On July 3rd 2016, 17-year-old Sophie Ecclestone made her England debut in the 1st T20 versus Pakistan, taking 1-21 in her four overs. After being selected for the 2nd game (taking 2-26) she was then rested for the final T20 in favour of Alex Hartley. An ODI debut followed, in October of that year in the West Indies, with Ecclestone winning two caps in the 5 match series, taking 2-28 and 1-20.
It was a respectable enough start to an international career, but not earth-moving, and in the summer of 2017 Ecclestone was told by England management to concentrate on her A-Levels, while her team-mates were focussed on the small matter of winning the World Cup.
Her international career might have been put on hold in 2017, but her cricket career certainly wasn’t – Ecclestone went back to Lancashire that summer and took an incredible 35 wickets in the season as the Red Roses marched to the County Championship and T20 Cup double; so when it came time to select a squad to tour Australia for the 2017 Ashes, Ecclestone’s name could not be ignored, and she went on to make her Test debut that winter in Sydney.
Ecclestone took 3 wickets in that Sydney Test, and another 3 in Taunton in 2019; but it was in the T20 arena that she was beginning to really make her name for her consistency and economy, rising through the rankings until this March she found herself at the summit – officially the Number One T20 bowler in the world.
Carlsberg don’t do women’s Test rankings – apparently they make something called “beer” instead – but if they did, there’s a pretty good chance that Sophie Ecclestone would now be atop them too, after her performance in the one-off Test versus India this week.
Having taken 4 wickets for 88, at an Economy Rate of 3.4, in the 1st Innings, and then 4-118 at 3.1 in the second, her combined figures of 8-206 were the best achieved in a women’s Test since Ellyse Perry’s 9-70 at Canterbury in 2015.
She couldn’t win the game for England on her own though, and the toothlessness of England’s three specialist seamers on this pitch, with this ball, was cruelly exposed, as Brunt, Shrubsole and Cross between them took just 4 wickets, at a cost of 230-odd runs.
Would playing Emily Arlott or Tash Farrant – who were both in the squad – have changed the outcome? Both, but particularly Farrant, would have offered something different, which England did desperately seem to be searching for at times.
Should England have kept Sarah Glenn in the squad and played her? In hindsight, probably yes; and although I’ll never forget Mark Robinson once reminding me reproachfully during a press conference that “cricket isn’t played in hindsight”, in this case England really did close down their options by sending her back to Sparks last weekend.
(There was Mady Villiers, too, of course – but you get the distinct impression that her role here was to field if someone got injured – it never felt likely she’d make the XI.)
Perhaps the real story here though is not England’s bowling but India’s batting. They put a disappointing 1st innings behind them, and battled back to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat, with just dues in particular to Sneh Rana, coming in at 8 and finishing 80* off 154 balls, and Taniya Bhatia at 9, with 44* off 88 balls.
With the form of Player of the Match Shafali Verma, who hit 159 runs in the match, India will go into the next phase of this multi-format series with every hope of turning over their hosts with the white ball and achieving a famous series victory. If so, the fight we saw today will have been the moment the tide turned in their favour.