THE WOMAN IN BLUE

Cricket in In­dia is no more a man’s do­main. Sm­riti Mand­hana’s achieve­ments are tes­ti­mony to that fact. So­ci­ety catches up with this new star crick­eter on the block, who is also the Vice-Cap­tain of the In­dian Women’s Cricket team

Society - - CONTENTS - By All­win D’souza

Vice-Cap­tain of the In­dian Women’s Cricket team, Sm­riti Mand­hana, is as good with chat­ting as bat­ting. Don’t be­lieve us? Read on

At the age of two, Sm­riti Mand­hana’s family moved from Mumbai to Mad­hav­na­gar in San­gli, Ma­ha­rash­tra. She com­pleted her school­ing in San­gli and started play­ing cricket at the age of four. Till then, she was a silent ob­server of the cricket matches that her fa­ther and brother played reg­u­larly. Her brother Shra­van played cricket at the dis­trict-level for San­gli. She was in­spired by watch­ing him play for the Un­der-16 tour­na­ments for the State of Ma­ha­rash­tra. She used to imi­tate his shots. The 21-year-old is now the Vice-Cap­tain of the In­dian Women’s Cricket team. The Board of Con­trol for Cricket in In­dia (BCCI) named her the Best Women’s In­ter­na­tional Crick­eter in 2018. Sm­riti has be­come an inspiration to many young­sters. Al­though while grow­ing up her inspiration was her brother, it is Vi­rat Kohli now, and Meg Lan­ning—the cap­tain of the Aus­tralian Women’s Na­tional Cricket team. For her, it has not been easy nor that dif­fi­cult to pur­sue the sport since her family had a crick­et­ing back­ground. “That way I am very lucky to have my mom dad by my side, they sup­ported me through­out,” she says proudly. Her par­ents were not even sur­prised when she told them about her will­ing­ness to take up cricket, leave alone stop­ping her from play­ing. In fact, it was her par­ents dream to see her play for In­dia. Her fa­ther Shrini­vas—a chem­i­cal dis­trib­u­tor—takes care of her match sched­ules and pro­grammes. Her mother Smita takes care of her cloth­ing, diet and other or­gan­i­sa­tional as­pects. While her brother still bowls to her in the nets. At the age of nine, Sm­riti was se­lected to play for Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Un­der-15 team. And at the age of 11, she was se­lected for the Un­der-19 team. Her first break­through was in Oc­to­ber 2013 at the Alem­bic Cricket Ground in Vado­dara, where she played for Ma­ha­rash­tra and be­came the first In­dian woman to achieve a dou­ble cen­tury in a one-day game. She scored an un­beaten

224 off 150 balls against Gujarat in the West Zone Un­der-19 tour­na­ment. In the year 2016, for the Women’s Chal­lenger Tro­phy, she man­aged to score three half cen­turies for In­dia Red in the se­ries. She made an un­beaten 62 off 82 balls against In­dia Blue in the fi­nal. She was the top scorer in the en­tire tour­na­ment. The same year, Sm­riti also signed up a one-year deal with Bris­bane Heat (BBL), for the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL). Mand­hana and Har­man­preet Kaur be­came the first two In­di­ans to have been signed up for the league. Play­ing against Mel­bourne Rene­gades, a team from WBBL in Jan­uary 2017, she fell while field­ing and hurt her knee. This was af­ter she bowled the fi­nal ball. Af­ter hav­ing scored 89 runs in 12 in­nings, she was ruled out for the rest of the tour­na­ment due to her in­jury. She took five months to re­cover from the an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment rup­ture and dur­ing this pe­riod, she missed the World Cup Qual­i­fier and the

Quad­ran­gu­lar Se­ries in South Africa. She was back for the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup, in which they reached the fi­nals, the team los­ing to Eng­land by nine runs. In March 2018, she scored the fastest fifty for In­dia in a Women’s Twenty20 In­ter­na­tional (WT20I). It took her only 30 balls to make a half cen­tury against Aus­tralia women in the 2017-18 ‘In­dia Women’s Tri-Na­tion Se­ries.’ She was also awarded ‘Player of the Se­ries’ for the three Women‘s One-Day In­ter­na­tional matches that were played against Eng­land. Sm­riti was the only In­dian player to be named in the ICC Women’s Team of the Year 2016. De­spite so many achieve­ments by many women crick­eters like her, men’s cricket still en­joys higher view­er­ship in In­dia. She is op­ti­mistic though and feels that things are slowly chang­ing for the bet­ter. And in any case, they do not want to com­pete with the men’s team. “An equal amount of im­por­tance is re­quired,” she in­sists, adding, “Since the In­dian women’s team played the World Cup, there are people who have started fol­low­ing women’s cricket in the coun­try. The men’s team has won two World Cups, and that has been a huge achieve­ment for them since the 1983 World Cup. It will take time for people to start talk­ing about the women’s team.” Re­cently, Mand­hana has signed up for the Kia Super League in Eng­land and will be play­ing for the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons of the league called the Western Storm. She is the first In­dian to play in this league. Al­though she does feel that women’s cricket is get­ting there with re­spect to re­ceiv­ing its due recog­ni­tion, she also feels cricket is no longer the most loved sport in In­dia. Ac­cord­ing to her, girls and boys to­day want to play foot­ball, table tennis, chess or bad­minton. “Things have changed from the past two to three years due to the In­dian Super League, Pro Kabaddi League...be­com­ing so pop­u­lar. In other sports, sports­men re­ceive medals, which is mo­ti­vat­ing. In­dia has al­ways been a coun­try where when people do well, they will ap­pre­ci­ate them,” she says, adding, “If In­dia would be play­ing at FIFA, there would be people cheer­ing out for the team at the venue. To­day, it is not only about cricket but other sports too, which have to be taken se­ri­ously.” She too en­joys other sports apart from cricket. She loves play­ing foot­ball and was keenly fol­low­ing FIFA 2018. In her pas­time, she loves play­ing on the PlaySta­tion and is a movie freak, who can con­tinue watch­ing films end­lessly if she has noth­ing to do. With re­spect to her team, she has in­deed made a lot of new and best friends. She calls them “family”. When we ask her about who she is clos­est to, she clar­i­fies al­most in­stantly, “Ev­ery­body is my best friend in the team. I would not like to name one or two in­di­vid­u­als as that would be un­fair to the oth­ers. We are all like one big family. All the 15 of us.” There is al­ways a head in a family though, who takes care and mo­ti­vates them all. Cap­tain Mithali Raj is that head of this family. “She is a very good cap­tain. She makes us feel very com­fort­able. She is calm and com­posed. If we make any mis­takes, she tells us in the team meet­ings but on the grounds, she is calm,” Sm­riti praises. For any bats­man or batswoman in this case, there is al­ways that one bowler who is al­ways dif­fi­cult to face. But luck­ily, for Sm­riti, it has not been any­one in spe­cific. Any­one who is in form and is bowl­ing re­ally well is quite dif­fi­cult to face for her. Be­fore a match, Sm­riti takes half-an-hour to pre­pare her­self. She does not think too much as she be­lieves think­ing a lot com­pli­cates things fur­ther. Fi­nally, she has a mes­sage for all the women who would like to take up cricket as their pro­fes­sion. “I think who­ever is pas­sion­ate about cricket and want to take it up, should re­mem­ber that there will be ups and downs. They should be able to han­dle those. Only if they are able to han­dle the ups and downs, they should think about cricket as a pro­fes­sion,” she says mat­ter-of-factly. So for all the women out there who want to pur­sue cricket as a full-time ca­reer, the road to suc­cess is not easy. Sm­riti too has faced dif­fi­cul­ties and fail­ures. Fail­ures are step­ping stones to suc­cess and at the end of the day, it’s all about how you deal with fail­ure.

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