“She is still so young, but the way she carries herself, you really wouldn’t tell, would you?” asks Dane van Niekerk, during an exclusive interaction with The Quint.
Alongside a plethora of renowned names in women’s cricket, in the likes of Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Sophie Devine and Heather Knight, South African cricketer Dane was addressing the media on the very day which would go down in history as the date of transmogrification for the female version of the game.
A peep through the windows made it evident that there was a sizable crowd at the beach, enjoying their time in the city of dreams. A faction, however, had ditched the beach to gather in front of a house, the nameplate of which ratified the hullabaloo – Mannat, Land's End.
The eager eyes of Bollywood enthusiasts were not successful in their ordeal – Shah Rukh Khan was nowhere to be seen. But in an idiosyncratic juxtaposition, the journalists who had gathered here in the five-star Mumbai hotel had spring in their steps, for the player they were eagerly waiting for could be seen at a distance, approaching the conference room.
Amid the rat race for a better angle, the media-centric brouhaha and the blinding flashlights, she remained calm – elegant and graceful as ever before. As Dane mentions, she still is young, but for a player who makes her living taking on the most intimidating of bowlers, taking on a few difficult questions was never going to be an arduous ask.
Smriti Mandhana, the captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore, had arrived to answer all queries, to the best of her laudable eloquence.
On Being the Youngest Captain in WPL
Not the one to be fazed by challenges, Smriti was unaware of holding a record even before stepping out on the field – that of being the youngest captain in the inaugural WPL season.
“Oh, is it?” She replies to The Quint, after being informed about the statistic.
“It is, indeed,” we revert.
“Wow, I didn’t know that,” the left-handed batter says, with an endearing smile accompanying her surprise.
What she does know, however, is that expectations are high from her. Besides being the most expensive cricketer in the tournament, signing a lucrative contract worth Rs 3.40 crore, the 26-year-old would also lead a franchise with an enormous and loyal fan base, albeit with no titles and accolades to show for.
“In three weeks from now, you could be the first RCB captain to win a title. Does that come with additional pressure, or are you not looking much into it?" we enquire.
Smriti picks the latter.
I am not a person who thinks three weeks ahead. For me, it is just about living for today, and what I have to do tomorrow. So, I’ll focus on the match tomorrow and we’ll take it match-by-match. I just want to do well for my team, and hopefully, win the trophy. Every day is going to be important for us, so I’m just looking at that.Smriti Mandhana, captain of RCB
Having Recognised Leaders For Assistance
Of her 197 appearances for the national team across all three formats, only 11 have been as a leader. But should Smriti be looking for it, leadership advice will not be hard to find at the RCB camp, with recognised captains like Knight, Devine and Perry around.
For her, the presence of those players means a place in the catbird seat.
It is massive to have them alongside me, because two of them (Knight and Devine) have led their international sides while one (Perry) has played a lot of franchise cricket and led her side. Having them here will mean I have that much experience around me, so I will pick their brains for sure. So yes, it is massive to have them.Smriti Mandhana, captain of RCB
How WPL Will Help India Bridge the Gap With Bigger Teams
Only a couple of weeks ago, Smriti and her Indian teammates suffered heartbreak in South Africa, losing out to Australia by mere five runs in the semi-final of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup. Whilst the U19 team were crowned world champions very recently, the senior side, despite their trailblazing achievements over the past decade, is yet to have an ICC trophy in the cabinet.
The Maharashtra-born player, although, is confident that the WPL will help India bridge the gap with the comparatively bigger teams.
The WPL is an amazing move. It is going to help a lot of domestic cricketers, and from the Indian team’s perspective, we will get a lot of bench strength. The girls will also be more prepared when they come into the international games, because they already would have the experience of playing with overseas players, and being in pressure situations. In that regard, I think it will be a really important tournament.Smriti Mandhana, captain of RCB
‘It Means Smriti'
Another glance through provides a new revelation – the crowd at the beach was now dwindling, and the sun was about to commence on its journey to another part of the world. Here, Smriti was also getting ready for her journey, for she had the WPL opening ceremony to attend.
Since 13 February, when Bangalore secured the association with the player, there has been a barrage of parallels drawn between Smriti and the former RCB men’s team’s skipper, Virat Kohli.
Eschewing any comparative aspect, we ask Smriti as she readies to leave for Brabourne Stadium – “Black and red jersey, with the number 18 on the back. What does it mean?”
With a smile bigger than ever before, substantiating her confidence, she replies “Smriti. It means Smriti.”
Black and red jersey, 18 on the back – it means Smriti Mandhana. Go, tell the world.