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LV= Insurance Women's Test Review: England v South Africa

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The England Women's Test Team took on South Africa in June. Check out Wisden's review of the action below...

England and South Africa play out a LV= Insurance Test Match draw to savour

By Ben Gardner, Wisden

 

England Women’s only LV= Insurance Test Match of the summer brought with it the thrill of the new.

For England, there were four debutants: Emma Lamb, Alice Davidson-Richards, Lauren Bell, and Issy Wong. For South Africa, whose last Test came all the way back in 2014, and who were deprived of three players with Test experience through injury, there were nine newbies. And yet, for all the inexperience and the nerves, this was a game played out completely in line with the rhythms of Test cricket, the grand traditions of the game’s oldest format maintained and revived throughout the contest’s four days.

The cut and thrust was evident right from the start, and it was England who took the early advantage, with all four of their frontline seamers into the action inside the first session. While plenty is known about Kate Cross and Nat Sciver, the focus was firmly on Bell and Wong, each arriving with a buzz but for different reasons. Bell is the classicist - tall, dramatic inswing - while Wong is the tearaway, with hopes of becoming England’s fastest ever, but with plenty of other skill besides.

Still, if the morning belonged to England’s quicks, dovetailing to leave South Africa 83-4 at lunch, the day was Marizanne Kapp’s. Despite coming in at No.6, she ended up with well over half of South Africa’s total runs, playing the dominant hand in a succession of partnerships that lifted South Africa from a position of danger to one of equal footing by the end of the day. She ticked up through the gears, scoring at close to a run a ball once into the nineties, and it took a special piece of fielding to see her off, Tammy Beaumont diving at mid-off and catching the ball almost after it had passed her.

From there it was over to England. Emma Lamb might have put on the least eye-catching show of any of the home debutants, but it was a vital hand, putting on 38 in an opening partnership that blunted South Africa’s new-ball pair. It was a performance only made more important by the slow tumble of wickets that followed it, regular strikes pegging England back from 65-0 to 121-5, and leaving the Proteas dreaming of a first-innings lead.

In came Davidson-Richards, a 28-year-old determined not to let her chance go. Here, the first call of action was caution, and just nine runs came off her first 45 balls. By the end, as England moved into the lead, she was matching Nat Sciver stroke for stroke.

But it’s Sciver herself who played the game’s most significant hand. Given her status as a world-beating all-rounder, her Test record had stood out as something of an outlier, with an average just over 30 and a high score of 88 in seven Tests before this game. There was no doubt she had the class and the skill to conquer the challenge, but given the paucity of women’s Test matches played, there was always the fear she would leave without a defining innings in her record. Now, she has another point checked off the list that adds up to greatness.

With England leading by well over 100, there was only one side with the prospect of winning the game, and for a time, it looked like victory would be forced, as Wong provided the most electrifying passage of play in the match. England had taken one wicket before the first delay of South Africa’s second innings, but when the rain came again, that looked like it might be it for the day. A gap in the clouds allowed for play to resume after the original scheduled close, and Wong caused havoc.

Bowling at a pace unmatched by anyone else in the game, and finding bounce and movement, she prized out the in-form Lara Goodall and Laura Wolvaardt, South Africa’s best batter. Heading into the final day, South Africa were three down, with a nightwatcher at the crease, and England on the prowl. But with only a little over two sessions of play possible, England were unable to find their way past the defiant tourists. Their grit was embodied by Tumi Sekhukhune, promoted from No.10 in the first innings, who occupied the crease for more than three hours to save the game, earning an unbeaten, 134-ball 33 for her efforts.

There will no doubt be those wondering what England could have done with another couple of hours, and what the occasion could have been with another day. The calls for a fifth day were only increased after the confirmation of the stalemate, with England opener Tammy Beaumont adding her own voice to the calls for women’s Tests to be extended.

But what shouldn’t be missed among the speculation of what might have been is the marvelling at what this was: a game which featured three great Test hundreds, plenty of push and pull and nip and tuck, and played in a spirit of camaraderie throughout. Long live Test cricket.

 

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