss, Knight decided to bat. Perhaps she was challenging her team to bat first and win even though they knew the Indians preferred chasing. Perhaps she was testing her entire squad, which has lost more resources before and during this tour than Spinal Tap lost drummers. Whatever the reason, it was set up for Mandhana to play the innings that all cricket fans wanted to see: a big one, in a chase, leading to a win.

Danni Wyatt set off just as one expects, like a greyhound out of the traps. Tammy Beaumont wasn’t far behind. Each hit a six. Each hit fours. India kept their discipline and refused to give away a single extra. So England reached 50 in exactly seven overs with Wyatt on 24 and Beaumont on 26. In the next over, with right arm finger spinner Anuja Patil bowling, Wyatt for whatever reason saw the ball going wide, very wide, of off, but couldn’t resist stretching for it. Result: top edge caught at third man.

After which it was another England mini-collapse. Sciver didn’t seem to know where the ball was going after it pitched when the leggie Poonam Yadav was bowling, played and missed a couple and then heard, rather than saw, the third take her off stump, spinning from middle and missing her outside edge. Beaumont, believing this was the right time for it, charged Patil, missed, and was stumped. Taniya Bhatia makes few if any mistakes in situations like this.

Amy Jones and Knight did some repair work, and Jones was beginning to look like the batter we had seen in the WWT20 in the Caribbean, making her most useful score of the tour to date, when Knight decided to stretch forward to Ekta Bisht. The ball evaded her outside edge, and Bhatia took the bails off while Knight was still stretched, her back leg behind her as though in a yoga pose, and her foot about 10 cm in front of the crease. But that wasn’t enough. Mandhana brought Deol on to bowl her right arm leg spin and Lauren Winfield was deceived and trapped in front. England had lost five wickets in the space of scoring 31 runs. After the powerplay England had looked on course for a score in excess of 140. Now it looked as though 100 might be ambitious.

Nine runs later even Jones was gone. With her score on 22, she was dropped by Mandhana at mid off. To celebrate, she lofted Deol over Mandhana for four. Full of the joys of the Indian Spring she decided to do it again, and this time holed out to Shikha Pandey who had moved slightly finer at the boundary for just this eventuality. Significantly, the English batters had crossed over by then so Dunkley, who hadn’t yet scored, but had at least faced, got to play out the last two deliveries of the over.

This left Shrubsole and Dunkley to make the best they could out of the three overs left to them. As related earlier, they did not score a single boundary between them, but ran about half a kilometre each to take the final score up to 119, and India’s target to 120: a score they had not yet reached thus far in the T20 series. But it was an achievable score, a disappointing one from England’s point of view, and on an easy paced pitch that offered nothing like the seam or turn of the Wankhede pitches, it was the perfect opportunity for Mandhana to show what she could do.

She did.

For 58 runs over 39 deliveries Mandhana gave us left-handed elegance and unstoppable strokeplay, the likes of which has not been seen since the retirement of Brian Charles Lara. Glides through third man, pulls off the hip, lofted drives to long off and long on, pulls and cuts led to eight fours and a six, along with 20 runs she actually ran, in the remaining 29 deliveries. Little wonder that her partners at the other end, Deol and Rodrigues, contributed 12 runs in total to India’s first 59.

It didn’t last, however, as Mandhana, looking to gently stroke Laura Marsh on the off side, under-edged the delivery and saw it bounce back onto her stumps. Until then the match was over and India were walking it. Eight runs later Deepti Sharma attempted a quick two, and Raj ran as hard as she has in the last few months, but it was Sharma, slow on the turn and accelerating slowly on her way back, who found herself about 20 cm short as Jones gathered and took the bails off as neatly as a stumping.

Even so, it should have been India’s game but, perhaps traumatised by the run out, Raj refused anything that looked like a sharp run. She was going to be there until the end, and she was not going to run out any of her partners, waving them away as they looked at her whenever it was her call. Time was still on India’s side, as was Fulmali, who had shown her talent in her debut in the previous match. The lack of singles, however, meant that the required rate was rising, going from 4.5 with six-and-a-half overs left to a full 6 per over for the last three.

Knight, inexplicably, ignored Wyatt, who had bowled two overs for just seven runs, and went back to her seamers, Sciver, Shrubsole and Cross, for the last three overs. Raj hit Sciver three times to mid on but refused to run. Even so, the over seemed the end of the fight for England as she did manage two fours, using the pace the spinners would not have given her, and taking a single off the last ball. India needed just 9 in the last two overs.

Shrubsole managed to keep her discipline, Raj managed to curb any mad impulse to take quick singles, even though the first two deliveries were walked through for one each. And then, on the last ball, Raj once again used Shrubsole’s pace to get herself a four.

Which left, as we know, Cross with the unenviable task of defending three runs in the last over, with India only four wickets down. Somehow she did it, bowling straight at Fulmali and giving her no room to swing her arms, changing her length slightly from ball to ball so that Fulmali could not set herself up for it beforehand. Jones missed a stumping too, on the third ball, as it beat Fulmali coming forward, but bounced off Jones’ gloves. Before Jones could pick it up and remove the bails, the batter was back in her crease. On the fourth delivery, trying to take the pressure off, Fulmali holed out to Shrubsole at mid off. Next ball Anuja Patil jumped about halfway down the track, swinging for dear life and, inevitably, missing. Jones made up for her earlier miss, Patil was out, and Pandey came in for the last ball of the innings needing a three or better to win. She skewed it out to Beaumont at point who flung herself on it and then carefully sent it back without running any danger of an overthrow and, though the Indians ran, they could only get one.

Game over, and huge release and relief for the England camp.

Mandhana will look at the next few months, when India have no matches coming up, and consider deleting Aerosmith’s “Walk this way” from the playlist of every one of her teammates. The England squad, if they are Kate Bush fans, will consider “Running up that hill” was definitely worth it. Heather Knight, however, looking grim rather than triumphant at the presentation, might be wondering exactly how much of her squad’s depth she is going to have to test on the next leg of the tour, and be singing to herself (albeit without Ariana Grande’s satirical tone), “Thank you. Next.”

NEWS: Indians Top Salary League At ₹50 Lakhs

The BCCI have announced this year’s central contracts for the women’s team, with the top players now earning ₹50 lakhs – the equivalent of about £90,000 per year – considerably more than England and on a par with Australia.

The four “Tier A” players – Mithali, Harmanpreet, Smriti and Poonam Yadav – will take home the top amount of ₹50 lakhs, with players on Tiers B and C taking home ₹30 and ₹10 lakhs respectively. Adjusted for “PPP” – Purchasing Power Parity – a measure of what your money actually buys in your home country, this corresponds to a salary of about £90,000 a year in England.

Top Tier Contracts Salary Salary (GBP by PPP)
India ₹50 Lakhs £90,000
Australia $140,000 £75,000
England £50,000 £50,000

In contrast, the top Australians currently earn around $70,000 per year in basic salary, which they can double via match fees and additional earnings. Although the ECB do not release the numbers for England players, those in the top salary band are understood to earn around £50,000 per year.

This means that the best Indian players are currently the best paid in the world, even before you account for income from advertising and endorsements, with the likes of Smriti now promoting everything from sportswear to contact lenses and skin cream.

This is particularly interesting given the perception that Australia and England are leaps and bounds ahead of the pack in terms of professionalism – though it should be noted that Australia and England both have considerably more than 4 player on top tier contracts.

STATS: #ENGvIND – England Get ‘Em In Singles; India In Sixes

In the press conference following India’s loss to England in the 2nd T20 in Guwahati, Indian stand-in skipper Smriti Mandhana said:

“[A] major difference between other teams and our team is running between the wickets.”

Do the stats bear this out?

Looking at T20 cricket only, we can calculate Boundary and Non-Boundary Strike Rates for the “Big 4” teams over the past two years.

Team Runs Balls 4s 6s Boundary SR Non-Boundary SR
India 3734 3224 401 77 432 61
Australia 2685 2073 351 41 421 62
England 2672 2186 313 32 419 67
New Zealand 3227 2616 365 63 429 63

The numbers show that although India’s Non-Boundary Strike Rate is the lowest of the Big 4, at 61 runs per 100 balls, it is only just less than Australia’s at 62, whilst England have the best Non-Boundary Strike Rate at 67.

On the other side of the coin, India’s Boundary Strike Rate is the best of the Big 4 – basically, they hit a lot of 6s, giving them a Boundary Strike Rate of 432, just ahead of New Zealand’s 429. Conversely, England’s Boundary Strike Rate is the lowest of the Big 4, at 419 – they don’t hit so many 6s!

Overall we can see that whilst these differences aren’t huge, they are at their biggest when you compare India and England. England are seeing the benefits of the back-breaking fitness regime introduced by Mark Robinson 3 years ago, running like badgers between the wickets; whilst India have a more… shall we say… laid back attitude!

(A cynic might note at this point, that England might also be starting to see the drawbacks of their back-breaking fitness regime – it is literally breaking their backs, with no less than 3 players from the contracted squad currently out with stress fractures of the lower back!)

So perhaps what Smriti should have said is:

“[A] major difference between England and our team is running between the wickets.”

But overall though, she is right – this is an area India need to be working on – they’ve already got the hitting – add the running and they could be the world-beaters they long to be.

MATCH REPORT: 2nd T20, England v India – Oh Mandy, you came and you gave…

Ravi Nair reports

Smriti Mandhana (whom I dearly hope is called Mandy in the dressing room) has, probably since she made her debut, and definitely in the last two years, been thought of as FIC (Future India Captain) just as much as Mike Atherton was FEC to his team mates long before he captained England. She is only 22 and India are surely, barring ill-health or accident, going to see her rule the world as its premier batter for another 10 years at least, so it makes perfect sense for her to be considered the ideal next captain or co-captain for India. Fans, of her, and the game, however, might have wished the opportunity had not arrived quite so quickly. It is not easy to develop much confidence, in your ability, in the squad’s ability, or the squad’s in you, if you are two down with one to play in a home series. Yet that is the situation Mandhana is in after India lost the T20i series in Guwahati to an England performance that, while not as assured as during the first match, was still comfortable enough at the end.

It had all started well for India, though. Knight may have won the toss and decided to chase, which would also have been India’s preferred option, but it wasn’t a big issue: Mandhana correctly assessing that this fresh pitch would play much the way the first did, slow and consistent throughout the day. And Knight played her three-card bowling trick again, with Sciver, Shrubsole and Brunt taking overs 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Except this time Sciver’s first over didn’t go as planned, particularly as Deol cover drove her off the first delivery to the boundary and then she gave away five wides in the same over. Shrubsole’s first over was, if anything, even worse. Mandhana lofted her sublimely on her very first delivery over the long off boundary for six. And then repeated the dose later in the over. At 21 – 0 after 2 overs, it looked as though it could be an epic score for India.

Brunt, as she does so often for England, restored sanity in the third. Mandhana, trying the lofted drive yet again, misjudged the bowler and the line, to outside edge to the keeper. Amy Jones has the unenviable position of playing Stuart MacGill to Sarah Taylor’s Shane Warne when it comes to keeping for England. Jones is one of the best keepers in the world in her own right and it must have been frustrating to her, and to England, for her to have to be kept out of the first T20 through injury. Beaumont was whole-hearted in taking up the gloves for that match, but even she must have been relieved, as must everyone else in the England camp, to see Jones back behind the stumps. For Jones, even standing back as England’s keepers tend to do for each pace bowler’s first over, it was a regulation catch, and after that it was simply a question of how much the visitors could keep down the host’s score.

Wickets began to come more regularly, both Brunt and Linsey Smith bowling well enough to keep India in that twilight zone between trying to hold on to their wickets and still trying to push the score along. They weren’t helped by Mithali Raj’s disinclination to run quick singles. She nearly had Sharma run out early, and later achieved it just when her partner looked as though she had the measure of the bowling. In the absence of Harmanpreet Kaur, Raj is probably essential to add batting gravitas to this Indian T20 side, but she does sometimes make it hard to sympathise with her selection. Her 20 runs, though the highest score of the Indian innings, was not as valuable as that sounds, since they didn’t come quickly and she got out as soon as she attempted to push the scoring rate along.

Even on a pitch like this, unless you are a Smriti Mandhana, it will take an over or two to get its measure, and wickets falling will always stall an innings. India found their run rate dropping with almost every over, and certainly with every wicket. Once Sharma was gone, it was a steady procession with no improvement in the run rate. Special mention must be made, however, of Bharti Fulmali, making her debut: she kept her head and showed some good strokeplay to help India during the last third of their innings, and almost certainly helped achieve what respectability their score did.

England, after halfway, came out having to chase down India’s 111-8, on an easy pitch, and with the confidence of having set 160 on a near identical surface just a few days earlier. Wyatt set off like a drag racer, in the style England expect of her in T20i matches and it looked as though, at over a run a ball, requiring less than five an over, the match would soon be done. Beaumont, however, having spent a little while letting Wyatt make the running, decided it was time for her too. Unfortunately she may have forgotten that a slow pitch is not the same as a pitch that doesn’t take turn at all. Simply put, Beaumont jumped out to hit Radha Yadav (the left arm finger-spinner) missed the ball and lost her stumps.

After this, with Pandey being slightly less effective than has been her wont this tour, it was Bisht and the two Yadavs who put pressure on the England batting, chipping away at the wickets: Jones caught and bowled, Sciver LBW and Knight LBW; keeping the scoring rate down and giving their captain hope of a good fight. Albeit Wyatt at the other end had still not (and did not throughout her impressive unbeaten innings) dipped below a strike rate of more than a run a ball.

Winfield, in next, helped provide what England needed – a partnership with Wyatt that put the match to rest. In fact Winfield batted so well, getting her eye in quickly and scoring fours at every opportunity, that she easily outscored Wyatt during their 47 run stand. This might also be partly down to Wyatt, inspired by the maturity she had shown in the third ODI, throttling back to ensure she kept her wicket to see England home. When Winfield, ambitious and mistiming the ball a touch, holed out, England needed just 9 runs with 14 deliveries left.

Brunt just had to keep her wicket, survive a very close LBW shout, and score two runs. Wyatt did the rest as England won by 5 wickets with 5 balls in hand. It wasn’t an actual stroll in the park but it wasn’t as close as the scoreline might suggest.

Wyatt won Player of the Match, which was only fair, given she had scored 64* when nobody else on either side even reached 30 (and in fact only Winfield and Raj had even reached 20). It was also nice to see, after her “mature” face throughout her innings, to see the intensity relax into the smile we are accustomed to see from Danni Wyatt as she went up to collect her award.

As it stands, England sit dormy in this tour, being one match up in total, with one to play. They will want to win the last game, on Saturday, to prove that they are the side they believe they are. Mandhana will want her first win as a captain too. Given, however, that it is once more a “dead rubber”, the series having been decided, there may yet again be a slight lack of intensity in it. This would be a bit of a pity since, as the only the weekend match of this tour, it may well get the highest attendance of any match so far (where Barsapara stadium has already shown its ability to attract about five times as many spectators as Wankhede did).

As for India, despite the issues surrounding Raj’s place in the team, and her problems with the team management (now all allegedly smoothed over), since she was in the playing XI, it might just have been worthwhile making her the makeshift captain for this series and allowing Mandhana to bat with greater freedom, particularly in the first match, which might have made the difference between winning and losing this series. But now, battle-hardened as it were, she might as well captain for the third too: she is likelier to feel more confidence in her bowlers after this performance, and maybe even get the right blend of freedom to hit combined with responsibility, to make a substantial score of her own. It’s time for “Mandy” to do a little taking for herself.

MATCH REPORT: 1st T20, England v India – “And besides, the pitch is dead…”

Ravi Nair reports

At the end, they were playing for pride. Deepti Sharma and Shikha Pandey have put in all they could for India, not just in the three ODIs that preceded this, but also while bowling and fielding during the first innings of this first T20I. But they had been dealt, face up, a losing hand, and been left to do with it what they would. And they responded with pride, and commitment, and no hope regarding the result: they were beaten even before they came together on the pitch, at the end of the 15th over, with 85 runs to win. That they came within 41 runs of England’s total must be cause for some, grim, satisfaction.

On winning the toss Mandhana had decided to chase. Given she is India’s premier batter and has an astonishing record in chases, this seemed sensible. Also, this was a pitch, at Guwahati’s Barsapara Stadium, that was new to them. Watching how the opposition fared on it would give the Indian batters a good idea of what to expect and how to plan their chase. So it seemed, all round, to be an impeccable decision. And it was the wrong one.

The England Women’s team does not quite have the power-hitting ability of their male counterparts, who mishit for 6 and keep hitting, but in players like Wyatt, Beaumont, Sciver, Brunt and co they have caught up to a large extent with the Healeys, Devines, Dottins and Kaurs of the world and they do, particularly in the T20 format, have strength in depth that, perhaps, only Australia amongst the other teams, can match.

Given a slow and consistent pitch, therefore, the England batters can take just about any bowling attack to the cleaners and that is what they proceeded to do. Beaumont and Wyatt, opening, were careful just to watch the ball for the first two overs, taking any runs on offer (6 of their first eight runs were from extras) and then, having got the pace of the pitch (and it was a consistent, reliable, slow pace) they began to hit out.

Shikha Pandey, for India, was as good as she had been during the ODIs. So was India’s other star bowler, Poonam Yadav. The problem was that Mandhana, with the responsibility of captaincy at 22 years old, had to keep Yadav on and bring back Pandey, before the 15th over of the England innings, just to try to stem the flow of runs. The tactic worked, to an extent, with Wyatt caught in the deep by Mandhana herself off Pandey.

But it meant that the last five overs of the innings had to be bowled by the hard-working, but not as dangerous, trio, of Reddy, Yadav (Radha), and Deepti Sharma. While Sciver too was out early that still left Beaumont, still merrily striking away, with her captain, Knight, for company.

Now there are, on the English team, and in most teams, batters so distinctive that if someone were to play you a stick-figure animation of them batting you would be able to tell who it is.

“Of course, that pull – it’s Mandhana!”

Or:

“How orthodox is that? Raj for sure. And that lofted drive must be Wyatt. That Dilscoop is surely Beaumont. Did you see the weight of power in that drive? Has to be Sciver!”

And so on.

But there is something almost anonymous about England’s captain, Heather Knight’s, batting style. If she pulls you might think it was Beaumont pulling. If she cuts it might be Wyatt. If she drives it could be Sciver.

If you were asked about her you might say: “Ummmmm… she’s… good.” But that might be all you had.

Which is what made the 18th and 19th overs of the England innings such a revelation. Reddy started the 18th bowling at Beaumont who, having played herself into fluency, and then out again, managed a single. Knight then hit a four. And another. And another. And… she only stopped when she ran out of balls to face, having hit the hapless bowler for five consecutive fours, each with a different shot: a pull, a sweep, a cut, a lofted drive… Knight pulled them all out of her menu. It was a la carte boundary smiting and utterly brilliant. In the next over she hit a sixth consecutive four, and then a single, going from 15 runs in 11 deliveries, to 40 in 19. The next ball she faced she, well, holed out. And that was fine, because she had taken England from a good score to an almost unbeatable one.

When Beaumont was stumped for a superb 62, it was left to Brunt and Winfield to get what runs they could in the last few deliveries, taking England to 160 for 4 after their allotted overs.

In the limited overs games, and particularly in ODIs, some commentators claim that ending an innings with just four wickets having been lost is a bad thing: it shows that you haven’t used all the batting resources available to you, and you would have been better off hitting out more frantically, even though you lose eight wickets.

On a slow pitch like this, however, and in a T20 match, England’s innings was about as good as an innings can get from a professional, percentage play, point of view (it was also very exciting, but that’s a different matter): had they simply hit out and lost wickets, each new batter, to be effective, would have had to spend, or waste, some deliveries just getting the measure of the pitch. The set batters, on the other hand, having had the opportunity to calibrate their strokeplay to the speed of the surface, could always take better advantage of each ball bowled at them. A wicket meant not just a wasted scoring opportunity, but three or four more wasted deliveries as the new batter got her eye in.

To that extent, therefore, losing wickets to hasty shots would be a big mistake. This, unfortunately, is what happened to India when they started to chase.

England, having seen Sarah Taylor return home, as scheduled, then played without Amy Jones either, leaving the glovework behind the stumps to Tammy Beaumont. It was a risky tactic, particularly given Beaumont had just batted for 19 of the 20 overs, but in this shortest of formats it was a chance that England could just about take. Beaumont did, nevertheless, look a bit rusty in the first two overs, but she made no mistake in the third.

Instead of Mandhana’s ODI partner, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol opened with her captain and Knight, either confused, or showing immense tactical nous (I prefer the latter idea), had each of the first three overs bowled by a different bowler: first Sciver, then Shrubsole and then Brunt. The pitch was placid, yes, but having three different bowlers meant it was that much more difficult for the batters to feel as though they knew what pace it was playing at. Deol played slightly late and edged the merest flicker of a touch into Beaumont’s gloves. Immediately, India were under pressure: the weight of runs required meaning that they could not, thereafter, afford for their batters to take two overs each bedding in. Worse was to come as Mandhana fell for the old trap of being tempted to loft the ball to the onside, and finding Kate Cross at long-on, precisely placed for this shot.

This was to the young Linsey Smith, another one of England’s seemingly endless bench of left arm slow finger spinners. To add to it, Rodrigues, on the first ball she faced was strangled down the leg side with Beaumont taking the catch. If, that is, you can be said to be strangled down the leg side to a spinner.

Even though Raj, and Veda Krishnamurthy (returning to the XI) were at the crease, it was clear that the match was over as a contest. With each over India fell further behind the required rate. The batters had to try to push the score along, with the result that they played non-percentage shots and, as could have been predicted, got out.

Raj and Krishnamurthy were back in the dressing room before the score reached 50. And as though to hammer it home, as India got to 76, Brunt got her second wicket: Reddy, caught by Dunkley.

From then on Pandey and Sharma, two of India’s most hard working and valuable players, could only try to not get out, and to score enough runs to make the scoreline not look like a thrashing. But the contest was over before they even came to the crease.

Knight must be thinking that this is what she expected from her team when the squad first arrived in India. Mandhana, reflecting on her decision at the toss, must be thinking that life’s a pitch.

LONG READ: bODI-Language – #INDvENG – A Tragicomedy In Three Acts, With Prose Preamble

Ravi Nair Takes us on a journey to Mumbai for the India v England ODI series

Preamble: “Bombay? Hai!”

How old is this city? 66 million years ago the Indian continental plate was somewhere over where Mauritius is now, a volcanic hotspot that erupted through it in four or five waves over the course of a million years. It may or may not have been triggered, in part, by the famous meteor impact at Chicxulub, Mexico. Together, those two wiped out most of the non-avian dinosaurs. Also, incidentally, the lava from what are called the Deccan Traps, spilled over the ridge on the western coast of the India plate, creating both the Western Ghats (Sahyadris, Nilgiris and more) as well as, with the overspill, the series of north-south oriented mounds, land and hills, that is the skeleton of the present day city of Mumbai.

But it was not until 1666, as part of the dowry (Britain’s term) of Catherine of Braganza, or hostage payment (Portuguese view) that it was ceded to the British and began to take the form of the entrepot it became. In the 19th century and early 20th, land connecting its southernmost islands was reclaimed from the sea, joining them up with a series of causeways to make a single island from Colaba to Mahim. And the cotton trade turned it into a thriving city.

The England women’s team are staying at the Oberoi hotel complex in Nariman Point. The land there was only reclaimed in the late 1960s, over 300 years after the British gained Bombay, over 20 years after India gained Independence. It is some of the newest land in the city, and their hotel buildings still look modern, concrete and square. From their windows the players look out over the shallow bay that curves north and then northwest, past the famous Chowpatti (“beach”) and sharply round the base of Malabar hill on the horizon, a few kilometres away. Malabar Hill might remind them, if they were interested in geology, that Bombay was built on the overflow of the Deccan Traps, like a large, long (north-south), narrow shoal of volcanic rock rising from the sea. Were they to look along the curve of the bay, most of it reclaimed a 100 or more years ago, they will see one of the city’s architectural wonders, a kilometre or so of 1930s Art Deco buildings, all around the same height, all by the side of the road, Marine Drive, looking out across it to the sea. Some were built together and are clearly the effort of a single architect. Others have different imaginations at work. They aren’t maintained in pristine condition, but one can still the balconies, the roofs, the grills on the windows, all reflecting the elements of the era. Architects in the city claim that, after Miami, it is the best stretch of original Art Deco buildings in the world.

Behind those buildings, at the end of a short road leading from Marine Drive to the Western Railway line, is the entrance to Wankhede stadium. It too was built in the early 1970s, and your correspondent had the good fortune to watch a day of the West Indies sending the Indian bowlers to all parts in the first ever Test played there, during the 1974-75 tour of India, when Viv Richards was just beginning to make his mark on the game.

The city’s soil is based on the basaltic rock of the Deccan Traps, iron-rich and, inland in the main mass of the Deccan Plateau, a bright orange-red, matching the mountains from which they are eroded and brought down by the rivers that run from the Western Ghats eastward across the great peninsula to empty into the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. In Mumbai, though, there is sand as well, and the soil tends to be a bit yellower than that of the plateau, but it can still look pink a lot of the time. There is little or no clay naturally in this soil and so it can dry out into a very dusty surface.

England know all this, of course, since a similar squad played five T20s in Mumbai almost a year ago, in the Triseries whose Final they lost to Australia. That was at the Brabourne Stadium, half a kilometre closer to the Oberoi hotel than the Wankhede, itself no more than a 15 minute stroll from where they are staying. The two may be the two closest international grounds in cricket, but I do not know if that is an established fact.

England have, however, planned carefully for this series. While they do not have all their potential spinners, thanks to injuries to Marsh and Gordon, they are well equipped, with Ecclestone and Hartley to turn the ball away from India’s right-handed bats. Sarah “Fastest Hands in the West” Taylor is playing, which must give the bowlers a huge sense of security. Brunt and Shrubsole are fit and playing. So this is effectively a full strength squad, ready to use spin to good effect on these surfaces. They know that though the pitches may be slow, the ball is likely to grip and help both seam and spin. Swing, as always, will be in the laps of the gods.

England are also probably aware that Mumbai is a hot city. It sits approximately 19° north of the Equator. Even during the shortest day of the Winter Solstice, the sun at it highest is about about 42° South of vertical. London, by contrast, sits at 51° North. For eight months of the year or so the sun, at its highest, is more than 42° south of vertical. So though it has been a cold “winter”, by Mumbai standards, and the mornings are pleasantly cool, by 10:00 the sun is hot enough to be uncomfortable. The England team will know this and will prepare for it, hoping for some dew or moisture first thing, but in general planning for long, hot, sweaty days (since this city, on the sea, is always humid, even though the pitches may be dry).

Another subtlety England may not have noticed is that while Mumbai is on 72° East longitude, it uses IST (Indian Standard Time), 5-and-a-half hours ahead of GMT, that is based on the 82° East Meridian. So Mumbai’s official time is actually some 40 minutes ahead of the sun, which rises, reaches its peak, and sets, about 40 minutes after the “clock time” of the city. It is as though it is on permanent Daylight Saving Time. This means that though it is invariably hot by 10:00 in the morning, the heat lasts until quite late in the day and it is only when the sun has fully set that some of the evening cool may be available. Not much, though, and it means very long hard afternoons.

England should feel cautiously confident that they, World Cup holders, might finally win an ODI series in India. They have as good a squad as they can put together, they have plans, and they have experience.

India, on the other hand, may have some problems. There was a public row between Mithali Raj and the then coach during the WWT20 in the Caribbean. It is said to have been smoothed over. WV Raman has taken over as head coach. Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur are apparently friends again. In any case Kaur is ruled out of this series through injury. This leaves India with Smriti Mandhana, one of the world’s most charismatic bats, and Raj herself, as the established run scorers in the side. And though it does not matter as much in ODIs as in T20s, there are still mutterings about Raj’s slowness across the ground, her slow scoring, and more. On the plus side they have the world’s highest ranked bowler in right arm wrist spinner Poonam Yadav, the dangerous left arm finger spinner Ekta Bisht, and the all-rounder Deepti Sharma, a right arm finger spinner who rips the ball a lot. In addition, in the veteran Jhulan Goswami, and in Shikha Pandey, they have a very experienced and dangerous opening pace combination.

India have progressed in leaps and bounds over the last three or four years. No longer is their ground fielding hit-and-miss, or their fitness or temperament suspect. Even without Kaur, they should have enough batting to set decent targets on their home pitches. Jemimah Rodrigues, for instance, is the teenage hope who has been persisted with and, after a slow start, has come good.

Whatever happens, however well prepared England are, India will not easily be walked over. In this city the speakers in English who were born and brought up here still call it Bombay, but it is now Mumbai and that name, in its own way, represents a new, decolonialised India that is proud of its own identity and confident in its abilities. No, this team will not lie down and roll over.

Act 1: Confounded Cricket

Friday, 22nd February 2019. India 202 all out beat England 136 all out. England won the toss.

The ODI is the long form of women’s cricket, taking its toll on the player’s stamina, calling on both tactical and strategic nous, with changes of pace and twists and turns leading, if one is lucky, to a tense and exciting finale. Witness the first ODI in the bilateral series between India and England, at the Wankhede stadium in Bombay (oh alright, Mumbai): 80% of the match was over. England needed 95 runs in 20 overs with 7 wickets in hand. 11 overs and 28 runs later, India had won.

To make sense of this we need perhaps to start at the beginning. Heather Knight won the toss and asked Mithali Raj’s team to bat, determined that England would take advantage of any available moisture in the pitch. She seemed to have made the right decision, with the reassuring figure of Brunt returning to the team after a long absence and bowling tight at Jemimah Rodrigues’ stumps, while Shrubsole kept tempting Mandhana just outside off. And then, after six overs of discipline the English lost their radar, bowling on the legs instead of the stumps, floating up half-volleys, and more. The result, from a start featuring two LBW appeals, a lucky four over slips, plays and misses outside off for about three runs an over, India then reached their 50 in 10.3 overs.

Knight switched to England’s next cunning plan, her left arm finger spinners, but successively, not concurrently. More importantly, Mandhana, who had throughout looked as though she had all the time in the world, but none of the timing, chopped onto her stumps off Elwiss.

The pitch could be described as sticky, because the ball seemed literally to stick in it for a fraction of a second when it pitched, and then come on more slowly to the batter. Shots played with a straight bat were invariably too early, and throughout the game drives and nurdles to leg saw it looping into the air, either because the bat was already on the way up, or because the ball hit the leading edge. Apart from a few of the batters on the day, Raj, Knight and Sciver, nobody seemed to want to adjust for this and sweep instead of driving, even though the cross-batted shot was, in these circumstances, the percentage shot. Add to that the fact that the stickiness meant the ball gripped and seamed, and spun, and very occasionally kept low or looped up, and for anyone adopting traditional methods, it was a pitch on which every delivery endangered ones wicket.

Deepti Sharma followed Mandhana, thanks to a Taylor special off Ecclestone. Ecclestone is even taller than Sciver and bowls with an upright action, bringing the ball down from a high release point, with great control of her line and length, and made all the Indian batters cautious. Hartley is also a left-arm finger-spinner, but she has a very round-arm action and it may be because of that that her line wasn’t always quite as controlled as Ecclestone’s. But they both found the pitch conducive and controlled India’s batters well. With six bowlers she could afford to bowl them just at one end, and when Sciver and Elwiss got two each, India had lost their first five wickets between 69 and 95 runs.

Taniya Bhatia is a tiny player, shorter by about 5 cm than even Tammy Beaumont, England’s shortest player. But she is lithe and enthusiastic, tidy behind the stumps (even though not in the Sarah Taylor class), and an old-fashioned keeper-bat. She isn’t, or isn’t yet, in the Gilchrist or Dhoni mould, but more reminiscent of a Jack Russell or Syed Kirmani: when asked of it by her team she will bat to keep her wicket, nudge, nurdle and drive where possible, and sprint her singles. In a single word, she is feisty, in the best possible sense. She it was who kept Raj company for a 54 run partnership as India recovered, to England’s frustration.

And then, as so often happens in these cases, there was a run out.

Sciver, leaping athletically at mid-on, chucked in swiftly and accurately at the non-striker’s end and Bhatia was gone. Goswami carefully started to get her eye in. But Elwiss finally got Raj, after a patient, innings-saving, 44.

And then (as so often happens in these cases) there was run out.

Sciver again, still as athletic and accurate, threw in to Shrubsole at the non-striker’s end, and Shikha Pandey had to leave the field.

One run later Brunt gathered the ball while kneeling towards the stumps at the non-striker’s end and… Bisht was gone.

Goswami, meanwhile, had her eye in, and hit the ball (without timing it perfectly, given the pitch) hither and yon. It wasn’t the prettiest of innings but she ensured, even as wickets fell at the other end, that she took India to 202 before being the last batter out.

Yes the pitch was tricky and not suited to extravagant strokeplay, but 202 still seemed like a disappointing, not a defendable, total.

Throughout, the huge Wankhede Stadium looked like Hyde Park in winter, as though the spectators had turned red, yellow and brown, dried up, fallen off, and been blown away in the autumn. Only the bare bones showed, naked and beautiful in their own way, but with that cold feeling of life gone to sleep. In April, come the IPL and Mumbai Indians’ home matches, it will be more crowded and full of movement than a beehive, but to take off a full day’s work for a women’s cricket match was beyond the ability of most Mumbaikars.

Shikha Pandey, from India’s second over, showed herself to be the bowler of the match: as quick as Goswami, more accurately targetting a line just outside off, and angling the ball in, with the help of the seam, onto middle and leg. Jones was not perhaps expecting something quite so penetrative and was rightly adjudged LBW on Pandey’s fourth delivery.

Beaumont and Taylor did what England expected of them, defending, nudging to leg, driving cautiously and trying to accumulate runs. For a while. Then Pandey, who throughout her first spell that lasted the full Powerplay never lost her direction or pace, trapped Taylor in similar fashion. And when Beaumont got a leading edge, playing too early on the sticky pitch, and seeing the ball loop up to Yadav off Sharma, England could have been in trouble. Luckily Sciver and Knight realised that the sweep was a far safer shot to the spinners than any straight bat shots (which always ran the risk of sending the ball looping up), and deployed that, and stout defence, for the next 73 runs in 17 overs. Which brings us to where we started: 80% of the match was done, and England needed 98 in 20 overs with seven wickets in hand. More importantly, both bats were looking comfortable.

And then (as so often happens etc…) there was a run out.

Natalie Sciver is tall and broad of shoulder and, without a spare gram of fat on her, gives the impression of being as strong as an ox. She bowls at speed, when she hits the ball it stays hit, and in the field she is as athletic as anybody. But even she cannot overcome the laws of physics. When Knight drove Bisht, the ball went straight back to the bowler and Sciver, backing up, turned to ground her bat as Bisht threw it behind her onto the stumps. Sciver is a big unit and just could not reverse her momentum in time, being about 5 cm short of the crease when the zing bails lit up. This series has no DRS, but it has zing bails.

Even then, with Wyatt coming in, England had the opportunity to regroup, get set again, and chase down the target. Unfortunately Wyatt did not quite grasp the nature of the pitch and went for a lofted drive very early in her innings. She inevitably holed out to long on.

Brunt, when faced with the ball on or outside off that turns away from her, glares at it in the manner of Eve looking distrustfully at a serpent with an apple in its mouth. Bisht is a left-arm finger-spinner with an action as round-arm as Hartley’s, but with more rip and seemingly better control of flight and line than Hartley. Yadav, right arm, but a wrist spinner, is also not to Brunt’s liking. It was inevitable that she would succumb, missing one with her outside edge as she came down the track to negate the spin, and getting stumped before she could slide her foot back behing the crease.

From then on it was the Bisht show, with the England batters, bar the captain staring aghast from the other end, seeming to panic and losing their wickets without resistance. Knight had spoken of England’s depth and strength of batting before the series, but tiny Ekta Bisht, after Goswami had accounted for Elwiss, blew through the last three without giving away a run.

And it all started with the unfortunate run-out of Sciver. That’s why cricket is so confounding. We like to believe there is cause and effect in it, that we can trace the blame back to such and such action by so-and-so. But sometimes we have to accept that there are uncontrollables. India batted as best as they could in the face of England’s six-person attack, but set what should have been a sub-par score. England lost wickets to some excellent bowling, but had enough batters, and enough experience to overhaul that score. It went the wrong way for them.

For India, it is a matter of getting their middle order batters to be a bit more disciplined. For England, perhaps the same should apply to their top order bats. But no matter how hard they work, you cannot practice luck in the nets.

Act 2: Mithali’s Raj

Tuesday, 25th February 2019. England 161 all out were beaten by India 163 for 3. England won the toss.

There is much talk in the men’s game of players like Rangana Herath, Shoaib Malik and Chris Gayle, last of the cricketers who made their international debuts in the 20th century and are still playing (although Herath is now retired). Mithali Raj made her international debut on the 26th of June1999, and doesn’t look like retiring yet. She has scored more runs in ODI cricket than any other woman, and two years ago she charmed all the viewers of the World Cup by waiting near the boundary, padded up, and reading Rumi.

She also gave fans of the game one of the greatest quotes it has ever had: when asked by a reporter, at that 2017 World Cup, who her favourite male cricketer was, she responded:

“Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is? I have always been asked who’s your favourite cricketer but you should ask them who their favourite female cricketer is.”

In fact that might have proved the inspiration for England’s captain, Heather Knight who, before the ODIs began, was asked by a reporter, according to Snehal Pradhan:

“How much confidence do you take from the England men who chased down that total yesterday in Barbados?”

England captain, Heather Knight, with her most polite smile: “None at all. We’re here to answer questions about women’s cricket.”

Women’s cricket is more confident in its right to exist, and be respected, than ever before, particularly in India thanks to a legend called Mithali Raj.

On this day she marshalled India’s bowlers on the field, and then yet again India’s batters with her bat in hand, to make what should have been a tough contest seem almost like a sinecure.

For England, winning the toss and deciding this time to set a target first (and dropping Wyatt for Winfield in search of slightly more reliable runs) it still began predictably: with Shikha Pandey looking by far the best bowler this series had seen, Jhulan Goswami doing again what she has done for India for so many years, and England’s top order perishing playing around their pads or nicking off or chipping to fielders.

Except this time even Knight could not find the wherewithal to fight back along with Sciver, so Nat had to play a lone hand, scoring all the runs she could while wickets fell with regularity at the other end. She must have felt a bit like Knight at the end of the previous match.

Beaumont provided some support up front, and Winfield also tried to stick around. But the rest of the England batters could not stand up to the line and length that Goswami, and in particular Pandey, maintained.

When Sciver takes her stance she seems to slouch, to hunch her back as though otherwise her bat won’t reach the ground. Each delivery she faces with fierce concentration, giving her all for the team with each act. But she must have felt some frustration at the procession of wickets at the other end after the fall of Winfield. And then Hartley came in, and achieved the equal lowest score of the innings: no runs. But she faced 17 deliveries in doing so, and didn’t lose her wicket. This was what Sciver needed as she scored almost all the runs in England’s ODI record last wicket stand of 42. She finally succumbed to Goswami, but not before hitting 85 out of England’s final score of 162, 52.5% of its total. Knowing her, she would have gladly scored 50 less if only her team could have scored 50 more, but it was a wonderfully brave and determined innings. And she would have been disappointed too, because only if India succumbed the way England had in the first match, was there a chance of defending their total.

The pitch was almost emerald green except for the red patches near the wickets. India will have observed that the look of the thing did not matter, it was its behaviour that would count, and it was sticky.

Jemima Rodrigues, the 18 year old rising star who had done well in the first match, unfortunately forgot the lessons to be taken from it and, without scoring, sent a Shrubsole delivery off a mishit to Jones. But Raut, promoted to three in place of Sharma, was circumspect and more than capable of keeping Mandhana company. Particularly when the English bowlers seemed to hit their three over limit and begin to lose their direction.

Mandhana is probably the most watchable batter in women’s cricket today, with all the time in the world for her cuts, pulls and hooks. And when she gets her eye in and starts lofting the ball straight, there is nowhere else in the world you want to be than watching her. When she achieves that fluency, even her opponents must be glad to be present and getting beaten by her. On a pitch like this, though, with accurate timing nearly impossible, it was like watching Margot Fonteyn dancing in a straitjacket. And yet, she persisted. She defended whenever she needed to, refused to take chances with the ball on her stumps, but also never refused the chance to pull or hook a short straight ball, or one outside leg. On the off stump she can be as brutal, leaning back and carving the ball to almost any part of that half of the field. And this is when she is not at her most fluent.

With Raut keeping her company she took the score without any alarms to 74, and when Raut fell to another Sarah Taylor special stumping (standing up to the wicket for Elwiss), Raj simply joined her at the other end and again, calmly and solidly, helped her take the score to 140, by which time the match was effectively over. Raj and Sharma, without any heroics, drained it off any remaining interest as they unhurriedly knocked off the remaining runs needed.

None of the England bowlers was bad, but none was outstanding either. Against Mandhana and Raj, in particular, they just did not seem to have enough menace and, apart from Rodrigues, the Indians were not inclined to make mistakes.

One last word about Raj, since we started with her. It is the custom of most batters these days to shuffle across to off, or even to fourth or fifth stump line, to receive the ball. This may have been driven partly by the bowlers increasingly targetting the “corridor of uncertainty”, and partly by the modern feeling that turning the ball to leg is a safer way to start scoring than driving in the ‘v’. On a pitch like this, however, taking seam and encouraging the bowlers to cut it in from the off stump, and with bowlers of the calibre of Pandey and Goswami, and Brunt and Shrubsole, this natural movement frequently backfires, and a large number of the batters in these games have been trapped LBW or bowled through the gate. Raj, however, stays where she took her guard, and only moves to the ball when she has determined its line. In short, she moves late and is far less vulnerable to the deliveries that were taking the other wickets. Throughout, therefore, she has looked so solid that it is a surprise if she gets out. Yes this is old-fashioned batting and nearly superannuated in the T20 arena, but on slow pitches, in the 50 over game, it has made the difference between India and England: even more than Knight, Raj has twice provided the spine to the Indian innings, ensuring a score that wins. In the ODI format, at least, any reports of Raj’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

Act 3: A few dollars short

Friday, 28th February 2019. India 205 for 8 were beaten by England 208 for 8. India won the toss.

The players, and their captains in particular, always do their best to sound enthusiastic about a “dead rubber”. One says that they want a clean sweep, or to avoid the reputation for always losing the last match of the series. The other will say her team are better than they have performed so far, and it is a matter of pride to win at least one of the three to prove it. But the fact is that there is always a “last day of term” feel to it. They will do their duty, but the main prize has already been lost and won, and for all their enthusiastic words, it is really only their duty they seem, a bit grimly, to be doing.

At the end, this, the closest match of all three in this series, was nevertheless disappointing, precisely because of this sense that there was not that much to play for, despite ICC Ranking Points being on the line.

So when Raj finally won the toss and decided to set England a target, it didn’t seem significant: it was in some ways an experiment, and simply a challenge to the Indian bats to set a decent target. Bisht wasn’t playing, replaced by Rajeshwari Gayakwad a, you guessed it, left-arm finger-spinner. Wyatt was brought back into the England XI, since it was confirmed that the promising teenager, Ecclestone, had a broken bone in her right hand (and had actually played through the second match with it). Winfield, therefore, also stayed in the team, and this meant that if Knight wanted a sixth bowler, those overs would have to come from Wyatt and from her.

Raj’s claimed reason, with a bit of an enigmatic smile on her face, for choosing to bat first, was: “it is a fresh pitch, so…”

This may have been an in joke because, fresh or not, each Wankhede pitch has been a clone of the first: a bowler’s delight and a batter’s nemesis.

So it proved for Jemimah (pronounced Jem-ee-mah) Rodrigues, bowled through the gate by Brunt’s second ball. There is a pun there about Rodrigues having to bear the Brunt, she having taken first strike all three times this series with Mandhana at the non-striker’s end, but I will not make it.

Raut, who looked bedded in at three, joined Mandhana and the two of them, despite England’s openers doing some of their best bowling of the series, blunted the attack and put on 128 runs in 28 overs.

Knight, as before, rotated her bowlers, not just her four seamers, but bringing on herself and Wyatt for three overs each, to supplement Hartley, in Ecclestone’s absence.

Raut, however, was determined and Mandhana, having seen the same pitch, or pitch conditions, for a third successive game, was again not quite fluent, but not taking chances either. She therefore scored a mere eight fours and one six in her 66.

In fact it was to tempt Mandhana to break the shackles and perhaps buy her wicket that Knight set a fielder deep near cow corner, and got Brunt to bowl short at her. The trap worked immediately, with Mandhana, on another superb half century, holing out to Wyatt, who else, in the deep.

With that, even without the assistance of a run-out, but with the assistance of Sarah Taylor, there was a collapse of six wickets for 21 runs. Raut was bowled, Raj was caught behind and the hapless Meshram was LBW. All to Brunt, who eventually ended with her second best five-for in the format.

Katherine Brunt takes to the field as though she has a grievance against it, but it is that very combativeness and commitment, besides her talent and speed as a bowler, that make the English team look so much more relieved and confident when she is in the XI than when she isn’t. Throughout this series she had been 5 to 10 kph quicker than Goswami, Shrubsole or Pandey (with Sciver slightly slower, and Elwiss a further 10 kph slower still). Brunt even confessed after the end, when she had won Player of the Match that (and this despite the ball going like a banana from her hand a couple of times in her first few overs), she has been working on seam to the exclusion of swing. Goswami, at 36, is still steaming in for India like Bob Willis at Lord’s in 1981, and Brunt is built in the same mould: of complete commitment to the cause. If she stays fit, England could still celebrate having her around for another three or four years. Which can only be good news for them.

With Shrubsole and Sciver also taking a wicket each it was up to India’s admirable all-rounder Deepti Sharma (one of only two left-handed bats, along with Mandhana, to be seen on either side for the entire series) and the equally admirable bowler, Shikha Pandey, now resurgent and player of the series for this correspondent, to make a fist of the innings, which they did to the tune of a 47 run stand that took India within three runs of their 200. Yadav then joined Sharma and they managed to take India to the highest score of the series thus far, 205 in their allotted 50 overs, losing eight wickets along the way.

At the start of the series this would surely have been seen as a disappointing score that either of the teams should have been able to chase down without too many heroics or too much drama. By this endgame, however, it was clear that it was going to be difficult for the team batting second to win.

England’s openers, however, Beaumont and Jones, seemed initially to have learned the lesson of the pitch, and frequently defended when they might otherwise have driven the ball. They were helped by the fact that, for the first time in the series, India’s bowlers, Pandey in particular, seemed to have turned off their radar, and sent first one down leg and then one wide of off and so on. In between there were dangerous deliveries and seemed to be given the respect they deserved.

Then, Jones could not resist lofting one straight to Mandhana. Winfield attempted to slash one outside off to nick off to the keeper. Beaumont attempted a drive and skewed it to Meshram, and then, astonishingly, the usually disciplined Sciver came forward to drive and lobbed a catch back to that admirable all-rounder, Sharma. All England’s first four wickets went to attempts to force the pace, on a pitch that, along with its nearby clones, had done its best to put its arm around their shoulders and advise wiser, safer counsels and methods.

When Taylor, not so intrepid, but still shuffling across her stumps in the approved modern manner, was LBW to Pandey, England had lost five wickets for 24 runs.

So Wyatt, as she joined her self-denying captain, Knight, had a second opportunity to prove she could bat in ODIs, even in the sub-continent.

Reader, she took it.

When India’s men toured Australia in 2003-2004, the great Sachin Tendulkar decided he was getting out too often to the cover drive, despite its being a productive stroke for him and one of his favourites. As a consequence he cut it out of his repertoire for the Fourth Test and scored a slow, but assured, 241 in the first innings. (He added a 70 or so not out in the second innings just to make the point more firmly.) This, almost monk-like, discipline is still spoken about in awed tones wherever cricket is popular, and it is very popular in India.

Wyatt did something similar. In her T20 pomp she is one of the hardest hitters of the ball and her favourite shot is the lofted drive in the wide ‘v’ between midwicket and extra cover. She did not play it once in her 56 runs. She did not even sweep.

Instead she waited for the ball wide on off stump and cut it. She glanced the ball going down leg or tucked away the full ball on her legs. Sometimes she drove, softly and along the ground, for a single. And it was thus that she achieved her first ODI half century. For someone with two T20i centuries and three fifties, that is a remarkable statistic.

Knight (Knight I ask you!) had previously been out on another substantial score, 47, losing her patience outside off and flashing at a ball too wide to drive and too close to cut. Of course Bhatia took the catch.

But Wyatt, instead of losing her head, shepherded the innings, letting Elwiss show her ability with the bat as she slowly gained confidence, and took the innings up to 174. And then, for whatever reason, she decided to go back to habit and loft a drive. And yes, as if to hammer home the lesson, the first time she tried it she holed to Meshram in the deep. It might have been a disappointing end to her innings but it may just have convinced her that, on slower pitches, she has all the strokes and all the defensive technique she needs to play substantial ODI innings without bringing her all-action T20 style into play.

At 174-7, then, England’s chances were still very much in the balance. Elwiss had shown she could repel the bowlers and score when needed off the loose deliveries. For Brunt, however, this was a sort of purgatory. Both Yadav and Gayakwad turned the ball, serpent-with-an-apple-in-its-mouth style, away from her outside off stump, tempting her to play and miss, and look even more suspiciously at every delivery.

Eventually she settled on that modern standby, the stroke that has changed white ball batting as much as the Fosbury Flop changed high jumping: she began to employ the hoick.

Now the hoick is not a shot describable in terms of the orthodox coaching manuals, being neither a drive nor as pull, neither properly front foot nor properly back foot, neither played with a straight bat nor with a horizontal one. It is played as though one were cover driving in the manner of Joe Root or Virat Kohli, away from the body and using the eye to get bat to ball, standing upright having stepped forward but leaned backward. But then, to achieve the true hoick, one takes the ball outside off and, using the accepted golf swing, sends the ball in the direction of mid-on or midwicket.

Brunt employed the hoick, but sent it along the ground, safely, to achieve 18 runs with just one boundary in the lot. With Elwiss at the other end still batting as though she understood what was happening, Brunt effectively helped England, from a still parlous situation to within two runs of victory, using, as Kenneth Grahame might have said, matchless valour, consummate strategy, and a proper handling of sticks.

Shrubsole, in next, immediately hit a four to end the thus far closest game of the tour (not counting the practice match during which Heather Knight again proved her worth to England).

So the teams, or rather the chosen squads, head to Guwahati, still on IST, but about an hour and twenty minutes ahead in terms of sunrise, of Mumbai. Given the T20s are being played during the day, they are likely to be hot all the way through. It will be interesting but the mere fact that we are looking forward to that shows how anticlimactic, in some ways this match was.

India will be wondering about their often-fragile middle order. Knight will perhaps wonder what she can do about the headpiece-filled-with-straw attitude of her top order. And so the series ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.