7 Tests in the first-ever Women’s FTP and the allure of Women’s Test Championship

Australia v India: Pink Ball Test Match: Day 4
Australia v India: Pink Ball Test Match: Day 4

The International Cricket Council (ICC) on August 16 announced the first-ever Women’s Future Tours Programme (FTP) involving 10 teams. The program comprises the international schedules of Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, India, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the newly-encompassed Ireland and Bangladesh, following the expansion of the ICC Women’s Championship (IWC) to a 10-team event.

Among the aforementioned countries, only Australia, England, South Africa, and India are involved in red-ball fixtures. England are the ones to play the most (five) Test matches in the 2022-25 FTP cycle. While Australia are set to play four red-ball games, South Africa and India will play three and two matches, respectively.

Apart from Tests, there are 135 ODIs and 159 T20Is scheduled for the 10 teams with windows for the Hundred, Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), FairBreak Invitational T20 Tournament (Hong Kong), and most likely the Women’s IPL in March 2023.

Harmanpreet Kaur will lead the India women in 65 international games, including 27 ODIs, 36 T20Is, and a couple of Tests. Both Test matches will be played at home, one against England by the end of 2023 and the other against Australia as soon as the English ladies depart after wrapping up the tour of a Test and three T20Is.

Australia will visit India in early 2024 to play a Test, three ODIs, and as many T20Is. The schedule ultimately signifies that the Women in Blue won’t be playing in the longest format for more than a year.

England, on the other hand, are carrying along the men’s tradition of playing the most Tests across the world and will play five games. One against India and one against South Africa, both away from home in late 2023 and 2024, respectively.

England recently played a Test against South Africa in June 2022, which was also a part of the FTP 2022-25 cycle. They will similarly host Australia in June 2023.

Australia, meanwhile, will face England, India, and South Africa (at home) between 2022- April 2025 in Tests, with one more Test booked against England in the adjoining FTP cycle.

Considering the current scenario, only four members seem keen to play Test cricket, the greatest format of the game. Women’s Tests run for four days, with teams expected to bowl 100 overs per day, unlike the men’s games. The duration has been in discussion for a long time as most of the women’s Tests end up being drawn.

India’s last two Tests resulted in a draw, and both the games were interrupted by rain. The result would have made a huge difference as India were playing their rare front-foot game in the format. The 2021-22 Women’s Ashes too, witnessed a thrilling contest at the Manuka Oval in Canberra as England successfully managed to draw the game with only one wicket to spare. That’s where the duration makes a difference.

The average number of overs bowled in an Ashes Test was 59.1, while in India’s encounters with England and Australia, it read 74.3 and 55.1, respectively, evidently demanding change.

Speaking after the draw against India, Heather Knight, the England skipper, too, had said that five-day Tests could maybe be the way forward. Lisa Sthalekar and Kate Cross also backed the concept after the Canberra thriller. However, Meg Lanning, the Australian skipper, said that four days are enough, given the weather factor.

Furthermore, there were several concerns raised over the format’s requirements - it was about money, in reality, articulating with no holds barred. However, even before merging the International Women’s Cricket Council into the ICC in 2005, when the sport lacked money in vast amounts, there were more Tests played than afterward.

In the 17 years before the merging, there were 29 Tests played, while only 17 Tests have taken place since. These stats reflect the disinterest of the authorities, including the ICC and the national boards, towards the format.

Not long ago, Greg Barclay, the independent ICC chair, had addressed women’s Tests as "not part of the future landscape" and "can’t really see women’s Test cricket at any particular speed." Such remarks from a ‘man’ in the chair of the apex cricket council justifiably made blare. His judgment affirming that "white-ball is the way of the future," could be a fact to note.

Several active and former cricketers, including Lisa Keightley, Nat Sciver, Jess Jonassen, Lanning, Knight, and many more, responded to Barclay’s comments by saying they were "disappointing."

An ICC member too had said before an ICC meeting in Dubai in April 2022:

“No, there can’t be a women’s Test Championship, but the discussions will be more about the role of Test cricket for women.”

The member also added that it’s more up to the members if they want five-day Tests.

The Women’s Test Championship (WTC) is undeniably a topic of the future. With barely four countries in the business, it’s quite surprising to see nations like New Zealand, West Indies, and Pakistan not being approachable for, at least, playing away games. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to be a story for long.

Moreover, it’s fairly impractical to say that the Women’s Test Championship is on the horizon, as there are no foundation domestic red-ball tournaments anywhere in the world. Despite seeing the rising fame of the women’s game, there is no way to deny the existence of more Tests.

It’s a matter of time for women, in point of fact, and it shouldn’t be too far for regular Test matches within the tours. There was a time when men’s Tests too, were/are being, doubted, but the ICC’s WTC card has certainly turned the tables around. The same can happen with the women’s game, who knows and why not?

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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