Match Preview – India (W) vs AUS WMN, Australia Women in India 2023/24, Only Test

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It’s been almost 40 years. Australia Women played a four-Test series in India in 1984, all of which ended in draws, with the last at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. On Thursday, India and Australia will start a one-off Test match, again at Wankhede, to kick off their multi-format series.

Tests are rare for women. Which is why this Test possesses a tough challenge for India, who will step out in whites only four days after a historic win over England in Navi Mumbai.

India were helped by an extra day off – they wrapped up the win against England in just over two days – in recovering and setting sights on Australia. “When you are playing back-to-back Tests, it is important to recover and feel fresh,” Harmanpreet Kaur said on the eve of the Test. “The more we feel fresh, the better it will be for us because there is hardly time to prepare. If there was a 10-12 day [gap], you can take two-three days off and again prepare yourself. We were lucky we had fourth day off and then just one day off [after that].”

For Australia, it’s a fresh start, too. Meg Lanning, under whose captaincy they reached unimaginable heights, is not around anymore. She retired from international cricket just days before the squads for India were announced. Alyssa Healy was handed the reins, and this is the first tour for her and Tahlia McGrath as full-time captain and vice-captain, although they were in-charge on an interim basis at the Ashes, too.

“Unbelievably huge shoes to fill in replacing Meg Lanning,” Healy said. “The success she had as not only a player but as a leader of the Australian cricket team is fairly unmatched right around the men’s and women’s game. Big shoes to fill on my part but one that’s really exciting to me. Bring it on, India is a big challenge!”

Healy is returning after a finger injury – she was accidentally bitten by her dog after just one game at the WBBL and required surgery. She said “the finger is all good”. “I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it watching WBBL at home and coming here and getting the opportunity to keep and have a bat.” She also confirmed that she will keep wickets in the Test.

In the spotlight: Smriti Mandhana and Jess Jonassen

Smriti Mandhana was one of the busiest players in India’s training sessions on the two days leading up to the Test. On Tuesday, she batted against spin and pace for over half an hour before running a couple of rounds at the Wankhede. She then proceeded to take a few knockdowns – practicing horizontal-bat shots – before taking a few throwdowns for about 20 minutes.

Against England, she looked comfortable and was the more aggressive of the two India openers. But she couldn’t convert her fluent starts to anything substantial. The last time India played Australia in a Test match – the pink-ball match in Carrara in 2021 – Mandhana scored her only century in the longest format. Her form is good, and she would want to score big this time too.

Jess Jonassen, who led Brisbane Heat to a runners-up finish at the WBBL, idolised Daniel Vettori growing up, but has been studying Ravindra Jadeja to prepare herself to bowl in Mumbai – during the WBBL, too. She became the first to get to 150 WBBL wickets this season with her season haul of 24 to warm-up for the India tour, and on Wednesday, she began by bowling to Ellyse Perry and Ash Gardner and focussed on landing the ball on or just outside off. She varied her pace but attempted to bowl in the fuller-than-good-length region even when Phoebe Litchfield and some others faced her. She is one of the best in the business, and if conditions are favourable, she is certain to be a handful for the India batters.

Team news

Harmanpreet gave little away about the combination, saying, “I have 13 players in my mind, and will take a final call in the evening.” Shubha Satheesh, who fractured a finger during the England Test, was not at training, while the work Harleen Deol and Richa Ghosh were put through suggests it could be a toss-up between the two.

India (possible): 1 Smriti Mandhana, 2 Shafali Verma, 3 Jemimah Rodrigues, 4 Harmanpreet Kaur (capt), 5 Harleen Deol/Richa Ghosh, 6 Yastika Bhatia (wk), 7 Deepti Sharma, 8 Sneh Rana, 9 Pooja Vastrakar, 10 Renuka Singh, 11 Rajeshwari Gayakwad

The allrounders in Australia’s squad gives them great depth, both with the bat and with the ball. Expect them to stick with the XI they played at the Ashes, with a likely toss-up between Kim Garth and Lauren Cheatle for the second seamer’s slot being the only point of contention.

Australia (possible): 1 Beth Mooney, 2 Phoebe Litchfield, 3 Ellyse Perry, 4 Tahlia McGrath, 5 Alyssa Healy (capt, wk), 6 Ashleiugh Gardner, 7 Jess Jonassen, 8 Annabel Sutherland, 9 Alana King/Georgia Wareham, 10 Lauren Cheatle/Kim Garth, 11 Darcie Brown

Pitch and conditions

Unlike at the DY Patil Stadium, the pitch at the Wankhede had a green look to it around the middle the day before the game. But it was brown and bare towards each end. Healy reckoned it was dry, and the green grass “which is very unusual to you guys looks very bare to us”. She added, “If you get an opportunity to bat first, you need to bat long and bat well and bat the opposition out.”

The temperature in Mumbai this week has been in the late 20s and early 30s. The mornings have been cool, and that might help the seamers in the first hour. And, as Healy pointed out, the SG ball used for the Test match “swings a little bit when its shiny but if you can keep it in some sort of condition, it swings the whole day”.

Quotes

“When you bat and bowl for three days – the likes of Deepti [Sharma] and Pooja [Vastrakar] who didn’t get enough rest [after the England Test] – we try to take care of their loads. They need to feel ready for the game and we made them train accordingly. The ones who had lesser loads we pushed them hard in the nets to feel more confident.”
Harmanpreet Kaur

“We have been part of a few multi-format series with points system coming into play, and giving the Test match, in particular, a greater context. Being a bit cheeky, I would have thought India would have backed themselves in their home conditions and got off to a 4-0 start. It does surprise me a little bit.”
Alyssa Healy

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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