ENGLAND'S WOMEN cricketers failed by the narrowest of margins to emulate their victorious male counterparts despite not scoring enough runs in the first of their limited-overs internationals against India yesterday.
Set a low target of 129 on an Old Trafford wicket offering too much assistance to both sides' bowlers, the Indians several times looked to be running out of steam before winning it by virtue of a flurry of leg byes in the last of the 50 overs.
The one convincing innings of the day, 52 from the stylish left-hander, Anjum Chopra, took India within sight and a quick-fire 22 from Rupanjali Shaspri took them nearer still. When Shaspri was out lbw to Clare Taylor, India were left to scrape the last few runs together, which their last pair did with three balls to spare.
Until that excitement, the game was spoiled by the wicket, which Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, women's cricket's nearest thing to royalty, was diplomatic in merely describing as "disappointing for both teams".
England produced a remarkable scorecard in which the eight women to fall all reached double figures but none got to 20. That was symptomatic of the struggle they had on a slow, well-worn pitch against Indian bowlers capable of extracting plenty of turn.
England did not help themselves with some poor running - the captain, Karen Smithies, was the first at fault when she was beaten by a smart piece of fielding from Deepa Kulkarni. Charlotte Edwards was beaten by Purmina Rau and England never truly escaped.
Kulkarni then ran out Kathryn Leng before having Jane Cassar caught and bowled. Laura Newton, playing five months after having her first baby, began to accelerate the scoring but became the third run-out victim as the innings fizzled out at 128. Rau and Shastri each took two wickets and Kulkarni only conceded 22 runs in 10 overs.
Apart from the quality of their spinners the Indians' ground fielding was outstanding. That seemed to have put them well in command.
When it came their turn to bat, however, India found it even more difficult. The bowling of Taylor and Lucy Pearson troubled their openers and when Smithies moved herself from slip to midwicket she immediately took a comfortable catch to dismiss the diminutive wicketkeeper, Anju Jain.
Pearson then had the 16-year-old Mithali Raj, a slight figure dwarfed by her sun hat, caught in the slips. When Rau was bowled by a particularly good swinging delivery from Taylor, India's task began to look formidable.
Only Chopra and Shastri came to terms with the conditions, but that, combined with riding their luck at the end, proved just enough.
England won toss
C M Edwards b Rau 15
K Smithies run out 11
J Cassar c & b Kulkarni 13
K M Leng run out 12
L K Newton run out 12
C J Connor lbw b Shastri 16
S C Taylor b Shastri 10
M Reynard st Jain b Rau 11
C E Taylor not out 6
S V Collyer not out 3
Extras (b7, lb6, w6) 19
Total (for 8, 50 overs) 128
Fall: 1-26, 2-41, 3-58, 4-64, 5-84, 6-102, 7-111, 8-117.
Did not bat: L C Pearson.
Bowling: Dhokarikar 5-1-11-0; Margreat 8-3-12-0; David 9-2-20-0; Rau 10-2-28-2; Kulkarni 10-2-22-1; Shastri 8-1-22-2.
A Jain c Smithies b C E Taylor 5
M Raj c Newton b Pearson 4
A Chopra b Newton 52
P Rau b C E Taylor 0
C Aheer c Connor b Collyer 3
H Kala c & b Smithies 10
K Dhokarikar run out 10
R Shastri lbw b C E Taylor 22
D M Kulkarni b Newton 0
R Margreat not out 1
N David not out 1
Extras (lb11, w13) 24
Total (for 9, 49.3 overs) 132
Fall: 1-5, 2-9, 3-17, 4-33, 5-61, 6-88, 7-118, 8-122, 9-122.
Bowling: Pearson 7-3-11-1; C E Taylor 9.3-5-12-3; Collyer 6-1-14-1; Edwards 4-1-14-0; Leng 6-0-18-0; Smithies 6-2-19-1; Newton 6-1-17-2; Connor 5- 1-16-0.
Umpires: M R Benson and A Roberts.Reuse content