Dial M as India bet big on Smriti Mandhana
The has been a picture of consistency in the last two years and her continued good form will be vital for India in the ODI World Cup starting in New Zealand on Friday.
It had been a very difficult period for Smriti Mandhana since she landed in New Zealand. Due to the tough MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) protocol in New Zealand, the left-handed opener had to miss the bilateral games—a solitary T20I followed by three ODIs--and then faced a concussion scare after being struck on the helmet while batting in a warm-up game against South Africa.
It came as a respite though for an Indian team preparing for the ODI World Cup—it starts on Friday—when BCCI announced she was fine after being hit on her left ear and lower temple. It brought a smile on everyone’s face when Mandhana smacked a 67-ball 66 runs versus West Indies in the second warm-up game on Tuesday, which India won by 81 runs in Rangiora.
Mandhana will be critical to the India’s chances at the World Cup. The way the 25-year-old batter’s career has unfolded since the 2017 Women’s World Cup—India finished runners-up—and how she has performed in every format and in foreign leagues speaks volumes about her stature.
India’s success in world cricket in the last couple of years can be attributed largely to Mandhana’s form. India lost the lone T20I and the five-match ODI series (1-4) to hosts New Zealand as the Sangli girl was missing from the team. India won the last ODI where she top-scored with 71. Her technique of using the pace of the ball to drive through the covers sets her apart from the other batters.
It was during the 2017 World Cup that Mandhana rose to prominence as she grabbed the headlines, carrying the team to the final. She began the World Cup with a 90 against England in Derby in the first group match, followed by her second ODI hundred against West Indies (106*). Harmanpreet Kaur hit an unbeaten 171 in the semi-final for a stunning win over Australia.
When India beat New Zealand on their home soil in 2019, Mandhana had a big role in shaping the ODI series success. She scored 280 runs in five ODIs at an average of 70, including a century and two half-centuries. Knowing the conditions well, Mandhana can be India’s trump card in the tournament.
The 25-year-old was recently named the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year for her incredible run of form across all formats in 2021. Mandhana was short-listed for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy along with Tammy Beaumont of England, Lizelle Lee of South Africa and Gaby Lewis of Ireland.
She played a sublime innings of 78 in the first innings of the one-off Test against England that ended in a draw in June last year. She also scored an important 49 in India’s only win in the ODI series. The southpaw was in good touch in the series against Australia, starting with the ODI series where she scored 86 in the second game. She made India’s first pink-ball Test memorable by smashing her maiden century in the longest format at the Carrara Oval, Queensland. She scored 127 with 22 fours and a six.
Her form was outstanding in the T20 Women’s Big Bash League too, playing for Sydney Thunder. Mandhana scored an unbeaten century against Melbourne Renegades, blasting 114 not out from 64 balls to equal the highest individual score in WBBL and become the first Indian to hit a WBBL century.
Playing for Southern Brave in inaugural The Hundred, Mandhana aggregated 167 runs from seven innings at a strike rate of 133.60 before she flew back home to spend time with her family before the Indian tour of Australia. Her best was a 52-ball 78 against Welsh Fire.
She along with Jemimah Rodrigues are the Indian women cricketers who have been retained by their teams for the upcoming The Hundred.
When coach Ramesh Powar says Mandhana would be an automatic choice to take over the captaincy from Mithali Raj after the World Cup, it shows BCCI’s trust in her ability to take women’s cricket team forward with poise. She will need to take the lead straightaway as India bid to go one better than the 2017 World Cup, kicking off their campaign against Pakistan on Sunday.