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
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.