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Crowd riots and Mother Teresa: The story of England Women’s first and greatest tour to India

England women v India 1995
by Katya Witney 10 minute read

Katya Witney retraces the story of England women’s 1995/96 tour of India, speaking to those at the centre of one of the most eventful series ever played.

In late 1995, England set out for India to play five ODIs and three Tests, their first bilateral tour of the country. Then, as now, women’s Tests were a rarity. The Test match England played last week against India was the first between the two sides in the country since 2005, while in 1995 England hadn’t played a Test for four years before heading out to play three in India. In fact, these were the first women’s Tests the country had ever hosted. This was a step into the unknown, for everyone involved.

Across six weeks, England’s players were hospitalised by vomiting sicknesses and pelted by rocks. They were held under lockdown due to the threat of a mystery gunman and escorted from cricket grounds under police protection. And they left India having played their part in what remains, to this day, one of the most enthralling series women’s cricket has seen.



These were the days before women’s cricket fell under the ECB’s umbrella, with the Women’s Cricket Association still in charge. Funding was scarce, and the costs of touring were felt even before departure. Players would have to pay for their own blazers, kit, even flights, and find time off full-time jobs to play for their countries. Overseas trips were scarce.

After England won the 1993 World Cup on home soil, they didn’t play again until the now-defunct European Cup in 1995. Following another win in that competition, attention turned to selection for a historic trip to India. Having made her England debut in the European Cup in July that year, by the end of the summer an 18-year-old Sue Redfern unexpectedly found herself in the mix to secure a place on the tour. Cricketers she had looked up to were now her peers.

“I was so young and these people were my heroes really,” says Redfern, now a member of the ICC’s panel of development umpires. “Suddenly I’m winter training with them and potentially fighting for a place in the England team. I never thought I’d get that opportunity. It was all a bit of a blur and happened so quickly. I was a really young and a very sheltered 18-year-old, I’d never really been away from home. It was all a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest.”

Those heroes are familiar names in the canon of England women’s cricket. Karen Smithies had captained the team for two years at that point, with Janette Brittin and a 19-year-old Clare Connor also part of the squad. As was Redfern’s fellow seamer, Clare Taylor. Despite being a seasoned international by that point, having represented England since 1988, Taylor had yet to play a Test match and was continuing to juggle her commitments playing for the England football team with her job working for the Post Office. They were one of the few employers to provide paid leave to play international cricket, but finances were still a challenge.

Taylor recalls being selected for the 1988 World Cup: “It was, ‘Congratulations you’ve been selected to go to Australia, we need £750 for your airfare by the end of this week and if you haven’t got a blazer that’ll be another £50.”

And going on the tour had other ramifications. “I’d just come from the 1995 Women’s Football World Cup in Sweden which was in June. And then going to India for seven weeks cost me my England football place because they were still playing games while I was off. Someone came in and took my place at centre-half and I never got it back.”

England departed for Delhi with 15 players, a coach and a team manager. The culture shock was immediate.

“We got off the plane and drove through Delhi,” says Redfern. “And I remember we were dressed in white blouses and by the time we got to the hostel we were staying in they were completely grey from smog and dust and dirt.”

The accommodation comprised three-star hotels – far from luxury establishments – and youth hostels. The first night of the trip was spent in one of the latter. Redfern roomed with wily off-spinner and team comedian Debbie Stock. Redfern picks up the tale.

“We had a glass of brandy before we went to sleep and then, in the middle of the night there was this big bang. It woke us up and we went to the window and where the glass should have been there was none.

“In the middle of the night, we had to knock on our manager’s door and say, ‘Look we’ve got no glass in our room, the balcony is there and anyone could get in’. She said ‘Just bring your mattresses in here and sleep on the floor’. It’s not great to move mattresses in that type of hostel because you find out what’s on the underneath of them. But you learned to cope with things, you just had to get on with stuff.”


Another aspect of touring India that England found themselves ‘getting on with’ were the bouts of illnesses which regularly hit the camp. While ‘Delhi Belly’ is still an obstacle when non-Asian sides tour the subcontinent, England had more than just the food to contend with.

“It was always the water,” says Taylor, who fell ill in Jamshedpur. “If you opened up a bottle of water that didn’t have a seal on it you were in trouble and there were one or two that were really violently ill.”

Redfern was one of those. She refused hospitalisation for a vomiting bug, with several of her teammates already having fallen unwell and at least one treated in hospital. Then things got worse.

“Because I’d been ill I couldn’t take my malaria tablets. Every time I took them I’d be ill again – they were giving me a reaction,” she says. “Then I got bitten by mosquitoes one evening. It was ridiculous, I had 150 bites and I was quite poorly.”

‘Quite poorly’ is understating it. Redfern later learned she had suspected malaria, and the after-effects continued long after she returned home. “I worked part-time as a lifeguard and while I was poolside I actually collapsed. I had tests for jaundice and things like that, it took me quite a while to recover because I had complications.”

She made it onto the field for one Test and two ODIs, the same amount as fellow new recruit Connor, who had spent a week in hospital early in the trip. Perhaps it’s too much to say England needed divine intervention. But a trip to India also came with its perks.

Excursions included a 12-hour round trip to the Taj Mahal and getting stuck at the top of a wooden Ferris wheel. “There was a guy on a push bike pedalling to move it round,” Redfern recalls. “They couldn’t get us down for an hour and a half”. And there was also a surreal audience with Mother Teresa before the first Test in Kolkata. The team were given a tour of her orphanage, a “mind-blowing” experience, according to Taylor.

“It was on four or five floors. The first floor was babies that had been orphaned and the second floor was aged two up to six. The top floor were the kids who were not going to survive.

“She was a really little lady. She was definitely less than five feet tall and didn’t speak much English. A lot of it was just nodding of heads but she had this aura about her. She was in bare feet and I remember she gave us a little plastic memento, like a Saint Christopher. Unfortunately, mine was in a wallet that got stolen about nine years ago.”

“I look back at that as one of my regrets in life,” says Redfern. “I wish I’d been aware of how important that was and how significant. It was quite incredible to be in her presence. Unfortunately, I’d been quite poorly leading up to that so I was particularly ill but still did it and I’m pleased I did because that’s a memory that will stay with me forever.”


The tour also included countless banquets and ceremonies to allow England’s players to thank those who had funded their trip. These were necessary functions, but also draining, and Taylor began to suspect an ulterior, nefarious motive.

“I think India did it deliberately to try and tire us out,” she says. “The next time we went, in 1997 when the ECB had taken over, they put their foot down and said ‘We’re not going to a function tonight, we’ve got a game tomorrow’. They’d be keeping us up until all hours waiting for food or whatever it was and when you look back on it you wonder whether it was all part and parcel of the gamesmanship.”

It’s a reminder that, amateur though it was, this was serious sport, and both sides were desperate to win. The series were interwoven – the first two ODIs, then the first two Tests, then two more ODIs, and then the decider in each format – and momentum and form swung regularly throughout.

Women’s ODI cricket was a completely different game back then. Scoring rates were low – none of England’s batters scored at a strike rate above 50, and none of India’s above 60. Suffocation was king. It meant no team was ever truly out of a contest until the final run had been scored.

England won the first ODI in Delhi comfortably. The bowlers shared the wickets as India were bundled out for 112 in 44.5 overs. England scored just four boundaries as they inched towards the total, twin unbeaten scores of 40 from Brittin and Barbara Daniels seeing them home by nine wickets. Three days later they were almost 2,000 km away in Guwahati in the far Eastern corner of North India for the second ODI. England bowled India out for 85 thanks to Jo Chamberlain’s 4-18 and looked set to take a 2-0 lead.

But that was before the India spin attack, one of the best the game has ever seen, had had its say. Pramila Bhatt had been an international cricketer for four years, but this was her first series on home soil. With the pitch turning square, she was unplayable, taking 3-9 in 8.5 overs.

“I remember one of my offies was probably on fourth or fifth stump outside off,” Bhatt recalls. “And it knocked off the top of middle. The batter, I don’t remember who she was, was literally shocked. She’d let the ball go and it turned square and took her middle stump out.”

A dumbstruck England were bowled out for 78. Eight wickets fell to spin with the run outs of Helen Plimmer and Sue Metcalfe – who top-scored with a 110-ball 32 – signifying England’s panic.

“That particular pitch was under-prepared because the ball was keeping low and was turning square,” says Bhatt. “But India had the best spin attack, we literally ruled the roost at that time. I don’t think any other team had so many spinners.”

Bhatt took the Player of the Match award in that game, but Neetu David was the star among India’s slow bowlers. Still in her first year of international cricket, she ended the first portion of the ODI series with figures 2-24 in 19 overs. It was the beginning of a career which would see her take more ODI wickets than any other India bowler, and to this day she is one of three to have taken more than a hundred wickets.

“We look at our own era and whether or not it’s comparable to this era if you take into consideration the quality of pitches, training, availability,” says Redfern. “And you can try and think whether Neetu would have stood up in today’s environment. But I think she’s one of those players who crosses the generations. She was an outstanding bowler and an exceptional talent.”

That talent was seen in its glory in the second Test of the series, following an uneventful, rain-affected draw in the first Test in Kolkata. At Jamshedpur, England scrapped to 196 in their first innings, with eight batters making it to double figures but Brittin’s 44 the top score. India fared better, with half-centuries from Sangita Dabir and Shyama Shaw giving them a 67-run lead. What followed was extraordinary.

David, an 18-year-old playing just her second Test match, took eight wickets for 53 runs – still the best figures by any bowler in women’s Test cricket. England, somehow, managed to nearly equal their first innings score. India needed 128 to win in a little over a session to claim a 1-0 lead.

Having dropped a catch moments before Tea which would have given England a second early wicket, Redfern – on Test debut – had the role of tying down an end as Stock caused carnage at the other. But the one wicket she did take was crucial, that of captain Purnima Rau, with India 75-3 and a little over 50 runs from their target.

“As a left-arm over you don’t get many lbws,” says Redfern. “I was very happy with that one and that the umps gave it… From a fast bowler’s perspective, I found it really hard trying to get any wickets on those surfaces. They’re savoured wickets because you work really hard for them.

“It was so nerve-wracking. I remember being on the field and the wickets falling, then suddenly it became a possibility that we could do it.”

India were 75-3 and then 75-5. Then 105-5 became 106-8. With four runs needed, Sangita Dabir, who had held together the chase from No.6 with 25, was run out. David ran a single and stood at the non-striker’s end, ready to scamper through.

With England needing one wicket to win and India three runs, Jo Chamberlain struck Laya Francis on the pad. As she and David scrambled for a single, the England fielders converged to throw the ball at the stumps, leaving Chamberlain alone to appeal for lbw. The finger was raised. One of the most dramatic Test matches in history ended in pandemonium in the fading light on a dustbowl in Jamshedpur. England had won by two runs, still the tightest margin in the history of women’s Test cricket.


That defeat had significant repercussions for the India team, and bittersweet ones for Bhatt. With only a drawn scoreline possible, the walls were closing in for Rau, India’s captain. Still dealing with the tragic loss of her husband soon before the series, she had shown exceptional courage in leading her country anyway. But a fallout between her and India’s team manager meant that she was sacked, with vice-captain Bhatt the next in line.

“I was called in and told I needed to take over,” she says. “I said, ‘Look we are midway through the series, let’s finish the series and then if we want to consider changing the captaincy, given the fact that Purnima has gone through quite a bit, maybe it’s better to change the captaincy after the series’. I was told that if you don’t do this then there will be someone else leading the team.”

Bhatt was faced with a dilemma. Leading her country was a dream, but these were far from ideal circumstances. She felt she had no option but to take over.

“It was a very proud moment for me but at the same time, Purnima was a close friend, and I wish they had done it after the series. Whatever differences they had they could have probably buried the hatchet and had her continue… Our friendship went south for a while. It was not a good time for me but then I didn’t have any other choice.”

Rau’s final match as captain came in the third ODI in Patna. With India looking well set at 93-2 in pursuit of 195, a collapse of five wickets for eight runs turned the game on its head. The 10,000-strong crowd became angry, and vented their ire at the England players on the field.

“I was fielding on the boundary and it was okay when it looked like India were going to win but then we got two or three quick wickets,” says Taylor. “They started throwing things from the crowd and I got hit in the middle of the back with, not a big stone, but a stone.”

“I was fielding at deep midwicket,” adds Redfern, “and Clare was round at fine leg, and I looked round at her and she was just on the floor.

“I ran round to see if she was okay and she said ‘No I’ve just been hit by something’. I looked round and there was a stone lying next to her, so I was like, ‘Shit’. Suddenly the police ran out and started beating people with sticks.”

England won, but the danger was far from over.

“The police had to make a cordon to get us off and they locked us in our changing room,” says Redfern. “They kept us there for about half an hour and then they came in and said, ‘We need to get you out of the ground now, you need to leave now’. They bundled us onto a bus. I was with Janette Brittin, she shouted ‘Just get on the floor’, because they were throwing stones at the bus as we were leaving the ground. When we got to the hotel our manager said, ‘we’re packing and we’re leaving the area now’. All we’d done was win a game of cricket!”

England had already had experience of lockdown. One of the touring party had been approached by a man with a gun at a hotel, with England’s players kept secure for 12 hours before it was deemed safe to venture outside again.

These were fraught situations, but they also reveal the fervour that accompanied the trip. International women’s cricket tours to India were rare, and England visiting smaller cities such as Patna and Lucknow made them even more of an attraction.

“We were like sports celebrities,” says Bhatt. “People rarely saw women play cricket which was a man’s game in those days. When we used to go out shopping or to a restaurant you would see a small crowd following us out of curiosity. It was like ‘Oh my God those are the women who play cricket’. It was not a bad thing but we used to find it weird sometimes. Some of these guys used to look for my address and come to my home in Bangalore just to get an autograph. There used to be crowds of 10-15,000, sometimes even 20,000.”

At times, the attention went beyond just sporting endeavours.

“Test matches we didn’t really get a big crowd but it was better for ODIs,” says Taylor. “In India cricket is a religion whether it’s male or female, but people in the crowd were more interested in asking us to marry them and take them back to England with us. We kept giving the name and address of our teammate Wendy Watson who didn’t get selected. She got a few letters sent to her back in England.”


Following the Patna debacle and now under Bhatt’s leadership, India levelled the ODI series 2-2 in Lucknow with a nine-wicket win. Bhatt took four wickets in her first match as captain, but the five lbw dismissals England suffered in that match caused some controversy.

“It was ridiculous,” says Redfern, with the dismissal of Sue Metcalfe sticking in her mind. “She’d gone miles down the pitch to sweep down the leg side and the finger went up so quickly. Now I say to myself as an umpire, you look at the pace of your decisions and whether it was considered, that time it was not considered, it was just given out. You’re fighting conditions and fighting being overseas, it was unfortunate that you had different standards of umpiring. Historically women didn’t get the best of umpires, it was quite difficult.”

Less than a week after that fourth ODI in Lucknow, the final Test got underway in Hyderabad. Under new leadership, India had set up a decider in one series and carried that momentum forward as they looked to salvage another. England were bundled out for 98, and India declared to leave them with more than a day to bat out to snatch a draw.

Brittin, an England great who passed away in 2017, topped the run charts in both the Tests and the ODIs, and put on a staunch rearguard, deadbatting for over four hours to make 68 off 256 balls. She was sixth out, and just after Tea on the final day, Clare Connor became India’s ninth wicket having batted almost an hour. Taylor walked in at No.11 to join Stock, needing to survive for almost a whole session. The prognosis was grim. “I was coming out and expected a bit of a brief from Connie [Clare Connor] about what the different bowlers are doing, and she just went ‘Oh it’s awful out there’ and walked past me,” says Taylor. “Cheers Connie, that’s great.

“I knew people on the sidelines would just be packing their stuff up going, ‘Clare won’t stay there for that long because she hasn’t got the patience’. It was almost a game within a game for me because no one will be thinking that I can do it.”

Two hours later, Taylor was still at the crease having scored nine off 95 balls. At the other end, Stock was also on nine, off 136 balls. The clock ticked towards the close.

“I remember leaning on my bat thinking it’s the last over and Stocky was facing it,” says Taylor. “I was just saying ‘No run’, thinking, ‘Stocky is a better batter than me and she’ll sort it out’. She played the last ball and I fist-pumped in the air thinking we’d done it just as the umpire walked past saying ‘Time for one more over’. I was just going ‘You’re having a laugh mate, you cannot be serious’ and all the Indians were going ‘Get her’. The second-to-last ball, I edged it through the slips.”

On the other side of the coin, in her first Test as captain, the partnership was a nightmare for Bhatt.

“That was one of the most frustrating cricketing moments of my life,” says Bhatt. “Because we thought we had won the game and then we dropped so many catches in the slips. We literally threw that game away.

“You come off the field thinking, where did we go wrong? The game was there to win and you ended up in a draw. Things like that give you sleepless nights.”

That draw gave England a Test series win, over a month after they’d first arrived in India. It was the culmination of everything the five weeks had thrown at them on and off the field.

“I think we relaxed more as it went on,” says Taylor. “We didn’t realise it had quite a big ripple effect back in England at the time. I was writing articles for the Yorkshire Post and their headline was ‘Meet England’s new Geoff Boycott’.”


After the highs of winning the Test series, there were only three days for England to celebrate before the ODI series decider in Chennai.

“If you look at that scheduling now you’d think how bonkers is that going straight from four-day cricket to one-day cricket,” says Redfern. “And it was utter madness, you can guarantee that transport was not ideal either.”

It proved one game too far, England routed by seven wickets to give India a series victory.

“To be quite honest we all wanted to be at home,” says Taylor. “I was pretty close with Karen Smithies and Jo Chamberlain, Debs Maysbury and Sue Metcalfe – the northern lot. All we were talking about with a week to go was a full English breakfast at Toddington Services, which are the first services we’d hit after Heathrow. The novelty of India had worn off.”

For Bhatt, it was the culmination of a tumultuous journey, with more than just her own reputation at stake.

“Winning the series was one of the greatest moments of my life,” says Bhatt. “There was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders and a lot of expectation. After all that had happened with Purnima midway through, there was a lot of pressure from the Association who were expecting me to win the series. They needed something to justify that they had made the right move by removing Purnima and having me as the captain. If they hadn’t won the series they probably would have received quite a bit of flak.”

That match was the last international in any format India would play until they hosted the 1997 World Cup. Despite the crowds and the drama that the series boasted, women’s cricket still wasn’t valued enough to be consistently funded.

“We went into the World Cup without any international cricket for one and a half years,” says Bhatt. “It was not a very good situation at that point in time.”


For the tourists, after seven weeks away, arriving back to the cold of England brought another shock. Being at home for Christmas came with mixed emotions.

“Adjustment back home was really hard,” says Redfern. “You were used to being independent and part of that wider family, but your actual family wanted to know everything about what’s happened and you can’t really recall it. I was pretty grumpy when I got home and pretty sad.

“I’d left school and I was in part-time jobs. I had three casual jobs to try and earn some income and I was very lucky that I still lived at home with my mum and dad. I was back at work the following week as a lifeguard trying to earn some money.”

And yet, for all the sacrifices, financial and physical, it’s a trip that holds a special place in the hearts of all those who were part of it.

“I loved the tour and the camaraderie,” says Redfern. “You don’t appreciate how special those moments are playing in a team until you no longer do that. It suddenly hits you how lucky you were to get to do it.”

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