Women’s Test cricket team of the year: from Ecclestone to Verma

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Most years the very idea of a women’s Test team of the year would be redundant, but 2021 has bucked that trend: it’s the first calendar year since 2014 to feature two women’s Tests. India (having last played the format seven years ago) featured in both – against England at Bristol in June, and a pink-ball affair against Australia in Queensland in September/October.

Both matches resulted in draws and, in a surprising turn of events, India matched their opponents: holding out in a nail-biter at Bristol, before racking up 377 for eight declared in their first innings against Australia. Australia’s coach, Matthew Mott, later admitted his opponents had “held all the aces” for the duration – a state of affairs reflected in the presence of only two Australians in the team that follows.

India’s excellence could be good news, however. Should the BCCI get on board, 2021 could represent the early days of a revival of the Test format for women. Fingers crossed.

1) Smriti Mandhana, India

Hit the only Test century of the year in October, and the first by an Indian woman on Australian soil. The beneficiary of a bizarre decision by Australia to bowl first, she made hay with all her usual elegance – after hitting 78 against England at Bristol. It’s a format she was made to play.

Smriti Mandhana plays a shot during the Test at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast in Queensland
Smriti Mandhana plays a shot during the Test at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast in Queensland. Photograph: Regi Varghese/Getty Images

2) Shafali Verma, India

Defied critics who said she wasn’t suited to the longer format by hitting three half-centuries in her first four Test innings (two v England, and one v Australia), and sharing a record 167-run opening stand with Mandhana at Bristol. Holed out on 96 in her maiden Test appearance, but not before drawing first blood in her battle with Katherine Brunt, smashing 25 runs from 24 balls against an experienced seamer who had no answers.

3) Heather Knight, England (captain)

Hit a chanceless first-innings 95 and chose to enforce the follow-on at Bristol to take her side within a hairsbreadth of their first Test win on home soil since 2005. Selecting a team with only one specialist spinner proved to be a mistake but, after fighting her way back from a back injury, Knight’s part-time off-spin helped a bit, yielding first-innings figures of 11-8-7-2.

4) Ellyse Perry, Australia

Could not quite replicate her 2017 double-century heroics, but once again proved undismissable with scores of 68 not out and 1 not out. Now averages 87 in Test cricket, and you wouldn’t bet against her improving that at Canberra in January. Can anyone get her out?

Ellyse Perry plays a shot at Metricon Stadium
Ellyse Perry plays a shot at Metricon Stadium. Photograph: Regi Varghese/Getty Images

5) Sophia Dunkley, England

After years on the outskirts of the squad, Dunkley’s cap presentation was a special moment – not least because it made her the first Black woman to play Test cricket for England. “If it does inspire any boys or girls that’s amazing,” she said, before seizing the chance to nail down her spot with an unbeaten 74.

6) Taniya Bhatia, India (wicketkeeper)

Shared an unbroken stand of 104 with Sneh Rana at Bristol, to mastermind one of women’s cricket’s greatest escapes. India had been seven down and only 34 runs ahead, with a new ball due and a session and a half left to bat, but – subject to what they described as “constant sledging” – Rana (80*) and Bhatia (44*) simply put their heads down and got on with it, putting their side’s top order to shame.

7) Sneh Rana, India

See above. An extraordinary performance from a player who was derided as a crazy selection, having not played an international since February 2016. Selected by India for her off-spin (picking up four wickets at Bristol), but has earned the role of all-rounder in this team.

Sneh Rana bats against England at Bristol
Sneh Rana bats against England at Bristol. Photograph: Ashley Allen/Getty Images

8) Sophie Molineux, Australia

Headed into the Carrara Test sporting a scar from the ODI leg of the series, after being smashed in the face fielding a rogue ball. Got some measure of revenge by taking three wickets at an economy rate of just over two – impressive in a match that was dominated by the India batters.

9) Sophie Ecclestone, England

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Threw everything at India in an attempt to bowl them out twice, including a mammoth, exhausting, 15-over spell on the final day. Finished with match figures of eight for 206, having bowled 64 overs in the Test (including 15 maidens). If everyone could have bowled like Ecclestone, England would have won.

Sophie Ecclestone watches an edge fly through the slips against India
Sophie Ecclestone watches an edge fly through the slips against India. Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Action Images/Reuters

10) Pooja Vastrakar, India

Some questioned the decision to play Vastrakar at Carrara ahead of the more experienced Shikha Pandey, but the seamer proved the doubters wrong when she finished with the leading haul in the match – four for 62, on a batter-friendly pitch. Had earlier enjoyed smashing Ecclestone for 12 runs off one over in a 21-ball cameo at Bristol.

11) Jhulan Goswami, India

Peppered the usually self-assured Alyssa Healy with short balls at Carrara, and successfully saw her off cheaply in both innings – a key factor in India’s dominance. She may be 39 and these will almost certainly be the last two Tests of her career – but she’s still got it.