Are female cricketers equipped to play Test #cricket?

As the dust settles from the most recent women’s Test match that saw the underdogs, India beat current Ashes holders England, doubts about the sustainability of Test matches in the future where whispered amongst all female cricket supporters.

Novices solely perusing the scorecards would question if women have the ability to play an attractive brand of Test cricket. Those that love and understand women’s cricket know that the mentioned match had the unique pressure that is only seen when representing your country in a Test match.

Although a result occurred in the Test, both teams struggled with the conditions during the first few days. Limping to well below par scores of 92 and 114 respectively in their first innings total.

Here are some considerations to be made regarding this Test before judgment is made on the longevity of women’s Tests.

  • ECB asked the groundsmen to make the pitch more lively to allow a more even contest between bat vs ball, as last years Test on the same pitch was drawn out over four long fruitless days.
  • The preparation of the Test pitch was constrained due to a fair amount of rain that saw it covered for long periods of time. Therefore there was no hesitation by Indian captain, Mithali Raj to send England in on a juicy wicket.
  • Both teams have had limited opportunities to play Test cricket. India played their last Test eight years ago. It was no surprise then that eight players made their debut. England on the other hand had a higher number of experienced players, however their last Test was 12 months ago.

Based on the lack of match opportunities in this longer format, players are not experienced enough to make it an attractive form of the game for new spectators of women’s cricket. Female cricketers play predominately one-day matches (50 overs) and Twenty/20, with the latter the most dominant form of the game.

Having been involved in the game for over a decade I have certainly seen the improvement and the change in focus in the women’s game. The girls concentrate on hitting and bowling the ball with power, as strength is now a huge component of a player’s preparation.

Whilst training and coaching at the Cricket NSW Indoor centre, I have seen the difference in how the male players train compared to the females. The majority of the time spent in the nets with the girls is about generating pace when hitting the ball, instead of tightening up their forward defense and building an innings which are necessary skills required to be successful in the test arena.

Australian female players only play 50 over and T20 matches in the domestic competitions. The Women’s National Cricket League and the Women’s T20 using white balls. Playing with a red ball in a Test match or club cricket is a rarity.

Representative players in the Australian domestic competitions have limited opportunities to play club cricket due their State and or National commitments and again reinforcing limited opportunities to play with a red cricket ball.

It is a known fact that the white ball doesn’t swing in the same way as the red ball. Therefore batters don’t necessarily need to focus on their defense and leaving the ball. Instead the focus is on how they can manipulate a good length delivery for runs.

We have seen in the media England’s captain, Charlotte Edwards mentioned that the players want to play more Tests; it is the ultimate challenge for a player to see if you can physically and mentally perform well over four consecutive days.

If the players want to play more Tests how can the matches be more competitive, whilst accurately showcasing the players skill level?

Apart from providing more opportunities for the players to adapt to the format and playing with a red ball, I would argue there is a much simpler and easy way that may make a difference.

In preparing the Test pitch, could it be prepared as a day three wicket for the start of the Test?

The very fact that the girls are lighter means that they hardly affect the pitch’s condition throughout the duration of the Test.

As a spin bowler I loved playing Test matches, I was able to have fielders around the bat and time to tactically out think and set up the batter. Yet in all of my eight Tests I never came across a wicket that broke up on the last day or had large foot marks to target, which didn’t allow the spinners to come into their own.

My theory behind preparing the pitches differently is that the new ball will swing and swing for a lot longer than what the girls are use to, not to mention that the first session of any Test match is a nervous period for everyone. Therefore we will still see an even contest between bat and ball.

By day two and three, you will see the wicket flatten out allowing batters to find the conditions easier and then hopefully by day four the spinners will come into play, testing the batters techniques in a way that is rarely seen in women’s cricket.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe the last two Test matches that have been played have provided a lot of excitement as both teams tried to gain back the ascendancy through patience and resilience.

But is there another way to skin a cat?

Should the actual question be do female Test pitches need to be prepared differently?