Four flights in three days. Delhi- Mumbai- Goa- Delhi- Mumbai.
On 3 August 2014, I met up with the Indian team in Mumbai on the day we were to leave for England. I had been called in to the squad as a replacement and was completely exhausted following what seemed like endless travel. However, when I arrived in the hotel, I was on top of the world. All the troubles were worth it because that night I was on the plane to England and was a step closer to playing in a Test match for my country.
As a kid I always dreamt of playing a Test match for my country. I remember getting up early in the mornings— even during my board exams— to watch the Ashes in Australia, or the odd Test matches in New Zealand. My father always maintained that you are never considered a complete cricketer if you haven’t donned the whites. I always enjoyed the longer format and the thing I loved the most was watching the bowlers setting up the batters.
On the morning of 13 August I found out that I was in the playing XI… I was actually going to don the whites, pull on that deep blue cap and walk on to the field as a Test match player! My joy knew no bounds!
India was playing a Test after eight long years and only three players from our team had played the longest format before— Mithali di, Jhulu di and Karu di. Here I was, all ready to play in my first Test match in a team that had eight debutantes and against a team that had fully professional players.
So, after the mass cap presentation ceremony, we stepped on to the field. We had won the toss and elected to field first. It was a green wicket and we were playing four medium pacers— probably the only time I was in a team that had so many quicks— the dream only kept getting better!
The setting was ideal for a Test match: Wormsley ground housed in Getty estate, is probably one of the most picturesque grounds I have seen. Everything, starting from the pavilion, score board, media tent, and over to the practice wickets, were amazing. The spectators flocked in their private vehicles, got the foldable chairs out and enjoyed the Test match. Every run scored, every wicket taken and every run saved was cheered for no matter the team.
On the first day of the Test match I probably saw the best spell of fast bowling by a fellow Indian seamer. Niranjana Nagarajan (fondly known as Ninja) took four wickets in the first spell and was virtually unplayable. She had the ball hooping around corners and England’s batters had absolutely no clue how to handle her.
I remember my first Test match wicket clearly: Tammy Beumont lbw Shikha Pandey. The conditions were overcast and I was getting the ball to swing a lot. I pitched one up, she offered no shot and I appealed thinking the ball would hit the wickets. Luckily, the umpire saw it the same way! Some start to my Test bowling career.
My appeal face- something that needs immense work!!
We set incredibly attacking fields— sometimes even those 8-1 fields that I had heard Jhulu di would bowl a lot to. In the end it was a great effort to get England all out for 92 in two sessions. But we knew the pitch hadn’t eased out and we needed to bat well to get ahead in the game.
Third session saw a heavy downpour and it rained for a good hour or so. We thought that we were done for the day, but the ground staff did a great job getting the covers off and making sure the outfield was in good shape, and we were back on after 90 minutes. The session was extended and we kept losing wickets. England were on the charge, but we managed to get a 27-run lead thanks to a late seventh wicket partnership between Jhulu di and Ninja (in the act again).
Day 3 began with us hoisting the tiranga and celebrating the Independence Day. England made a real good come back in the 2nd innings and Sarah Taylor and Jenny Gunn in particular fought really hard. Shubhlaxmi Sharma (Shubhi to the rest of us) who was in the middle of a dream run, injured herself while trying to field a ball on the boundary— she dived over the ball and dislocated her shoulder. The injury not only meant that we were a bowler short, but that we had possibly lost one of our best old ball bowlers with a lot of time left in the game.
Shubh had dismissed Natalie Sciver in both innings with wonderful yorkers, and then got the better of Taylor with nothing short of a ‘jaffa’. She delivered a length ball that got Taylor to commit on the front foot. It straightened after pitching, just enough to take the off stump. A dream ball, no doubt.
However, Jhulu di was a class act and stepped up to the plate, She accounted for 4 of their wickets. Karu di’s dive in front of the first slip to get Knight, Smriti’s summersaults at short leg, and my no appeal caught behind wicket were the things I remember vividly from that innings.
|I am not sure if I had mastered the art of diary writing then|
We started our 2nd inning really well. Smriti and Thirush got us to flyer and runs were flowing of their bats. Smriti made a well compiled 50 and we seemed to be cruising. All of a sudden we lost four wickets and I found myself in the centre batting with Mithali di on the third evening. I was sent in as a night watchman.
I certainly take pride in my batting skills and I took it as a challenge. I was determined to bat as long as possible. Mithali di calmed my nerves. She asked me to keep it simple and get the bat on to ball. The ball was still doing enough off the pitch and we had 20 lbw dismissals in the Test already— a record for women’s Tests and we had equalled the men’s record too. At the end of the day, I had survived and was 0 not out off 18 balls.
As I headed back to the hotel in the team bus I remembered reading endless interviews about the anxiety staying not out over night brings to a batter. I am normally a sound sleeper but that night I hardly slept.
The breakfast next morning was one I shall never forget. The hot chocolate and hash browns (my staples through the tour) were diverted to my table without any questions, and it was made sure that I was well fed and ready to face the storm that morning. I was given throw downs and endless advice by batters after warm up. I couldn’t help, but think of it as quite funny.
The pitch had eased out and I was in the best seat to watch the poetry in display— Mithali di settling our nerves with a gritty unbeaten fifty. We needed 65 runs to win the Test and we got them before lunch. That I was out there at the end of it, made things that much sweeter…
The celebrations after the match were epic and we even borrowed an Indian Flag for pictures and thanked all the spectators that had turned up for the game. I got to know that Ninja made sure that everyone sat at the same places they had on the third evening. She herself went back to watching the game from the window next to the washroom…. I know what you’re thinking— cricketers and their superstitions!
What a feeling!!
At the end of it all, Jenny Gunn was declared a well deserved player of the match, but we knew we had won the hearts of the crowd, and pleasantly surprised most people following the game. Three players from the opposition stood out to me in that test- Jenny Gunn, what an all rounder, Sarah Taylor (what a player) standing up to the stumps to medium pacers and a class act with the bat, and Kate Cross, great bowling action and temperament, kept coming at us without giving up.The respect for women’s sport is tremendous in England and we experienced the same 3 years later during the one-day World Cup.
We played another Test against South Africa and won it comfortably to round off our 2014. It was another incredibly special day in my career— one I won’t forget soon.
Cricket is such an amazing sport and Test cricket is the best format. I, Test match cap number 77, am privileged to have played the purest form of the game.