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Women's Test cricket is quite good
Can we have more please?
That’s the tweet.
Wait. This isn’t Twitter. This is Substack. We can go #beyond280 here.
In case you missed it, the 17-year-old made 96 & 63 in her Test debut for India against England at Bristol (Suburb: UsedPitch) last week. It was a good and intriguing Test match. Verma is a serious talent and was the talk of the town and even talk of the city for a while until the rain stopped in Southampton and the city moved on to that. You can watch some of her strokeplay here:
When young players make their debut some of us like to speculate what their career numbers will be. Haseeb Hameed looked the part when he made his debut for England in India in 2016 which led to some seasoned observers suggesting that he could make 10 000 Test runs. He had a torrid time for a few years but happily seems to be on his way back. 10 000 looks unlikely, however. Dinesh Chandimal made his Test debut in Durban in 2011 and I recall his captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, suggesting at the time that he could score 10 000 Test runs. Nearly 10 years later, Chandimal is 31 and has 4 158 Test runs at 39.98, a good record but 10 000 seems out of range. So, how many Test runs can we expect Shafali Verma to score?
Well, it won’t be 10 000. Even if there is an attitude improvement towards women playing Test cricket there is next to no chance of her playing enough Tests to do that. Consider that in nearly 87 years of history women have played only 141 Tests in total. The leading run-scorer in that time is England’s Janette Brittin with 1 935. The leading bowler is England’s Mary Duggan with 77 wickets. No woman has played more than Brittin’s 27 Tests. And they both played in an era where the fixture list was relatively overflowing with Tests compared to recent times. The match at Bristol was just the 9th Women’s Test in the last 12 years. Which is quite odd considering that this is the era in which women were professionalised and therefore had more time and resources to play cricket. Clearly the vision was lacking. But with the Bristol match being the first of three Tests in 12 months (Australia are hosting both India and England in the 2021/22 season) we may be hinting at a new era. Inevitably it is the Big Three who have started this process. Here are the years that the other five teams in the ICC Women’s Championship last played a Women’s Test:
South Africa 2014
New Zealand 2004
West Indies 2004
Sri Lanka 1998 – their only Test … to date (he adds in anticipation).
Will these countries be allowed to join the party?
Back to how many runs we may expect Verma to score. A comparison with her captain in the match, Mithali Raj, might be instructive. The 38-year-old Raj has been an ever-present in Tests for India since her debut in 2002. She has played 11 Tests. She is a great of the game as 7 098 runs at 51.06 in 214 ODIs and 2 364 runs in 89 T20Is demonstrates. But if Women’s Tests remain in the hen’s tooth category of rarity and Verma also only plays 11 Tests in her career, her final aggregate might not be far removed from Raj’s 669 runs at 44.60. Not surprisingly, Don Bradman is the quickest to 2 000 Test runs, taking just 15 Tests. Discerning readers (which presumably means all of you) may have noticed that I didn’t say “quickest to 2 000 men’s Test runs”. You either knew no woman has scored that many or found out in the previous paragraph. “Men’s” is superfluous in that sentence. If Verma were to play 15 Tests and bat like Bradman and those 15 Tests were to be played at the current rate she would be into her forties by the time that she becomes the first person to force a distinction of “quickest to 2 000 Test runs” into “Men’s” and “Women’s”.
Perhaps the most extraordinary stat from Verma’s debut is that she is now the all-time leader in the “Most Sixes in Women’s Test cricket” category. The three that she smote saw her leapfrog the handful of ladies with two Test career sixes. The men, of course, already have a few centurions in this department with Brendon McCullum (107) and Adam Gilchrist (100) the leaders. How many sixes will Verma end up on? Maybe it is just me with my statistical and historical view of things, but I like the idea of players having careers in cricket which are long enough to allow for an assessment of their achievements, and the possibility of breaking records including career aggregate ones. You can’t do that if it is nearly impossible to play more than 10 games in your life.
I was quite surprised when I tweeted this:
… and it got that many likes. I know we all like ‘likes’ on our tweets, but that is irrelevant here. While it clearly isn’t a scientific survey, the fact that little old me can get the 3rd most ‘likes’ in my Twitter career for saying this suggests that the demand for Women’s Tests is greater than one might think. Will cricket’s suppliers (a.k.a. “administrators”) supply? As part of its commitment to content provision the ICC maintains player rankings for Men’s Tests, ODIs & T20Is and for Women’s ODIs and T20Is. As part of its commitment to inclusivity will we one day have enough Tests to have Women’s Test player rankings?
And now for a look at what the Cricket Fact Randomizer has gurgled out today:
The Bodyline series is, of course, famous for the short bowling and controversy. But it also produced a scorecard unique in Test history. Australia’s 1st innings of the 5th Test at Sydney is the only one in which the individual scores go in ascending order from batsmen 1 to 6 and descending order from 6 to 11. See here: https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/england-marylebone-cricket-club-tour-of-australia-1932-33-61718/australia-vs-england-5th-test-62610/full-scorecard or here: https://cricketarchive.com/Archive/Scorecards/14/14547.html (behind a paywall, but worth it). Were they so tired of the short balls and the short legs that they decided to troll England with statistical arcaneness?
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