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First-timer India face up to the test of time and twilight

First-timer India face up to the test of time and twilight

Of India's touring party from the 2006 trip to Australia - when these two women's sides last played a Test - only three have returned now, 15 years later for the next. One of them, Neetu David, as the selector-on-tour. The other two - Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami - are also on the verge of transitioning to the other side. But just before their likely swansong in the format, they'll experience on Friday what was unheard of back then and unimaginable for their side even four months ago.

It was only when the Indian side had already checked into quarantine in Mumbai, ahead of a packed 2021 season starting with the England tour, that BCCI announced this day-night Test. Not surprising then that, in a World Cup year, the team's first brush with the pink ball was two days out from the game, and the white and red balls still equally featured in training.

That Tests are a rare commodity in women's cricket is well recorded. So, who's really got the advantage tomorrow - India, who made a spectacular return to the format just a few months ago as compared to their hosts who donned the whites last in 2019? Or Australia, who have had the taste of pink ball having played the first and only women's day-night Test so far? Only time, and twilight, will tell.

Even with less than ideal preparation this year, India have found ways to stage comebacks. They dragged the England Test to the last hour, and the series to the last game. If not for the accidental no-ball off the final ball, it may well have been India 4-2 up in this multi-format series, instead of the hosts. And while this game may or may not snowball into a call for more regular Tests in the women's circuit, at least the four points on the line tomorrow add more context to this one-off historic game.

Both teams have been sweating over the fitness of some of their key personnel. India's Harmanpreet Kaur was the first one to hit the nets on Wednesday but after a 20-minute stint, she didn't seem quite comfortable against short-ball throw-downs, checking on her recovering thumb often. Moments later, Raj revealed she's been ruled out of the game. While that sorts out one of the areas where they enjoy a problem of plenty, the main selection conundrum hinges around their seam attack with choices between an experienced workhorse and two promising youngsters. The conditions may even justify the selection of four seamers, but that comes with the similar headache they faced in England of a one-dimensional spin-attack.

For Australia, the worries are multiple. Spin duties rest entirely on the shoulders of Sophie Molineux (split lip) and Georgia Wareham (quad) in the absence of Jess Jonasen, and both of them are carrying niggles from ODIs. Rachel Haynes is definitely out with a hamstring, and Australia might lean towards bringing in a pace-bowling allrounder in place of a pure batter as a replacement to allow themselves more bowling options while not comprising entirely with the batting depth. Nevertheless, multiple baggy greens are due to be handed out before toss.

When: September 30 - October 3 at 2:30 PM local | 10 AM IST

Where: Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast

What to expect: Quite some rain for at least the first couple of days of the four-day game. However, the drainage system at the venue is said to be among the best. The wicket has had a fair bit of grass in the lead up to the game, which means pace and bounce on offer. That combined with a pink ball could set up a potentially equal battle between the bat and the ball.

Team News

Australia

Vice-captain Haynes has been ruled out for the remainder of the series, but Mooney seems to have recovered well from the hamstring niggle. While Australia have injury concerns to both their spinners, Molineux seems to be tracking well in the training ahead of the Test after splitting her lip in the final ODI. Speaking of, allrounder Annabel Sutherland is all but set for her maiden Test with both the Australia captain and head coach singing praises after her match-altering performance in the game, albeit in a losing cause. The pair has also backed Ellyse Perry to find her rhythm back with the ball, having struggled for control especially against left-handers in the ODIs in what is her first bowling stint since the injury at the T20 World Cup last year.

Darcie Brown is another front-runner for a baggy green, pairing up with Perry for the new-ball duties and after troubling the Indians significantly with her unsettling bounce. If they do go a batter short, it could be an opportunity for Stella Campbell as well.

Probable XI: Alyssa Healy (wk), Beth Mooney, Meg Lanning (C), Ellyse Perry, Ashleigh Gardner, Tahlia McGrath, Annabel Sutherland, Sophie Molineux, Georgia Wareham, Darcie Brown, Stella Campbell

India

The visitors too are without their vice-captain. While it robs them of some experience in the middle-order, it might make India's selection conundrum tad easier in the top-half. And it probably offers a lifeline to the experienced Punam Raut who could have lost her spot in the XI to youngster Yastika Bhatia, the left-hander thoroughly impressing in the ODIs especially looking comfortable dealing with the bouncers. India though risk leaving too much in the hands of their allrounders by fielding only four pure batters upfront. The onus therefore falls on their allrounders and wicketkeeper, who have all put their hand up at various points in this season.

Given it's a day-night Test, India may not want to rush in a rookie wicketkeeper like Richa Ghosh just yet, paving way for Taniya Bhatia's national comeback after missing two white-ball series on the trot. Likewise, if they value experience over potential, Shikha Pandey too could be donning the whites in place of either Meghna Singh or Pooja Vastrakar, having lost her one-day spot to the pair. If the conditions don't tempt them into playing all four seamers, left-armer Rajeshwari Gayakwad will add variety to the the spin attack that otherwise comprises only two offspinning-allrounders.

Probable XI: Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Mithali Raj (C), Punam Raut, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Pooja Vastrakar, Jhulan Goswami, Meghna Singh, Rajeshwari Gayakwad

What they said:

"The most significant thing is that we had two Tests this year. We played one in England and now we are playing against Australia. If this becomes a regular feature in bilateral series, then women's cricket will thrive" - Mithali Raj

"We're all looking forward to kicking off the first of many to come, hopefully it's not just a one off and we can go and play a Test in India over the next few years" - Meg Lanning

With inputs from Bharat Sundaresan.

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