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.
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