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England captain Heather Knight has criticised the decision to make her team play their first home Test in almost two years on a used pitch at Bristol on Wednesday.
Knight's side face India in a four-day game on a surface at the County Ground which was used for a Gloucestershire Twenty20 Blast match last week.
Asked about the decision, Knight said: "I guess it's obviously not ideal. We’d much prefer to be on a fresh one but it is what it is. And we don’t know how it’s going to play necessarily.
"We found out last week. We obviously tried to get it changed but it was a little bit too late for that to happen. It’s unfortunate but it still could play very well.
"Obviously it’s slightly different with it being used. But we’re confident that we’ve got the squad and the 11 [players] that we need to win this Test match."
Other voices within the women's game were more critical, with former England player Alex Hartley tweeting: "Massive moment in the game playing India in a Test match... [so] let’s stick them on a used one. You have to laugh or you will cry. What a shambles."
In the last decade, only seven women’s Test matches have been played globally, all but two of which have been part of the multi-format Ashes series. While it is not unusual for white-ball international matches to be played on used pitches, both in men’s and women’s cricket, it is a very rare occurrence in men’s Test cricket.
In the last women’s Test, an Ashes match at Taunton in 2019, that pitch was also a used one, having hosted a men’s World Cup game between Afghanistan and New Zealand. "I have no issue with this pitch being used in the men's World Cup as it was six weeks ago," the former Australian international Mel Jones said on the BBC’s Test Match Special at the time. "But there is a very definite follow-through mark from New Zealand's Lockie Ferguson that plays into the advantage of spinners against left-handers. If this was the pitch for the first men's Test at Edgbaston on August 1st, there would be absolute outrage."
"I guess at Taunton, there was a lot of talk about the pitch and it didn’t actually do too much," Knight said, describing the dour 2019 pitch, which offered little to anyone in a game which petered out into a stale draw. "So, I guess we’re going to have to wait and see, and see how it plays. Obviously I’d much prefer to be playing on a fresh wicket.
"It is what it is. It’s not something that we can change now. There’s no point in looking too much into how it will play. We’ll obviously try to adapt as much as we can to the situation and how the wicket plays. It’s not ideal but it is what it is. And we’ve got to go out there and get our head around playing on the pitch we’ve been given."
Telegraph Sport understands that one of the reasons that the state of the pitch was overlooked was due to the late insertion of the women’s Test into the summer schedule. Originally, England’s women were scheduled to play South Africa in an exclusively white-ball series. This was then changed to a series against India before the BCCI announced in early March, and before confirming with the ECB, that their tour would include a Test match.
This meant that the ECB had to find both a suitable venue and time slot to host the Test in a congested summer which includes seven men’s Test matches and the launch of the inaugural Hundred competition. This is the first time that the Bristol County Ground will host a Test match.
A used pitch could make for an interesting game; in Sophie Ecclestone, England have the world’s best spinner, while India have a number of experienced spin bowlers too. In the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup, the Bristol surface hosted a number of exciting, dynamic games on used pitches, including a match between the hosts and South Africa in which 678 runs were scored.
However, the decision to offer a used pitch for this Test is a disappointing one, owing to the infrequency of women’s Test cricket and the spotlight shone on each one when they do occur.
In 2015, when Sky Sports televised a women’s Test live for the first time, the match was a drab affair which led some pundits to predict the format might kill women’s cricket altogether.
The ECB said in a statement: "We are all disappointed that the wicket for the LV= Insurance Test match against India will have had 37 overs played on it. We know that England Women deserve a fresh wicket and we are sorry that we were unable to provide that in this instance.
"With the Test only being added to the calendar in mid-April, coupled with the lack of available first class grounds, we knew a fresh TV pitch was going to be a challenge. We accept that this issue shouldn’t have arisen and we will make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.
"With the exception of Hove – the venue for the second Vitality IT20, for which a hybrid wicket will be used – all other white-ball matches against India will be played on fresh wickets including the opening Royal London ODI at Bristol on June 27."