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Harmanpreet Kaur’s new era is off to a promising start with historic test win

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India recorded their maiden victory against Australia in a women’s test match at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Sunday (24 December 2023) with their comprehensive eight-wicket win in the one-off contest.

India had taken control of the match with a commanding 187-run lead in the first innings. They needed just 75 runs to win the match after bowling Australia out for 261 in the second innings. India reached the target just after lunch losing two wickets.

This is India’s first victory against Australia in 11 tests since the teams first clashed in the longest format in 1977.

Earlier, after the tourists had resumed their second innings at 233 for 5, India took the final five Australian wickets for just 28 runs restricting the visitors to 261 all out.
Off-spinner Sneh Rana was chosen player of the match for her seven-wicket haul.The teams will now play three ODIs and an equal number of T20 Internationals. 

Harmanpreet Kaur’s new era…

As Harmanpreet Kaur carried out the silverware to her team, huddled around the ‘Winners’ placard in front of the Australian dugout on Sunday, Alyssa Healy borrowed a camera to capture a few clicks. She was yet to change out of her whites, or even take off her wicketkeeping pads.

Just under 24 hours ago, the two captains stood on the opposite ends of the dusty 22-yard strip at the Wankhede, involved in an almost squabble with one suspecting obstruction of field and the other calling it self-defence. A ball later when Harmanpreet cleaned up Healy, she even gave her counterpart a death stare for a send-off.

Of the many absorbing moments from this one-off Test, that the hosts won by eight wickets, these two frames probably best epitomise the rivalry that is India v Australia.The two teams have lately been at each other’s throats a lot in white-ball cricket, ever since India established themselves as worthy challengers to Australia’s all-conquering aura in 2017. But a red-ball game in the subcontinent was a relative blindspot for both teams alike. Their last Test meeting was in the final quarter of 2021 – a historic pink-ball fixture.

Much water had flown under the bridge since. Australia were transitioning under new leadership and India had a new brain-trust to become acquainted with. In many ways the two began the series with a clean slate.

Conventional wisdom and historic evidence suggested that despite scoring the biggest win in women’s Test history just last week, the measure of India’s success truly depended on how they came out of this Australian challenge. With flying colours and a famous maiden victory to boot, India can now write back.

At every riveting turn and amongst many Australian counterpunches, India had a different protagonist stepping up to turn the game in their favour. If Pooja Vastrakar’s early strikes were negated with a Tahlia McGrath counterattack, Sneh Rana-led spin attack choked the life out of Australia’s famed middle-order. Smriti Mandhana’s free-flowing start pressed home India’s advantage, only for it to be further accentuated by two 20-somethings the next morning.

When Ash Gardener inspired a collapse, Deepti Sharma and Vastrakar batted them out of the contest to secure a significant lead. At no point in the game India gave an impression of being under the pump. Even when the visitors tried to dead bat their way to safety, gnawing slowly at India 187-run lead, Harmanpreet led from the front by spinning the game decidedly with her two late strikes. Final-day formalities were wrapped up in little over a session; a resounding statement made.

Despite playing very little of it, India would be mighty pleased with where their Test cricket stands at the moment. It isn’t easy picking up a format – the most challenging of them all – every two years now, without knowing when, or if, the next one is scheduled. Since their red-ball return, India have saved a final-day draw in England, lost to bad weather the shot of winning one under lights and now gone through two in a fortnight with comprehensive victories against two of the ‘regulars’ against their name. No other team has more; not even Australia.

Whether it was against England, on a pitch that had prodigious turn, or in Wankhede, that didn’t really misbehave as much as hoped, these victories had plenty of takeaways from being pushed to the extremes over the last fortnight. Which, in this case, were the challenges of under-preparedness, the rigours of back-to-back Tests and the unavoidable truth of unusually big workloads.

In isolation, these Test wins would probably mean little and soon be confined to the annals of history. There’s no Test Championship or a mace to play for. There’s only four active participants in the format at the moment. But nevermind the scarcity of Test opportunities, these takeaways can spill into India’s white-ball cricket.

Vastrakar’s durability was a revelation as she stamped her allround credentials once more to warrant a finisher’s role she’s naturally suited to. As were the three batting debutants – Jemimah Rodrigues, Shubha Satheesh and Richa Ghosh – and the flexibility they can provide in the shorter formats with a little bit of role clarity under the new management. Bookended by their captain and vice-captain, India’s batting depth looks enviable.

The genuine allrounders proved that they aren’t just to make up the numbers. Rana’s ability to provide key breakthroughs whenever thrown the ball may have brought her back in contention for at least the home World Cup, while Deepti silenced the question of her relevance to the setup in her very own style. For a seam bowling department that’s been in transition for a while, Renuka Thakur and Vastrakar’s contributions are encouraging signs. So is knowledge that India’s bowling isn’t only spin-dependent anymore.

Over and above all, the historic win has hastened the ice-breaking process between Amol Muzumdar and the team with World Cups in both limited-overs formats looming in familiar conditions over the next two years. Harmanpreet has gone on record crediting the Mumbaikar for his tactical acumen on more occasions than one, not just for his experience but also some left-field moves across the two Tests.

On Sunday, after the two teams wrapped up the traditional handshakes at the Wankhede, Harmanpreet led her troops to the periphery of the Garware Pavilion that housed the spectators over the weekend for a shoutout. In lieu, each team member got a quick, personalised chant from the ‘Bucket Hat Cult’ – a group of ardent women’s cricket followers that had spread top-to-bottom in the three tiers. Harmanpreet demanded one for Muzumdar next, the group obliged instantly and the team unanimously joined in the chorus.

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