Smriti Mandhana's captaincy stands out in RCB's WPL triumph | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Smriti Mandhana's captaincy stands out in RCB's WPL triumph

Mar 19, 2024 09:20 PM IST

Smriti Mandhana delivered with the bat while her leadership stood out in how she guided the bowlers to help clinch the title in WPL 2

As Royal Bangalore Challengers (RCB) sealed victory in the Women's Premier League (WPL) final against Delhi Capitals on Sunday night, the cameras panned towards Smriti Mandhana. The winning skipper, unbelievably, was a picture of calm. The struggle and disappointment of the first WPL season and the hard work, belief and teamwork that helped go all the way this team seemed to explain her expression.

BCCI President Roger Binny and BCCI Secretary, Jay Shah present the WPL 2024 Trophy to the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Smriti Mandhana(Ishant)
BCCI President Roger Binny and BCCI Secretary, Jay Shah present the WPL 2024 Trophy to the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Smriti Mandhana(Ishant)

Mandhana, 27, has stood out not only as a batter but also as an inspirational captain. Be it gifting her bat to leg-spinner Sobhana Asha Joy after her five-wicket haul against UP Warriorz, talking constantly to boost off-spinner Shreyanka Patil after her struggle for form early in the tournament or using bowlers smartly in crunch situations, the player from Sangli had been in the thick of things.

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In 2019, a then 22-year-old Mandhana became India's youngest T20I captain when she led against England in the first game of a three-match series in Guwahati, taking over after Harmanpreet Kaur was ruled out with an ankle injury. India lost that game, but Madhana vowed to learn from her first experience as skipper. "I was leading the team for the first time and I’ve got a lot of takeaways from it. As a captain, I’ve to learn from the mistakes I made today, else I won’t learn, I won’t be able to improve as a captain," she told the post-match media conference.

Five years on, Mandhana has grown in confidence and stature, matured and become more communicative.

Former Test batter WV Raman, who was the India women's team coach in that series, recalled Mandhana's first stint as India captain. "I remember telling the media when Smriti was made captain against England that she is a very smart captain. Since then she has played so much, including in the foreign leagues and gained experience. Her acumen as a cricketer is phenomenal. She has been a very useful deputy to Harmanpreet for India, always chipping in with her inputs in a very calm manner. This RCB stint as title-winning captain will do great for her confidence going into the T20 World Cup," said Raman, who was national coach in 2019 and 2020.

Australia all-rounder Ellyse Perry who played a pivotal role in RCB's triumph, praised Mandhana.

After her great league game showing against Harmanpreet's holders Mumbai Indians, Perry said: "Smriti has led the group exceptionally well. Her personality is quite introverted. She is big on developing relationships with each player and really making sure that she knows we are supporting her; she has also been able to develop that relationship with the team. That takes time, but there is so much upside to that."

RCB had a forgettable first WPL season, losing the first five games before finishing fourth in the five-team competition. However, Mandhana's leadership helped bring about a turnaround this time.

Sharing his views on Mandhana's performance as RCB captain, Raman said, "In franchise cricket, picking up a player during the auction is an important aspect. Choosing Australia spinner Sophie Molineux and adding to the RCB bowling unit was an excellent move. I have always maintained that Smriti is a captain who handles her bowlers very well and that helped during WPL. Her own form at the top provided RCB much-required impetus."

Mandhana is the most expensive WPL cricketer after she was bought by RCB for 3.4 crore in the first auction.

In the last domestic season, she decided to skip the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) and play for Maharashtra in the domestic T20 tournament. It gave her a chance to mix with her state mates and be part of the team structure while keeping an eye on the players ahead of the WPL auction.

"It was a conscious effort to be part of the domestic T20 tournament and take note of domestic cricketers with WPL in mind. Thereafter, RCB conducted several camps last year. Training camps, fitness camps, batting and bowling camps, that was also part of our planning. Our plan was to give a platform to domestic cricketers so that they were fully ready for this level," Mandhana said after the WPL final in Delhi.

Raman said Mandhana's attitude as captain was key to the success. "RCB's WPL title win has a lot to say about Smriti's leadership and how the players have responded to her expectations. When you have someone like Ellyse Perry who is a legend and then someone like spinner Sobhana Asha, it takes a smart captain to use their strengths for winning.

She is very calm and chilled out and to have a captain like this helps a lot in creating an apt environment in the team. It is a huge help for the coach as well," said Raman, who feels Mandhana as Kaur's deputy can work wonders in the T20 Women's World Cup in Bangladesh later this year.

Former Australia skipper Meg Lanning, who led DC, said her team was always alert when Mandhana was at the crease.

"Whenever we came up against India, we always used to talk about Smriti and how we could get her out early - because we knew how dangerous she could be. She is a proven match-winner, in any condition. She has had her leadership journey as well, going through ups and downs. It sounds like Smriti is really starting to understand the ins and outs of that," Lanning said.

BCCI is unlikely to tinker with the India captaincy in the build-up to the World Cup, but Madhana delivering success in franchise cricket has given selectors a great option when they look for a successor to Harmanpreet, 35.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Shalini Gupta is a member of the Chandigarh sports team and has been a sports journalist for 10 years. She mainly writes on cricket.

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