On March 8 this year, BCCI Secretary Jay Shah took to Twitter to announce the first Test for the Indian women’s team in 7 years. That match is all set to take place in a little over a week from now in Bristol as part of the team’s tour of England.
While the tour will also include 3 ODIs and 3 T20Is, a lot of the focus in the media has been on the one-off Test and understandably so, given that this will be the first time they play one in nearly a decade.
Former India captain Anjum Chopra welcomed the decision with open arms, acknowledging the excitement that comes with playing red-ball cricket. Speaking to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview, the former opening batter had the following to say:
“Donning the whites is probably more exciting. Yes, it gets you the nerves. Because the moment you say that you have to leave the ball and not hit the ball, that automatically is different. So those nerves come in when the day gets closer for you to actually don the whites and actually go out there and bat or go out there and bowl so… then you’re bowling long spells. That kind of nervousness would come in close to the match but I think it should be more excitement rather than nerves for anyone who has played or not played Test cricket.”
Chopra is something of a Test veteran in Indian women’s cricket herself, of course. The cricketer-turned-commentator has played 12 matches in the longest format, accumulating 548 runs at an average of 30.44 with 4 half-centuries to her name.
Given her wealth of experience, Chopra would know a thing or two about a team’s preparations for a game as momentous as the one the Indian women are about to play. As far as she is concerned, the lack of first-class cricket in the lead up to the England Test is not a cause for worry as the Indian team have had their share of cricket, albeit in other formats, earlier in the year.
“Playing any form of cricket is always helpful. A cricketer is like a machine. What I want to say is… If there is a machine, you have to use the machine. So, if you’re a player, your job is to play. The machine can be used for like 350 or 360 days with a days’ rest or the overhauling or whatever that requirement happens to be, and the human body also requires a little rest.”
“But barring that, the job is basically to play cricket. Now whether you’re playing first-class or international, the job is to go out and play cricket and obviously, you learn more each day when you step out onto the park.”
Too much thought going into what Shafali is doing: Anjum Chopra
The World No.1 batter among women in T20Is, Shafali Verma, finds herself in the Test and ODI squads for the first time in her career.
The 17-year-old, of course, was India’s top batter in the T20Is when the South Africans came touring, accumulating the most runs on either side with 130 runs in three games, at a strike rate close to 157. While India went on to lose the series, Shafali Verma did grab a few eyeballs though.
Discussing the Verma’s impact on women’s cricket in India, 2007 Arjuna awardee Anjum Chopra admitted that she is a great prospect for the future.
“I think she (Shafali Verma) is a good prospect. She has done well in Australia, that was a year back. She has done well here in the South Africa series. And I think we all realise and recognise her, people in India and the world over, and that’s why she has been called up for The Hundred or the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL). You see her as a good prospect and you see her as a good player. And I think we should leave it at that.”
However, the former Indian opener also warned of a little too much attention on the youngster. Anjum Chopra believes that Verma should be allowed to play her game without too many expectations on her, and in the process, she should be allowed to grow into the player that she can be.
“Too much thought has been going into what she’s doing and how she’s doing it. It’s nice to discuss somewhere but at times I think it is probably also important to let go. Obviously the pressure… There’s no pressure. Why talk about something before it happens?”
“What I’m trying to say is that it’s good that Shafali has been picked but I think it is still too far away to brand someone with something. We identify her as a good prospect but to brand her as the future… I think that is too far ahead. Let’s enjoy the present that we have.”
If you do well in domestic cricket, you will be rewarded: Anjum Chopra on Indrani Roy’s call-up
Another player that has caught Anjum Chopra’s eye is Indrani Roy. The Jharkhand wicketkeeper-batter makes the national team squad for the first time in all three formats. The 23-year-old top-scored in the Women’s Senior One-Day Trophy with 456 runs in 8 matches, nearly a hundred ahead of CH Jhansi Lakshmi in second place.
The youngster’s two hundreds and one fifty were crucial in Jharkhand’s run to the final where they would go on to lose to perennial champions, Railways. 2014 Padma Shri recipient Anjum Chopra was mighty impressed with Roy’s consistency in the domestic circuit.
“I watched a bit of her in domestic cricket. I think she’s a player who has come through the ranks which is very impressive. And I think it is very important when the selectors reward you for domestic performances. Yes it can be argued that she has not come out in the open earlier in terms of consistently knocking on the doors of international cricket.”
“Unfortunately, the structure is like that for the women’s game, and you have to go with the wave. She’s a beneficiary of that wave where you want to look for players and you want to give new players a chance. So she’s a beneficiary of that wave but she was at the right place at the right time. She was scoring runs and her team was playing the final in the 50-over format. And she’s performed well, the highest run-getter. So she’s done her bit and she’s been rewarded for that success.”
Roy’s rewards for a brilliant domestic season, however, is only part of the bigger picture for Anjum Chopra. She believes that the selection sends the right message to players waiting in the wings of the national team.
Chopra believes that the selection committee’s message is clear: do well in the domestic circuit, grind it out, prove your worth, and there is always enough place in the Indian squad. According to her, this is exactly the kind of motivation that a player working hard for their state teams need in order to keep them going.
“It (Indani’s selection) also instills the belief among other players that if you start doing well in domestic cricket, you can be identified and will be rewarded. So there’s a future for domestic cricket players as well. Not that there’s no place in the Indian team, no. There is also place for performers.”
Anjum Chopra bats for Test cricket
The first Indian to a hundred ODIs went on to bat for Test cricket, citing that competitive Test matches in the near future could see boards pushing for more games of the longest form in future tours.
Chopra believes the longest format of the game could prove to be an integral part of bilateral tours in the future, similar to how the English and the Aussies play a one-off Test as part of the women’s Ashes.
“I feel that if today a Test match is happening, and if the match is competitive, there must be a thought initiated in the discussion room that, ‘Okay, why not have a Test match in bilateral tours as well going forward?’ We know England and Australia play as part of the Ashes.”
“If India is touring maybe Australia or Australia is coming to India, or if it amounts to the first teams actually playing Test cricket, that is England and Australia, if these teams decide to have a Test match, I wouldn’t be surprised. This thought would be standing on the door of the meeting room. For it to enter and grab a seat, I would still think there is time.”
Before we get that far ahead though, the Indian women still have to play their first Test in seven years, starting June 16.
While one would expect a hard-fought contest, the Indian women have held the wood over the English in the last few Tests between the two sides, and fans will hope that this swings the contest in India’s favour. Whether India do pick up their third consecutive Test win over the hosts remains to be seen, of course.