In Sangli, the river Krishna flows like strokes of her bat — rippling, gently and elegantly; the iconic Irwin Bridge mirrors her stable stance; and her timing is as sweet as the sugar produced in that region.
Smriti Mandhana, who hails from this western Maharashtra town, is a vital cog in the wheel that is the Indian women’s cricket team. Her journey reinforced the belief that one need not necessarily be from the metro cities to make it big in cricket.
While batting up the order, Smriti has set and bettered records, many resulting in India’s win. She has evolved not just as one of the most stylish batters but as an outstanding fielder too. One can spot her at different field positions — inside and outside the inner circle. Here are a couple of her athletic efforts: one is from the World Cup, that quick direct-hit from point to the far end to dismiss Stafanie Taylor and the other, the full-length dive upon covering some distance at deep mid-wicket to end Natalie Sciver’s innings, recently. Not to forget her inputs as a deputy to skipper Harmanpreet Kaur. She has evolved as a cricketer too.
If you look at South Africa’s tour of India earlier this year or the just concluded tour of England by India, Smriti after those good looking twenties and thirties, found ways to get out. True, there are those fifties and hundreds in between, but if there is something she needs to implement, it would be to capitalise on her promising starts.
When playing the Big Bash League for Brisbane Heat, Smriti left mid-way for she ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). She had to undergo surgery. The 50-over World Cup was just five months away, her chances of making a comeback looked bleak. But the batswoman made it! She came back in style to win two consecutive Player of the Match Awards. She began with a solid 90 against hosts England and scored a fine 106 not out against the West Indies. She was a star. A pity that the run dried up for her for the rest of the campaign.
Though India lost the final to England, the tournament served well for the sport in the country. People instantly started following women’s cricket and girls were seen in the local academies emulating their idols.
The players featured in advertisements, attended events, gave interviews and appeared on the billboards. The perception of INDIA meaning only the men’s team was long gone. People were aware where and when the Indian women were playing. Most important, the players became financially stable. Smriti and her family now had their own house.
Little did the parents know that Smriti will do so much by just playing cricket. She wanted to play cricket when she was still a toddler, she wanted to bat like her brother Shravan. To this, her father Shrinivas or mother Smita did not say no. So, the kid began taking small steps. At 9 she attended under-15 selection trials and at 10 she was in an under-19 team for a tournament, away from home for the first time.
Through her formative years, Smriti Mandhana was trained in her hometown by Anant Tambvekar, a professional player himself. She would practice on matting wickets. But when the need for a cement wicket arose, she put almost all her earnings to develop one. The new facility enhanced her batting skills.
The countless hours of toil paid off. When the southpaw was just 17, in April 2013, she received a call to represent India in shorter formats against the touring Bangladesh. It was a decent start. However, she burst onto the scene in October that year with three centuries along with a 224* (150) in a domestic match. With that knock, she became the first Indian woman to achieve that mark in a one-day match. It is worth mentioning the bat with which she played was a gift from Rahul Dravid.
Smriti Mandhana’s half-century in the second innings of her debut Test match helped India defeat England at Wormsley. She was amongst runs in the domestic circuit as well. Her consistent knocks saw her side collect the 2016 Challenger Trophy.
Because of her performances, the left-hander added more feathers to her already decorated cap like the: the Arjuna Award, BCCI’s Best Women’s International Cricketer Award, the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Award for best player of the year, as well as the ODI Player of the Year in 2018.
In recent times, India’s opening jugalbandi of Smriti and Shafali Verma — across formats — has been entertaining. If the latter bats with an adventurous streak, the former prefers taking calculated risks. The duo has tried their best to keep India’s batting worries at bay.
Smriti today owns a cafe and runs a cricket academy in Sangli. Wait. Here’s something for you: she turns 25 today! Aren’t you wondering how she achieved so much in so little time?
Keep smiling and shining. Wishing you a happy birthday, Smriti Mandhana.