Sophie Ecclestone’s touch of class gives England the upper hand against India

Sophie Ecclestone’s touch of class gives England the upper hand against India

On day three at Bristol, Sophie Ecclestone proved why she is considered the No 1 bowler in the world, taking three for 27 in a 10-over spell that included four maidens and helped bowl India out for 231, 165 runs behind on first innings – enabling Heather Knight to enforce the follow-on.

“I’ve not played a Test match for a while, so it was just about getting back into it,” Ecclestone said at the close. “It’s a weird situation that I’m not used to. It helped this morning getting that first wicket with my first ball, made me a bit more relaxed.

“After a mad hour last night, it was just about getting into the battle again and making sure we stayed one up on India. It was about being patient, and bowling my best ball over and over again.”

Though 17-year-old Shafali Verma (55 not out) battled her way to a second half-century in the match, becoming the first Indian woman to score two fifties on Test debut, India finished the day on 83 for one, still 82 in arrears. A frustrating afternoon interspersed with rain breaks, and an evening session entirely wiped out by rain, prevented England from making further inroads.

“We were really positive going back out onto the field,” Ecclestone said. “We needed to stay calm and stay patient when out there – we knew they were going to play the long game when they came back out to bat. We need to keep fighting tomorrow.”

The morning session could scarcely have gone better for England had Heather Knight written the script in advance. Resuming on 187 for five, India lost two wickets in the blink of an eye without adding to their overnight score. Ecclestone picked up where she had left off on Thursday evening, drifting the ball in to Harmanpreet Kaur to trap her leg-before, after England appealed the on-field not-out decision via DRS.

Twelve balls later, Taniya Bhatia became Ecclestone’s second victim of the day, dismissed in almost identical fashion. Not long after, debutant Sneh Rana felt the difficult end of Test cricket, edging one that turned to Amy Jones behind the stumps.

You wait ages for new balls, and then two come along at once: with conditions overcast and ideal for swing, Knight took the first as soon as it was available, 21 overs into the morning session. Her two experienced workhorses, Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, needed use of it just eight times to finish the job: Shrubsole cleaned up Jhulan Goswami with her trademark inswinger, after a jaffa from Brunt that swung in the air and seamed away off the pitch saw off Pooja Vastrakar.

All in all, five Indian wickets fell for 44 runs across the session, while the tourists sunk from 167 without loss at 5.15pm on day two to 231 all out at 12.30pm on day three – their worst collapse since their first Test series against West Indies in 1976. Only Deepti Sharma failed to succumb, left stranded on 29.

And so to the second new ball. The follow-on may have become unfashionable in men’s cricket in recent years, but there seemed little doubt in Knight’s mind as to the correct course of action: Brunt raced back up to the England balcony to pick out a brand new Kookaburra. It initially appeared she had chosen well: on the stroke of lunch, Smriti Mandhana drove into the hands of second slip.

India fought back well: by the time the players trudged off for an early tea courtesy of the rain, Sharma (18 not out) – promoted up the order after her impeccable defence in the first innings – had brought up a 50 partnership with Verma.

She may have remained on one for 45 balls, in stark contrast with her normally effortless approach to accumulating runs, but with better weather forecast on Saturday, India’s ability to stave off defeat may well rely heavily on her ability to continue occupying the crease.