The RULE BREAKER

CRICKET MIGHT BE CON­SID­ERED A GEN­TLE­MAN’S GAME, BUT THINGS ARE CHANG­ING. CRICK­ETER SM­RITI MAND­HANA ON THE SKILLS THE SPORT TEACHES YOU.

India Today - - INSPIRATIO­N - By Aditi Pai

With ti­tles such as the Best Women’s In­ter­na­tional Crick­eter awarded by the Board of Con­trol for Cricket in In­dia (BCCI) and ac­co­lades by the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil (ICC), Sm­riti Mand­hana, 23, is a force to reckon with. Six years ago, she be­came the first In­dian woman crick­eter to score a dou­ble cen­tury in a one-day game and in Fe­bru­ary this year, she led In­dia’s Women T20I squad for the three match series against Eng­land. The young crick­eter from San­gli, Ma­ha­rash­tra, re­cently bagged an en­dorse­ment as the face of skin and bath brand ITC Vivel.

How did you get into play­ing cricket?

My brother and fa­ther used to play cricket so I would fol­low my brother to the grounds, watch him play and then play with him. That’s how I fell in love with bat­ting. I would wait for my turn and bat. I played gully cricket and would even play in the house with ten­nis balls. At five, I started play­ing with leather balls. We moved to San­gli when I was seven and I would go and play at dif­fer­ent grounds. Fi­nally at nine, I got se­lected in the state team.

When did you get your first big break?

At 14, I scored a cen­tury in the se­nior state team and that’s when I felt I could get into the na­tional team. I got se­ri­ous and started train­ing harder. Ear­lier, I only dreamed of get­ting into the na­tional team, but now I felt I could play for In­dia. So at 17, I was se­lected for the In­dian se­niors’ team and my first match was against Bangladesh. We had just lost the 2013 World Cup and they wanted young play­ers. Eight young­sters were taken and the se­niors were rested. I came in first to bat. Har­man­preet Kaur was the cap­tain so I saw her on one side and Poonam Ya­dav on the other. These were play­ers whose game I had seen. I was very ner­vous. I got out at 17 or 18 runs but that match was spe­cial.

Does a sport­ing ca­reer need a strong sup­port sys­tem?

I was lucky be­cause my par­ents sup­ported me and they wanted me to play for In­dia. Even dur­ing my train­ing, I was lucky. At that time, I was the only girl in San­gli who would prac­tice ev­ery day so ev­ery­one gave me at­ten­tion. The boys used to bowl to me. My fa­ther coached me and I also had a pri­vate coach. For a few years, I had to man­age it with school. I would come back from school at 2 pm and go for prac­tice at 4 pm. But later, it be­came eas­ier. Now when I am in San­gli I train for eight hours ev­ery day.

“WE NEED MORE PAS­SION FOR SPORTS AND WE ARE SLOWLY GET­TING THERE. PAR­ENTS WANT THEIR CHIL­DREN TO PLAY AT LEAST ONE SPORT.”

How im­por­tant is dis­ci­pline for a sportsper­son?

In the last three years there has been a lot of em­pha­sis on fit­ness. The ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween In­dia and other teams is fit­ness and that is some­thing we are work­ing on. In 2017, we felt that we lost the World Cup be­cause of fit­ness lev­els, and we want to work on that.

How has women’s cricket evolved?

Af­ter the 2017 World Cup, peo­ple un­der­stood that there is a women’s team. They ap­pre­ci­ate us and crit­i­cise us and that is good be­cause when you know you are ac­count­able, you go and prac­tice harder.

Are women crick­eters get­ting more en­dorse­ments?

In the last three years, in­ter­est has in­creased and women crick­eters have got en­dorse­ments. I was cho­sen as the face of ITC Vivel and I took it up be­cause the tagline—ab samjhauta nahi— re­ally ap­pealed to me. It re­lates to ath­letes and sportsper­sons. When you play at an in­ter­na­tional level and want to keep your per­for­mance con­sis­tent you can­not com­pro­mise on any­thing.

What are the skills that sports teaches you?

You un­der­stand your­self bet­ter. In a team sport when you are around say 15 play­ers, you get to know your­self. At 10 or 11, I knew what I wanted from my life. There are highs and lows and they make you a sta­ble per­son.

What were some of the chal­lenges you faced?

I was in­jured be­fore the 2017 World Cup while play­ing in Aus­tralia. All phys­io­ther­a­pists felt I wouldn’t be fit to play so it was a dif­fi­cult phase. Those five months were tough but they taught me a lot and made me a bet­ter player. I had to train hard for those few months to get back.

What ad­vice would you give to as­pir­ing sportsper­sons?

En­joy the hard work and if you do it whole­heart­edly it will hap­pen. Be pas­sion­ate about the sport you play. There is no par­tic­u­lar age at which you should start, but if you start young, it is eas­ier to pick up a sport.

SMART PLAYER Sm­riti Mand­hana knows how to stay fo­cussed on the game

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