Heather Knight fell agonisingly short of becoming the first Englishwoman to score a Test century since she herself achieved the feat in 2013, with the captain trapped leg before wicket for 95 by her former Western Storm teammate Deepti Sharma in the 79th over of the first day of Test cricket between these sides since 2014.
Knight, who arrived at the crease shortly before lunch, batted for two sessions in a chanceless innings that was dominated by her beautifully timed cover drive. Though she chanced her arm with DRS, which is in use for the first time in women’s Test cricket, it was more in hope than expectation and the on-field decision had to stand.
Knight’s dismissal came amid a difficult evening session for England, which saw them sink from 230 for two to 251 for six, courtesy of India’s off-spinning pair, Sharma (who took two for 50) and Sneh Rana. It proved a memorable first day of Test cricket for debutant Rana, who was given a surprise nod in the India XI having last played international cricket in February 2016, but finished with 29 overs under her belt and impressive figures of three for 77.
Though Katherine Brunt (7*) and the debutant Sophia Dunkley (12*) – who became the first black woman to represent England in Tests – saw out a tricky four overs with the new ball before the close, the momentum will be largely with India going into the second day of the match.
England had looked in pole position for the first two sessions, after they won the toss and sought to make hay on a pitch in Bristol which looks a solid batting deck, despite concerns on the eve of the match about its use in a men’s T20 Blast match last week.
For the first time since 1960, they claimed half-century stands for each of their first three wickets, with a top order who have achieved so much in white-ball cricket all managing important contributions.
Lauren Winfield-Hill, back opening for England for the first time since 2017, at one point seemed to be ripping up the Test match batting rule book entirely after she ferociously pulled Shikha Pandey for six over midwicket – the first time any England player has hit a six in a women’s Test since 2006 – and then repeated the feat 10 balls later.
Though Winfield-Hill (35) edged an away swinger from Pooja Vastrakar to Taniya Bhatia behind the stumps shortly before lunch, her opening partner, Tammy Beaumont (66), and the No 4, Nat Sciver (42), both continued the accumulation, with England looking well on top until Sciver’s dismissal in the evening session – the dangerous all-rounder leg before to Sharma – sparked the collapse.
For much of the day India were left ruing their missed chance to make an early inroad: Winfield-Hill survived a scare in the seventh over of the day, on three, when Smriti Mandhana shelled a sitter at first slip. Had Mandhana clung on, it would have given the seamer Jhulan Goswami her only wicket of the day; as it was, the 38-year-old toiled away for 18 overs (and counting) for no reward.
Even so, as India’s quick veteran bowler hobbled off the pitch, she might well be reflecting on a good evening’s work for a team who fielded five Test debutants but already look as if they are very much at home in this format.