Taha Hashim marvels at the batting of England and India’s young guns on day two of the first Test at Bristol.
England began strongly and India fought back. At 167-0, the visitors threatened real domination. Sixteen runs later, they were five down – where this match goes next is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, if you’re here looking for certainty, I’ll let you have this: the future is pretty damn good.
Up first was Sophia Dunkley, 22, on debut, and tasked with turning a promising total of 269-6 into something a little more imposing. When she walked off the field three-and-a-bit overs after lunch, with England declaring on 396-9, she’d done the job and confirmed herself as a batter we’re going to watch plenty more of.
The first signs of something special in the offing came during the fourth over of the day, when Jhulan Goswami – who’d removed Katherine Brunt a couple of overs before – was whipped through midwicket after Dunkley danced down the pitch. Just moments later, it was all about soft hands – the bat poked (with purpose), and the ball flew to the third-man boundary.
She did have her moments of trouble. Deepti Sharma should have held on to a return catch, while the finger was raised when Sneh Rana’s off-break struck the pad. But Rana’s problem was that she was turning it too much; DRS showed the ball missing the stumps and Dunkley kept on rolling. A compact technique churned out the singles and doubles and she went on to raise her bat not long after to hearty applause: the girl who’d learned the game playing with a neighbour on a cul-de-sac, the first black woman to play Test cricket for England and, now, a half-centurion for her country. Anya Shrubsole provided some thumping hits in a fun-filled 47 but Dunkley, unbeaten on 74, left one hell of an impression too.
The day, however, was headlined by a batter five years younger than Dunkley. Shafali Verma, the No.1-ranked women’s T20I batter in the world, will send ball after ball over the rope for years to come, break record after record, and probably hit a red-ball century too – the scarcity of women’s Test cricket is the only real threat to that. Today she fell four runs short, smacking it high, wide and into the hands of Shrubsole at mid-off. But what came before was magnificent.
There was patience to begin with. The 17-year-old respected the new ball and bedded her way to seven off 27, but there was always a desire to change the scenery of the occasion. To make the red ball look white and turn a handful of spectators into a packed crowd for a day-night T20.
There was a checked swat over extra cover for six off Nat Sciver, a make-some-room-I’m-going-straight-over-your-head four off Brunt, and a this-is-easy late dab behind square for another boundary a ball later. There were occasions where the pull shot threatened bloodshed but landed safely instead. In the end, The Big Shot stopped her from becoming the youngest centurion in women’s Test cricket. But it’s The Big Shot that makes Verma one of the most exciting talents in the world game.
Accompanying Verma for an opening stand of 167 – the fourth-highest for the first wicket in women’s Tests – was Smriti Mandhana. Having made her international debut back in 2013, the left-hander is a 24-year-old veteran of the game, and 14 boundaries fitted into her 78. She took backing vocals today but the flair was there for all to see. Like I said, the future is pretty damn good.
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