New Delhi: Vijay Hazare, one of the first pioneers of batsmanship in Indian cricket might have put his birthplace of Sangli on the cricketing map but it is Smriti Mandhana, the town’s latest batting sensation, who has been creating headlines in the cricketing world.
“#Mandhana’ or ‘#SmritiMandhana’ were among the top trends on Twitter overnight in India on Thursday after the 20-year-old from Sangli slammed her second century in ODIs to ensure India remained unbeaten in the Women’s World Cup.
The girl from the south-western region of Maharashtra had already created waves in cricketing circles with a breathtaking 90 from 72 balls in the first match against hosts England, but it was her masterful ton against the West Indies for which she received abundant praise on social media.
Standing upright at the crease, Mandhana is as graceful as some of the finest left-handed batswomen the world has seen. But it is only due to her father’s fascination with left-handed batsmen that made her switch from being a right hander to a southpaw.
Cricket ran in the Mandhana family. Her elder brother, Shravan, was part of the Maharashtra under-19 team and it was his ties with cricket that lured Mandhana to take an interest in the game. It was all the motivation that the young Mandhana needed as she came through the various ages groups and programs to make her debut for India at the age of 16.
It took her just four innings to score her first fifty but it was her majestic hundred against the all-conquering Australians in January 2016 in their own backyard that brought the limelight on her. So impressed were some of the Australian players and the coaching staff they immediately contacted her to participate in the Women’s Big Bash League.
Like all the fine left-hand batswomen in the history of cricket, Mandhana has that class at the crease. She stands upright and pierces the tight off-side fielders with beautiful timing. In modern era, especially in men’s cricket, the game has lost its art of grace and transformed into power sport. But if there is one batswoman in the game that turns back the clock it is Mandhana.
Her backfoot game is phenomenal and technically perfect. To balls that are short of good length, her left foot moves across the stump, she rises on her toes and sends the ball racing through the off-side with lovely timing. It was this shot that gave her the brisk start in both of her innings thus far. It is generally a sign that Mandhana is in great touch.
The other shot that comes naturally to the gift left-handed batswoman is the pull. As many as eight boundaries across both innings have come by the virtue of the pull shot. It is a sign that Mandhana picks up the length early and the way she swivels on the front foot to transfer her weight is exactly as per the MCC coaching manual.
After just two World Cup matches she has caught the attention of the cricketing fraternity but her stunning strokeplay might not have been on display at all had it not been for her hardwork in the gymnasium at the National Cricket Academy over the past six months.
One of the first people she credited after her knock against England was NCA physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar. After all, when Mandhana tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia playing for Brisbane Heat, she was trying to return to cricket in time to pad up for the World Cup.
ACL injuries generally require nine to 12-month rehabilitation but the fact that Mandhana was able to play cricket in just five months’ time showcased her dedication off the field as well. For close to four months she could not bat. Her routine was walking, strengthening her knee by a few star jumps before lifting some light weights by the end of April.
It has only been in the last month that she has been able to strap her pads and has started discovering her touch with the willow.
One could sense her frustration as she veered over the balcony at the NCA and watched the likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul hit ball after ball in the nets ahead of the Australia Test match in Bangalore.
But despite her tender age, she knew the initial hardwork was all in the gym and her pure dedication, along with her professionalism, ensured she would make the flight to England for the World Cup.
Like all the great batswoman, the touch was always there but all she required was match fitness. But such is Mandhana’s ability that there was no way India were going to leave her out, even if she was at 80%.
In Derby, it look her just a few balls to regain her touch and timing. Her counter-attack against the two prime fast bowlers in women’s cricket — Katherine Brunt and Anna Schrubsole — was a delight to watch.
She was slightly unlucky not to reach a three-digit score in the first match but like all good batswoman, she did not repeat her mistake and guided India home with an unbeaten knock of 106 off 108 balls.
The women’s game in India still trails a long way behind the likes of Australia, England and New Zealand. But slowly that is changing, thanks to girls like Mandhana. Perhaps a decade or two from now, just like Vijay Hazare, her fellow cricketer from Sangli, Mandhana will be known as the girl that pioneered batting for many small town girls all over India.