CWC 2022: Smriti Mandhana - India’s taliswoman at the top

Having started the World Cup well, the team management will hope the opener can maintain her form through the tournament

Published: 10th March 2022 10:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th March 2022 10:36 AM   |  A+A-

Smriti Mandhana

Indian batter Smriti Mandhana (Photo | BCCI)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: When ICC sent out a press release during the World Cup warm-up match between India and South Africa about Smriti Mandhana getting hit on the helmet, referring to the southpaw as a 'veteran' Indian batter, it raised some eyebrows. Mandhana made her debut in 2013 and in the eight years since she has played a vital role in almost every high point of Indian cricket.

Whether it's the 2014 Wormsley Test or the 2017 ODI World Cup, where she scored well in the first half of the tournament, or the century in pink-ball Test last year or being the only Indian to win the ICC Women's Cricketer of the Year twice — 2018 and 2021 — the opener's role in India's success is undeniable. Such has been her contribution that the fact that she is just 25 often goes unnoticed.

In the 2017 World Cup, Mandhana started the tournament with scores of 90 and 106 n.o before going through a string of low scores and yet was among the three Indian batters to have struck over 90 strike rate.

Looking back at the southpaw’s technique, the then head coach Tushar Arothe said that the change in her stance has helped her a lot. “When she went for the World Cup, her stance was closed, her shoulder was facing towards the off-side. I used to tell her to open a little bit. By the time the World Cup ended, we started working on it and the moment she did it, Smriti Mandhana had changed. It was all her hard work. Small changes make a lot of difference,” he said.

In the 2017 World Cup, Mandhana started the tournament with scores of 90 and 106 n.o before going through a string of low scores. Yet, she was among the three Indian batters to have struck at over 90 strike rate. From there, till the beginning of 2021, she was India's best batter by a distance, averaging 64.23 while striking at 92.07. And in the matches that India won during this period, she averaged 100.12. Basically, when Mandhana scores big, India wins.

Recalling the southpaw's early days in the team, Trupti Bhattacharya, who was the team manager during the 2017 World Cup, said that Mandhana was a welcoming change that was needed at a time when cricket was being played a bit conservatively.

"Smriti is a person who can unnerve the bowlers," Trupti told this daily. "She is one person who is absolutely bold, doesn't let the bowlers dominate. And she plays with such ease that for a long time we haven't seen one of those who could come in and change the scoreboard just like that. It was a very welcoming change to see that in the team," she added.

It's not just that Mandhana stands out in the Indian team, even on the world stage, she is among the top openers. Since her debut, only Lizelle Lee, Suzie Bates, Tammy Beaumont and Laura Wolvaardt have scored more runs than her at the top and the difference between the five is less than 500 runs. She is the second-quickest among the five after Lee. And she has registered the most 50-plus scores, 25, as an opener since her debut in ODIs. Essentially, the 25-year-old scores over 50 almost every 2.6 innings.

However, since the start of 2021, her average has gone down to 37.53 in 14 innings. And, India have won just five of the 17 ODIs they have played in this period. That India have tried four batters to partner Mandhana and also when she missed the matches did not help their cause.

Shafali Verma, the first-choice partner. for example, averages 21.66 and has come under scrutiny in the last few games. Which is why, when skipper Mithali Raj often reiterated the significance of the top-order scoring runs, she wasn’t far off the point.

Having joined the team late in New Zealand, the southpaw scored a fifty in the fifth ODI (71) and continued her good form in the World Cup with scores of 12 n.o, 66 in the warm-ups and 52 in the opening game against Pakistan. And unlike the 2017 edition, the team management would want her to score consistently throughout the tournament.

Because, as the numbers show, when Mandhana scores, India wins.



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