With women’s Tests being rare occasions, a number of debuts were anticipated at Bristol, but none more eagerly than those of England’s Sophia Dunkley and India’s Shafali Verma.
Both had a number of T20 caps to their name, with Dunkley having played 15 T20 Internationals since her debut in that format in 2018, and Shafali 22 since her first T20 in 2019. Intriguingly neither has yet played an ODI, and there were questions around whether Shafali in particular had the temperament for Test cricket; but ultimately neither disappointed.
Let’s begin, as did the day, with Sophia Dunkley. She made her T20 debut at the World Cup in the West Indies in 2018; but batting down the order, it was not until her third match that she actually made it to the crease, scoring 35 in England’s defeat to the Windies in St. Lucia. Overall 8 of Dunkley’s 15 T20 appearances have ended without a bat.
Shafali’s record is of course somewhat more colourful – 617 runs, including three 50s, with a top score of 73, at an overall Strike Rate of 148. Perhaps the only stat that would give you pause was her 2-run failure in the biggest match of her career – the T20 World Cup final at the MCG.
Having begun her innings yesterday evening, Dunkley came into Day 2 of this Test on 12 off 47 balls, with only the tail, initially in the shape of Katherine Brunt, for company. It was not an easy situation, and it looked shakier still when Brunt was out early on; but in partnership first with Sophie Ecclestone and later with Anya Shrubsole, Dunkley built a score brick by brick, to take England to 396-9 declared, finishing not out on 74.
If England go on to win this game, it will be in a very large part due to Dunkley’s contribution; but that’s not necessarily a given, thanks to Shafali Verma, who hit a cool, confident 96 to bring India back into the match.
Was it really her Test debut? It didn’t look it – not until she lost her head within a shot of her century, anyway!
Some have suggested she brought her T20 form to this Test match, but actually that’s exactly what she did NOT do: you only have to look at her Strike Rate of 63 – less than half her career T20 Strike Rate – to confirm that.
It wasn’t just the Strike Rate though – it was the way she approached her innings from the start. Her trademark today was defense – solid and straight – but with enough attacking intent to put on 167 in 50-odd overs for the first wicket, in partnership with Smriti Mandhana.
Sadly for India, all the good work their openers did was undone in the final hour, as they collapsed from 167-0 to 183-5. The decision by Mithali to send in Shikha Pandey ahead of her as a nightwatchman backfired spectacularly as they lost two more wickets, including the captain herself; and England will now feel they can run through India tomorrow morning, perhaps in time to enforce the follow-on, which India need another 60-odd runs to avoid.
It will then be up to Shafali to go out and do her thing all over again, and who knows: perhaps Dunkley to lead England’s chase on the final day?
The Duel Of The Dual Debutantes has been joined… but at the close of play on Day 2, it is still very much out there to be won.