A few hours after Smriti Mandhana made her maiden Test hundred, her teammate Harleen Deol tweeted a picture of Smriti raising her bat, her hair falling all over her face after removing the helmet, and captioned it: Alexa please play “oh haseena zulfo vali!!!”(sic).

The tweet went viral.

Harleen wasn’t the only international cricketer who took to Twitter to praise Smriti for the hundred, coloured with fluent off-side drives and authoritative pulls. Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman and Wasim Jaffer, who between them have scored 10 double centuries in Tests, were among those who congratulated her.

READ: Smriti Mandhana – A legend in the making

India’s female cricketers had caught the imagination of fans when they played the Test against England at Bristol in June, too. Following on, India’s lower-order, shepherded by debutant Sneh Rana, had staged a great fightback to salvage a draw.

A Test match may be a rare occurrence – rarer if you aren’t Australian or English – in women’s cricket, but India’s two outings this year proved two things: 1. Indian women can play the toughest and the longest of formats in cricket really well though they hardly get to play anything other than ODIs or T20s; 2. The game is attracting new fans and advertisers.

The Test in England was India’s first in seven years.

Mithali Raj’s women gave little indication of that, though. There was opener Shafali Verma — a stroke-maker who believes a cricket ball is there to be dispatched past the boundary line — who curbed her natural instinct and showed a solid defensive bat, when required, to make a brilliant 96 on debut.

The way two other debutants — Sneh and Taniya Bhatia — took India out of danger with their unbroken century-stand for the ninth wicket was also memorable.

But for bad weather, the Test could have had an exciting finish. After following on, India had raked up a lead of 179. Since India had two frontline spinners (Sneh and fellow-debutant Deepti Sharma) who had taken a combined seven wickets in the England first innings, the team would have fancied its chances if only women’s Test was played over five days and not four. The team could have pulled off a memorable win in much the same way the men did against Australia in the epic 2001 Test in Kolkata. If only.

The weather played the villain at Carrara, too. Much of the first two days in the day/night Test had been lost to lightning and rain. After being put into bat by Meg Lanning, India’s first innings had continued into the third day, before declaring at 377 for eight.

Smriti’s 127 off 216 balls was indeed the highlight of the innings. There was a 66 from Deepti, who came at four drop. India’s No. 3, Punam Raut, made only 36, but she earned the attention and respect for her decision to walk after being given not out by the umpire. She had done all the hard work, batting for 192 minutes and facing 165 balls, but promptly walked after edging left-arm spinner Sophie Molineux faintly behind the stumps.

After India’s first innings, the only question was whether the host could avoid the follow-on. It did, thanks largely to a determined knock from the magnificent Ellyse Perry, the woman who scored a goal in the football World Cup. She was unbeaten on 68 (203b, 285min), when Australia declared at 241 for nine.

India was in no mood to take a gamble and give Australia an achievable, teasing target in the final innings. The visitors batted long enough – with Shafali (52), Smriti (31) and Punam (41 not out) being amongst the runs again – to ensure that there was no way they could have lost the match before asking Australia to score 272 in 32 overs.

The two captains shook hands after 15 overs, with Australia on 36 for two. It may have been a tame end, but the cricket had been gripping. For India, there was much to take away from. As W.V. Raman, who was the coach of the Indian women until early this year, told Sportstar, it was a winning draw for the visiting side.

Warriors: Jhulan Goswami of India celebrates with teammate Deepti Sharma after bowling out Alyssa Healy of Australia. The Indian team management would be particularly happy about the way the seamers bowled. They proved much deadlier than what their Australian counterparts could offer.   –  Getty Images

 

The Indian team management would be particularly happy about the way the seamers bowled. Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar and debutant Meghna Singh were all brilliant as they troubled Australia’s vaunted batting line-up. Jhulan’s unwavering line-and-length, Meghna’s swing and Pooja’s pace proved much deadlier than what their Australian counterparts could offer. Australia’s pacers were bowling too short, giving Smriti plenty of opportunities to play the pull shot.

The Australian women are due to play another Test soon, against England at Canberra from January 27.

As for India, no women’s Test is scheduled as of now. But given the amount of interest both the Tests generated this year, and the kind of positive signals coming from the BCCI such as the decision to play the Day/Night Test and multi-format series, the women can afford to dream of featuring in another Test in not too distant a future. They certainly deserve it.

Talk of the town: Smriti Mandhana’s 127 was the highlight of India’s first innings against Australia in the day-night Test.   –  Getty Images

 

Whenever that Test happens, it is sure to be followed keenly by cricket fans.

“Interest in women’s cricket has picked up considerably over the past few years, with the Indian women’s team performing well in the recent ICC events,” Rajesh Kaul, Chief Revenue Officer, Distribution and Head — Sports Business, Sony Pictures Networks India, told Sportstar. “The Indian women’s tour of England in June-July was watched by close to 23 million viewers on our sports channels. Many advertisers have started to look at being part of Indian women’s cricket. The Indian women’s team’s fine performances have further benefited the brands.”

Kaul feels more women are likely to watch the cricket matches in the future, with the emergence of role models like Smriti and Shafali. “The viewership profile for women’s cricket has largely remained the same over the years with females contributing 38 to 40 percent,” he says. “There has been a growing interest in women’s sports across India over the last few years, with women athletes rightfully getting the coverage that they deserve. This has gained momentum because of the stellar performance by our women athletes in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.”

For now, the fans could look forward to the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia, which will feature as many as eight Indian stars, and will also be telecast live.

Smriti will turn out for Sydney Thunder. Given the kind of form she is in and her popularity, she is likely to be talked about a lot on social media once the league kicks off.

She has her social media game on point, as well, if you go by her response to Harleen’s viral tweet. “Alexa, please put Harleen Deol on mute.”, she wrote.

But even Alexa may not be able to mute the enthusiasm of the ever-increasing fan-base of women’s cricket.

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