Sangli’s gift to women’s cricket

“Individually, this performance in the World Cup will motivate each of us to do well. That people have supported us so much is a great boost for all of us. It will definitely inspire all the players to do even better in the future,” says Smriti Mandhana.

Smriti Mandhana celebrates her century against the West Indies during the recent World Cup at Taunton. A cool customer, Smriti has got her priorities right.   -  GETTY IMAGES

There is a thing about Smriti Mandhana. The young batswoman, who made a 90 and an unbeaten century in the recent Women’s World Cup, is smart, intelligent and at the same time down to earth. Her team-mates have never seen Mandhana losing her cool. Rather, she is someone, who loves keeping things simple.

Ask her and the 21-year-old, who hails from Sangli — a small town in Maharashtra — agrees that it has been her strategy all this while. Speaking to Sportstar from her home, Mandhana initially sounded a bit hesitant, but then spoke at length on issues that have mostly remained unsaid.

Excerpts:

Question: After the World Cup, as you settle down, what are your thoughts about the future?

Answer: Individually, this performance in the World Cup will motivate each of us to do well. That people have supported us so much is a great boost for all of us. It will definitely inspire all the players to do even better in the future. Personally, the focus now is to get back into the groove, concentrate on the game and try and not make mistakes like we did in the World Cup.

Now, as you look back, what are the mistakes you would have liked to avoid in the World Cup?

My shot selection wasn’t good. That is one area I need to work on during the off-season. I will once again watch those footages and try to improve on my selection of shots. Those things are still fresh in the mind, so I will also speak to my coach and discuss on how to improve the shot selection. I will try and play more local matches during the off-season. This is required so that I am ready for the next challenge, and that I don’t repeat the same errors.

You and Harmanpreet Kaur have emerged as the future stars of the Indian team. Now, when Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami bow out, the team is expected to go through a transition phase. In that scenario, how do you see yourself stepping up to the next level?

This tournament (World Cup) was a learning experience for a junior like me. I think both Jhulan di and Mithali di will continue playing for the Indian team for another couple of years, and we would be able to learn more and more things from them. I can’t really say more about this.

What has Smriti Mandhana, the batswoman, learnt from Mithali or Jhulan?

I have learnt work ethics from Jhulan di. Her work ethics are brilliant, and that is something I have always admired. The way she prepares for a match is outstanding. As a young player, that is one thing I have learnt.

It is quite similar with Mithali di too. Her work ethics have also been outstanding. Even after so many years, they are so sincere at their jobs! Mithali di is cool and calm under pressure — that is one thing I like about her. I am also looking forward to picking up those things in my cricketing career.

After the final at Lord’s, Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar had personally met you. That picture has gone viral on social media. Would you agree that now life has changed for you?

After the match, we were really sad, and they had called us downstairs for an interview. That’s when we bumped into Akshay Kumar. I went with a sad face, and he was telling me that this is a part of the game. He even told me that out of his 150 films, 50 films had flopped — so such things happen in life. He said, “You people have started a revolution and should be proud of yourselves.” He was trying to pep us up.

The crowd support, too, has gone up. All of you have become household names now. Do you think the challenge to sustain all this in the long run actually begins now?

Being in the team for more than two years, I feel the day you begin playing for your country, the challenge begins. Of course, with more attention now, people will want us to do well. But then, it is good to see so many people supporting us. That will definitely take women’s cricket forward. It will motivate us to work hard on the game. This is a good thing and I don’t see it as a burden or challenge.

Smriti wants to emulate the sterling work ethic of skipper Mithali Raj and pacer Jhulan Goswami.   -  PTI

 

Your participation in the World Cup was nothing less than a miracle. After sustaining a career threatening injury during the Women’s Big Bash League, the world came crashing down. But even then, you made it to the side. What kept you going at a time when you were not mentally high?

(Laughs) The World Cup!

The World Cup got me going. Had it not been for the coveted World Cup, I would have perhaps taken another few months to recover. But the zeal to don the India colours in a World Cup was enough motivation. I was planning for this tournament for the last two years, so when the injury happened, it was a big setback. I was 80 per cent out of the tournament. But the support staff at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) really motivated me, and kept my morale high. They kept on saying that I can make it to the World Cup.

All the team-mates, especially Harmanpreet and Jhulan di, were always there to boost my confidence. They were also there at the NCA, and they kept giving me hope that I could make it to the World Cup. That actually helped a lot. Waking up everyday and thinking that there is a World Cup in the next four months is itself a motivation. There can’t be anything else.

As the dust settles, do you think that it is time for the Indian team to get more international fixtures?

With the ICC Championship points coming in, it is far better than what it used to be earlier. When I started my career, we played three international series after a break of three months. But that’s no longer the situation. We have been playing regularly, and now, the way we are performing, I am sure, the BCCI will look for us to play more matches. This will improve further.

This World Cup has changed women’s cricket as a whole. The situation has changed all across the globe. I am sure, things will only get better from here and more matches will be shown on television.

Hailing from a small town in Maharashtra, the journey has been tough. Heard you returned to a hero’s welcome?

(Laughs loudly) I was not keeping well for the last few days. I had fever and bouts of headache, so I had told my parents not to tell anyone that I was back in Sangli. But everyone from the colony, where I stay, got the news of my arrival, and they gave me a grand welcome. To be honest, it felt good.

Now, how do you plan to get back into the groove?

I wanted to take a 15-day break after the World Cup, but I am already bored in three days. So I don’t think I will be able to take a really long break, and will hit the ground. The physios have asked me to take a seven-day break for my knee. I will follow that and will again start with my gym, rehab, and also resume my training sessions. With heavy rain in this part of the country, I will anyway not be able to play much, so I will rather focus on my fitness for a month or so and then take it forward. That’s the plan.

Many of your team-mates believe that your batting style is quite similar to that of Sourav Ganguly. We are not comparing. But is there anyone you look up to?

Whenever I feel that I am not batting the way I should, I watch videos of Kumar Sangakkara. I like his batting style. I also admire Ganguly, but it is Sangakkara that I relate to (laughs). I haven’t really watched Ganguly bat a lot in my young days, whereas Sangakkara has been an inspiration. I used to try and play a cover drive like Sangakkara in the later part of my career. Earlier, I used to copy my brother’s batting style.

But watching Sangakkara’s batting videos gave me a fair bit of idea on how I should improve.

Have you ever talked to him?

No. I have never met him, though I really want to. Trust me, the day I meet him, I will only talk to him about batting.

Being a part of the Women’s Big Bash League, do you think that it has actually helped Indian cricketers?

It definitely helps you gain enough experience about how to play the best of international bowlers. You get an idea about how one bats or bowls. You actually get into that match situation a lot more. It gives you the confidence while playing international cricket. Also, staying alone in Australia makes you confident and more individual. Staying away from home, away from regular team-mates, also makes you tougher. These things certainly help you do better.