India vs South Africa: Memories of partnership for Mandhana and Kaur

Two years after their record partnership against West Indies in the World Cup, the leadership duo joined forces to seal the ODI series
Smriti Mandhanaand and Harmanpreet Kaur put up a massive partnership of 184 runs.
Smriti Mandhanaand and Harmanpreet Kaur put up a massive partnership of 184 runs. (Photo | Vinod Kumar T, EPS)

CHENNAI: "I'm sure the ICC will be giving another trophy, they have enough budget," Smriti Mandhana had remarked gleefully. The reasons for her smile were aplenty. India had just beaten West Indies in the 2022 Women's ODI World Cup to keep themselves alive in the race for the semifinals, Mandhana had smashed her second-highest score in the format at that time and put up a massive partnership of 184 with then vice-captain, Harmanpreet Kaur. The second trophy Mandhana asked was for Kaur who went on to score 109 in the match.

Much water has flown under the bridge since the tournament where India fell agonisingly short of qualifying for the semifinals. While Kaur smashed an unbeaten ton against England a year later to seal the historic away win starting her full-time captaincy role with a bang, Mandhana had to wait a bit more to raise her bat in the format.

As an opener, the left-hander successfully gave her side strong starts scoring 50-plus scores on as many as five occasions since that century in Hamilton. Coming to this series against South Africa in Bengaluru, the idea was clear — stay at the crease as long as possible and avoid playing risky shots. The plan worked in the first ODI on Sunday and Mandhana raised the bat for the first time since March 2022.

For Kaur, the road from 143 against England to 103 against South Africa was way harder. While Mandhana was rock solid at the top of the order, Kaur was shaky in the middle order. Since the century against England, Kaur managed to score in double digits only thrice. One half-century did come against Bangladesh in 2023, but India's middle order needed their captain to fire consistently.

Then came the series against Australia at the start of the year. That is when it felt like Kaur had hit rock bottom. 9, 5 and 3 were her scores in the three-match competition, which India lost 0-3 to the world champions. Even in the series opener against South Africa, Kaur started well with a boundary before giving an easy catch to her counterpart at extra cover.

"From the outset, I feel when her back is towards the wall, that's when she gives her best and that's something which I've seen, Her work ethics are really up there (to see) for the whole team. She keeps going even if she does not get the results. That's something that really gets her going," Mandhana had said about Kaur back in 2022. With her back towards the wall and questions being raised on her place in the team, Kaur came out all guns blazing dealing a hefty blow to South Africa's young bowling unit at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Wednesday.

India's captain walked in when Dayalan Hemalatha, batting at three, had already given her side the required momentum and Mandhana was closing in on her half-century. The stage was set for Kaur as she could go about her innings the way she prefers — take some time to assess the conditions, punish the bad balls if offered otherwise hang on there before exploding in the end. With Mandhana going after pacers and taking on former South African captain Sune Luus, who was bowling in the format after a hiatus of two years, Kaur got enough time to settle down.

What followed was a replica of their partnership against West Indies. Mandhana completed her century — seventh in the format for her. The duo added 100 runs in no time and by the time the left-hander got out, India were cruising at 271 for three with four overs in hand. Even with swashbuckling hitting from Richa Ghosh, Kaur managed to hit a ton and India posted their third highest total in ODIs.

In reply, skipper Laura Wolvaardt (135 not out) and Marizanne Kapp (114) took the visitors close but India held their nerves to win the contest and series 2-0 with the last match scheduled on Sunday.

Brief scores: India 325/3 in 50 ovs (Mandhana 136, Kaur 103 n.o) bt South Africa 321/6 in 50 ovs (Wolvaardt 135 n.o, Kapp 114; Vastrakar 2/54, Deepti 2/56).

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