Shafali Verma stars again as rain halts England’s march to victory

Rain had the last laugh in Bristol on Friday but England, in the little time they had, ensured that they put themselves in pole position heading into the final day. Young Shafali Verma stole the show for India again, but the visitors have a huge mountain to climb on the final day.

Brief scores: IND W 83/1 f/o (Shafali Verma 55* and Brunt 1/21 & 231 all-out trail England 396-9 dec by 82 runs

Team India would have rejoiced had someone told them at lunch on Day 2 that at stumps on Day 3, they would be only 82 runs behind England with nine wickets intact. But the caveat of them having already been bowled out once means that the Mithali Raj-led side will take to the field on Day 4 needing a miracle to avoid defeat in their first Test match since 2014.

The visitors ended Day 3 strongly as the duo of Shafali Verma (55*) and Deepti Sharma (18*) not just kept the English bowlers at bay, but also dominated them. After India lost first innings half-centurion Smriti Mandhana in just the fifth over of their second innings, while they were still trailing the hosts by 136 runs, things looked bleak. Not only had the conditions, thanks to showers, tilted completely in favour of the bowlers but about to come to bat was a middle-order that had accumulated a total of six runs in the first innings.

But a smart move to promote the ever-robust Deepti Sharma – who was the only Indian batter to not be dismissed in the first innings – to #3 threw spanner in the works of the Three Lions. Deepti proved to be the perfect foil for Shafali’s pyrotechnics, and together the duo produced Pant-Pujara levels of contrast to frustrate the hosts. While Deepti, at one point, was batting on 1 off 43 deliveries, her junior partner Shafali was striking at 90, as the 17-year-old truly unearthed her T20 avatar to pummel the English bowlers.

In her first 66 balls, Shafali struck 11 fours, just two fewer than what she managed in the first innings, in which she faced 152 balls. A combination of Shafali’s aggression and Deepti Sharma’s resilience proved to be a puzzle too complex for Heather Knight’s side to solve, as the hosts found it impossible to dismiss either batter before rain arrived and halted play for the rest of the day with India still 82 behind.

But the dominance of Shafali and Deepti in the second innings felt like a mere consolation as England inflicted the damage in the first hour of the day to essentially eliminate India’s chances of a win.

Resuming the day on 187/5, with two dependable batters – Harmanpreet Kaur and Deepti Sharma – still in the middle, India would have gone a long way in eliminating defeat by forging a strong partnership. But Harmanpreet fell on the 7th ball of the day, playing all over a straight delivery from Sophie Ecclestone to get trapped in front. Wicket-keeper Taniya Bhatia, who recently was dropped from the South Africa series due to not contributing enough with the bat, perished for a duck almost exactly the same way two overs later, and after 20 balls in the day, India had added 0 runs while losing two wickets in the process.

Debutant Sneh Rana departed six overs later but impressive fight and resilience was shown by the duo of Deepti Sharma and Pooja Vastrakar, who added 33 runs for the ninth wicket. The southpaw Deepti, in particular, was impressive, manipulating the field to perfection, and the outing in the first innings eventually proved to be the catalyst for her promotion in the second. The joy, though, was short-lived as England needed only eight deliveries with the second new ball to knock the visitors over and enforce the follow on. Brunt bowled Vastrakar with an absolute peach – arguably the ball of the summer – and Shrubsole cleaned up #11 Jhulan Goswami seven balls later as Deepti was left stranded on 29*.

The hosts smelt blood after they dismissed Mandhana at the stroke of lunch, but a combination of bad weather and excellent batting from Deepti and Shafali ensured that the visitors got through to stumps having lost just one wicket. With a win essentially out of the equation, India will have to do it all in order to avoid defeat on the final day.

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