In a historic moment for women’s cricket in India, Indian batswoman Smriti Mandhana became the only Indian cricketer to be named in the first ever ICC Women’s Team of the Year 2016. The 12-member team will be led by Stafanie Taylor, who led the West Indies to their maiden ICC Women’s World Twenty20 title in India earlier this year. The women’s team of the year has been added to the list of awards to acknowledge and appreciate the outstanding performances of women cricketers over a 12-month period.
The second Indian after Harmanpreet Kaur to represent India in Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League, 20-year-old Smriti Mandhana turned heads during her Australian tour, where she scored 157 runs in the three One-Day Internationals, including a maiden century. She also played a crucial role in India’s historic T20 series against the Aussies.
Here is the story of Smriti Mandhana’s prodigious journey in the world of women’s cricket.
Currently a key batswoman in the Indian women’s cricket team, Smriti Mandhana was just nine when she was picked for Maharashtra’s Under-15 team. Her elder brother Shravan, an aspiring cricketer, used to play for Maharashtra Under-16s and had made a name for himself on the domestic cricket scene. He made it as far as Maharashtra Under-19s before the pursuit of academic excellence resulted in a promising career coming to a halt. He is now employed with a private bank as a branch manager.
Whenever Shravan used to play at any tournament, little Mandhana used to tag along with her father to watch him play. Back then, Shravan’s prolific form used to ensure that his name was printed regularly in the local papers. Mandhana used to carefully cut and collect those clippings. It was her dream to score runs like her beloved elder brother and see her name printed in the papers for excelling at the sport.
Her father, a chemical distributor at a textile company, never said no to Mandhana’s aspirations and used help her practice, whenever her brother went for a net session. Having seen his young daughter face older bowlers with a confidence that belied her age, he was convinced that Mandhana had a future in the sport. Realising that he had little time to personally channelise her talent in the right direction, he put Mandhana under the watchful eyes of Anant Tambwekar, a junior state coach.
Growing up in Sangli, a small town in Maharashtra, Mandhana used to train in the morning before going to school, and then return to practice at the nets in the evening. At 11, Mandhana was fast-tracked into the Maharashtra Under-19s side, but an opportunity in the playing XI did not come about for the first two years.
It was at the age of 15 that Mandhana had to take a big decision. Class 10 board exams were over and she had to take a call about pursuing cricket as a career. While she was serious about cricket, she also wanted to take up science. It was Mandhana’s mother who dissuaded her because she knew that it would be tough to balance both studies and cricket.
Her mother’s decision, which Mandhana is thankful for now, stood vindicated when Mandhana scored three centuries and a double-century – an unbeaten 224 against Gujarat Under-19s in Vadodara – in the Inter State Under-19s one-day competition. She followed that up with exemplary scores in other Under-19 limited-overs tournaments, paving the way for her inclusion in the Challenger Trophy. Against the country’s best bowling crop, Mandhana did not just manage to hold her own, she stood out by topping the run-charts.
At 15, Mandhana’s histrionics on the field had brought her into the reckoning for the national team. However, she knew she would have to do something to match her peers who were training on turf wickets at big grounds with better training facilities. So, Mandhana used all her savings to build a concrete pitch to facilitate her batting sessions during the monsoon season.
All her efforts paid off when Mandhana got her first India call-up for short limited-overs series against Bangladesh in 2013. However, it was in 2014 when she truly left her mark on international women’s cricket. She first skipped her class 12 board exams for World T20 cup, missing an entire academic year, and then had to forego admissions into the college course she wanted to enroll for a tour of England.
A spunky 16-year-old, Mandhana caught the attention of the cricketing community when she scored a half-century in her Test debut to help her side win against England, India’s first win in eight years. The special win ensured that both Mandhana and the Indian women’s cricket team got more international matches to play.
A first-year Bachelor of Commerce student at Chintaman Rao College of Commerce in Sangli, Mandhana spends a lot of her off-field time doing visualisation exercises and meditation, but does not waste much energy in thinking about the game. Focused and serious on the field, she is quite the prankster off it and loves listening to Arijit Singh songs, reading books and binge eating on street food. A bat, autographed by Rahul Dravid for her older brother Shravan, is her prized possession and can be always be found in her kit though she doesn’t use it (it’s too big for her to use!).
When Mandhana started playing, she wanted to dominate with the bat like her idol Matthew Hayden did, but remodeled herself around Kumar Sangakkara’s style once her coaches told her timing, and not brute force, was her forte. Still, she was delighted when her exploits in Australia made Hayden praise her batting style. The hardworking cricketer is now looking forward to fulfilling her next dream: winning a World Cup for India.
At an age where her compatriots are just starting to contemplate a career, 20-year-old Mandhana has already established herself as a pivot around which the Indian batting revolves. A mature batswoman, she can tame the best of bowling attacks. With the quality and depth of her game growing with time, its little wonder that she has become the first and only Indian cricketer in the inaugural ICC Women’s Team of the Year. Here’s wishing her all the best in her journey ahead!
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