Watch Out for Smriti Mandhana, A Batter Who’s Constantly Improving
The picture of a young girl wearing the number 18 Indian jersey and waiting with bated breath for the next move by her cricketing hero on television is a heartwarming image that has caught social media by storm. The cricketer here in question is not the more famed number 18 Virat Kohli, but rather the exciting 22-year-old Smriti Mandhana, who has appeared as a promising and assured player for the nation in the last few years.
The youngster gained prominence only when she struck a beautiful 90 and followed it up with a well-deserved ton against Windies in the 2017 World Cup last year, but for the few who were following women’s cricket intently even before, Mandhana was always destined for greater things. Her tryst with cricket started when she came across a clip of Mithali Raj batting when she was just 5 years of age, and though initially she just took to cricket to accompany her elder brother, the passion reached new-found heights.
With the help of Anant Tambwekar, she grew into a meticulous student of the game from just another eager kid who had been drawn to the world of the willow and the cherry. If she found a slight flaw in her game, she would look to perfect it for days at an end – a trait that helped her gain the desired consistency in the last 12 months.
After starting the World Cup last year with a bang, Mandhana fizzled out in the next few games, scoring only 26 runs in seven innings.
She staged a comeback with an open stance that allowed her access to the leg-side, and since the adjustments, there has been no looking back.
Big Runs in England
Smriti then immediately made her mark in the Kia Women’s Super League in England earlier this year, scoring 421 runs at a mind-boggling average of 60.14 while playing for the Western Storm. Her consistent performance single-handedly led the team into the finals of the event, and though she did not play the summit clash, due to the preparatory camp organised by the BCCI for the tour to Sri Lanka, Mandhana ensured that her dazzling strokeplay became the talk of the town.
With a strike-rate of 174.68 – the highest for any batter across the KSL and the Women’s Big Bash League – the authoritative manner in which she scored her runs is what remained most pleasing. Not only did Smriti look at ease on both sides of the wicket, but the lofted shots and 21 sixes that she smashed in her three-week stay in England was reassuring from a batter who would have to shoulder the responsibility of striking it big in the first six overs during the Women’s T20 Cup in Windies.
2018 Women’s World T20
On Saturday, as she raced away to 83 off just 55 deliveries, the flashes of Sourav Ganguly and Adam Gilchrist were unmistakable. Smriti looked to attack square of the wicket on the off-side, like most left-handed stalwarts and the clean sixes down the ground displayed the unrelenting mood that she was in. Even against the physically mightier Aussie bowling attack, she showed her power by flexing her muscles to three towering sixes, en route which she scaled 100 T20I sixes as well.
This nonchalance while facing the sheer pace of Tayla Vlaeminck and Ashleigh Gardner had been imbibed by Tambwekar, who forced Mandhana to play against boys 6-7 years elder to her on tracks that were rolled to perfection. By asking the boys to bowl as fast as they could to her and not slow down their intensity, she gathered the art of navigating through the quickest deliveries from a very young age. It is what has held her in good stead in her international career. Even against Australia, she kept transferring the weight to her back-foot that allowed her to take advantage of the pace, which in turn never let a seamer settle down.
Though the Mumbai-born player is technically accurate most of the occasions – she can pull or hook any short ball due to her back-foot technique and her timing is often excellent – what stands out rather is the calmness and the silent confidence with which she goes about her job. By being aware of her shortcomings, and by looking to improve them, she has left an indomitable mark, be it while playing for Brisbane Heat Women in the WBBL, Western Storm or for Team India.
Though she should work on her consistency – she has the habit of falling off after a few impressive showings in ICC events – the aura that she has created can in no way be questioned. While it was Mithali who inspired a whole set of young women cricketers before, it is now Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur who are influencing and encouraging young small girls to take to the field in this era.
(Sarah Waris is a postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words. She spends her hours gorging on food and blabbering nineteen to the dozen while awaiting the next Indian sporting triumph)