Women's Test Cricket | Shefali hits double century; Indian batsmen create history by scoring 525 runs in a day at Chepauk

Women's Test Cricket | Shefali hits double century; Indian batsmen create history by scoring 525 runs in a day at Chepauk

A batting masterpiece by the Indian Women created Test history as the side amassed 525 runs in a single day at batting paradise Chepauk on the first day of the only Test match against South Africa Women.

No men's or women's team has ever scored so much and so quickly, batting so beautifully and so aggressively on the first day of a Test match, that the few thousand fans present at the ground could not believe that they had once again become a part of cricket history at the country's most sacred ground, Chepauk.

However, the day started like any other Test match, with the sun's rays sprinkling golden dust from the nearby bay. Masabata Klaas sprinted down the red-green-roofed pavilion and blonde Aneri Derksen galloped down the Wallajah Road side with a gleaming red cherry in hand. It was a sight absolutely magical. One could only wonder why it took nearly 50 years for women to play a Test match here.

The new ball bowlers kept it straight with a bit of swing and Indian openers Smriti Mandhana, who was in the best form of her life and Shefali Verma, looking for big runs, were playing calmly straight, with caution to take away the early shine. It was still dawn on the grassy fields. After about nine overs, the batting masterclass began like perfect sunshine. If Smriti fascinated with her cover drives, Shefali thrilled the sparse crowd with her breath-taking straight drives. Scoring runs at will and in unison, the openers, who share a secret bond similar to other great opening pairs, piled up runs in boundaries. Smriti began with a silken front foot cover drive, then a backfoot drive, a lazy square drive

A few years ago, Virat Kohli had said that the cover drive was a huge hit. Carefree, calm and lazy, Smriti still said it all. She was piercing cover and extra cover like a meteor in a sky with millions of stars. One could only watch and murmur – oh, wow, wow. Or just stare in disbelief at the subtlety of her wrists, the slight thump and the rustle of the blades of grass.

Shafali, on the other hand, was focused and the straight lines of the South African bowling helped her a lot. She likes the ball in front of her eyes. She is usually best at playing straight. They bowled straight to her. She initially curbed her instincts and drove the ball straight and down the ground whenever the ball pitched, except once for a six.

Both batsmen concentrated and went for drives through the gaps mostly, and their opponents' poor fielding also helped them. Both had found the boundary easily by the time they reached their fifties and then lunch shortly thereafter. South Africa captain Laura Wolvaardt was largely invisible.

After lunch, the sun and the Indian openers shone brightly. Both batted with total freedom. They cut, pulled, swivel, loft, slog. It was a brutal display of batting. Opponents were cursed to constantly get the ball back from behind the ropes. It was a magical afternoon, except for a short pull from Mandhana that fell just short of Kapp at square leg. Neither batter nor fielder expected Derksen to bowl short. Then she bowled short, wide, straight, full, but the South African women could not consistently bowl length. The batters had been hitting so beautifully by now that even a miss of an inch or two cost them dearly. In about ten overs after lunch, both openers scored centuries one after the other to the delight of the spectators, who for some strange reason were restricted to one side of the ground by the cricket authorities. Shafali took 113 balls to score a century, the fastest in women's Tests.

Soon, Shafali and Smriti were cruising towards a 150-run score when the first wicket fell. They were like crazy dancers on a wonderful afternoon, one a ballerina and the other a pastista. And, they were doing a tango. Very passionate and fiery. They put on a mammoth opening partnership of 292 runs, which is the highest opening partnership in women's Tests, the highest partnership for India in any situation in the format and the second-highest partnership in women's international red-ball history.

Though the crowd had come primarily for Smriti, having seen her score two hundreds and a near-century in Bengaluru in the ODI series before the Test match, Shafali matched them with intent, purpose and pure stroke play. There was just one slip-up. Delmari Tucker, the offspinner, who both batters slogged around on three random deliveries, upset Smriti's rhythm with the right length and turn from the Wallajah Road end. On the fourth ball, she caught a delivery that touched the outside edge of Smriti's bat and the crowd and the personable right-hander had to struggle to make it 149. Everyone knew she had missed out on a double hundred. But Shafali was still there, fearless and blameless.

Shubha S. came in and played perhaps the best shot of the day. The right-hander hit a boundary off Nadine, which went unnoticed by most. Soon, she was gone in the hands of Nadine, who dived across the field to stop the run. Shubha was the only batter to get out on a brilliant day for batters. The diminutive Jemimah Rodrigues came in and started dominating the afternoon, taking the strike. She hit four boundaries on both sides and Shafali was restricted to taking singles. Her growing anger could be felt from afar. Soon, she hit boundaries in two consecutive overs and when Tucker was brought in from the pavilion end, she smashed his delivery over long-on for two consecutive sixes to bring the score to 199. On the very next ball, she celebrated her double century. It was like the fulfillment of a long-standing promise.

Chennai fans never forget their memories. Sehwag and Karan Nair had hit triple centuries on this very ground. It was Shafali's turn. Sadly, Jemimah ran her out. Coming behind the wicket, she hit straight to mid-on and confused Shafali before running towards the danger end. She had done this once before, driving towards the covers, but Shafali had a narrow escape. When she responded this time, the bowler was in front of her. When she started to run, Jemimah had almost come close to her. Jemimah, who had scored a double century, could not refuse and went for a run that did not exist. She could have returned Jemimah, but she did not. She sacrificed her wicket and the triple century had to wait for some other glorious day. It was indeed a sad end to a great innings. Chepauk honoured it with a standing ovation.

After the arrival of captain Harmanpreet Kaur, the afternoon passed by, waiting for Jemimah's half-century, which came at the right time. While cricket writers found it hard to forget what had happened a while ago, the crowd did not hesitate to celebrate. They welcomed her half-century. Soon, she played a shot to short cover and denied herself an easy century.

Half the spectators thought the day was over and started to leave, but the South Africans' misery continued till the end of the day. The team's most reliable pinch-hitter, wicketkeeper-batter Richa Ghosh, started hitting boundaries everywhere at a T20 strike-rate. She treated the spinners and the fast bowlers, after taking the second new ball, with total disregard. It was a day when the red ball really learnt what it felt like to be hit in the middle of the bat, and what it was like to be hit all around the park.

Tomorrow is a new day. It could wake up with two more centuries and/or a premature declaration. It is also the weekend. If the last two Test matches are proof, the Indian tweakers could take it. Chepauk and its cricket nerds will be there to witness another enduring cricket story.

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