IND vs ENG Test: Smriti Mandhana laughs off ‘senior Test player’ tag, hopes to have World Test Championship in women’s cricket

India takes on England in the only Test from December 14-17 at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.

Published : Dec 12, 2023 18:00 IST - 6 MINS READ

Indian vice captain Smriti Mandhana
Indian vice captain Smriti Mandhana | Photo Credit: Ashley Allen

Indian vice captain Smriti Mandhana | Photo Credit: Ashley Allen

India Women last played a Test on home soil in 2014. This was in Mysore against a South African side led by Mignon du Preez. The Mithali Raj led-Indian side opted to bat and needed to do it just once, forcing the Proteas to follow on and eventually bowling them out to seal a memorable win by an innings and 34 runs.

“We tied that match right,” Smriti Mandhana, the current Indian vice captain said, as she tried to remember the details. One of the reporters in the press conference room corrected her. “Please cut this part,” she said sheepishly.

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That was the only detail she got wrong. Her first recollection of the game was watching some incredible batting, but from the bench after falling for eight runs.

The Indian team after beating South Africa in a Test match in Mysore in 2014.
The Indian team after beating South Africa in a Test match in Mysore in 2014.

The Indian team after beating South Africa in a Test match in Mysore in 2014.

“My memory of that game was watching Thirushkamini and Punam Raut play 1.5 days of cricket from the outside. Brilliant innings by both of them (a partnership of 275 for the second wicket) and I think Harmanpreet (Kaur) was bowling a lot more then (she took nine wickets in this game) ,” Mandhana said, two days before India’s one-off Test against England in Navi Mumbai.

“We really enjoyed going out there and playing a Test on home soil. We now play two Tests in 15 days. At least from the time I’ve been part of the team, that’s never happened. So great signs,” the India opener added.

Mandhana is among the few ‘senior’ players in the format having played four Tests, a fact that left her amused. However, she happily notes how much times have changed for the women’s game in the process ahead of the four-day game against England.

“Lot of things have changed for women’s cricket since Mysore in 2014, especially since 2017 (when India finished as runner-up in the ODI World Cup in England). We’ve been able to see that recently with the crowds that came to watch us during the T20Is at the Wankhede Stadium. The support we’re getting has changed and of course things like pay equality also. So women’s cricket is on the rise. More than all that, we’re really excited to wear whites again on home soil and go out there and represent India in whites. That’s a different feeling altogether,” she said.

Test matches in the women’s game are currently an occurrence only between India, England and Australia. The BBC noted that between 2000 and June of 2021, only 30 Women’s Tests were played (men played 942) and 14 of them were Ashes encounters between England and Australia. India recently played two Tests, one each against England (in Bristol), and Australia ( a pink ball Test in Perth). Even the domestic calendar in the cricket-crazy Indian subcontinent doesn’t have space for the red ball variant in the women’s fold.

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“To be fair, the domestic structure was formed based on one-day and T20 because those are the World Cups that are frequent at the international level. I’ve just played four Tests in 10 odd years of international cricket. Maybe we’ll see a new tournament at the domestic level. But the domestic scene will change itself according to what the international demands are,” Mandhana explained.

India heads into the Test after a 1-2 loss in the T20I series against Heather Knight’s girls, in performances that exposed a number of chinks in the Indian batting effort. Mandhana, however , is focussing on the win India secured in the final T20I.

“There are a lot of takeaways. It was a pretty young team. We had a lot of learnings. Lot of notes on how to apply ourselves. They’d won the series but we knew it was important to win the last T20I because we would get some momentum going into the Tests and we managed to do that. That gives the dressing room a lot of confidence. I don’t think we have to stress too much on that. It’s a different format,” she said.

The Indian side received their Test whites on Tuesday and Mandhana wore a big smile on her face as she recalled the excitement of the side.

“We got our whites today and there was a lot of excitement when some of the youngsters got their kits. I hope they channel those emotions in a way that’s productive for the team. That’s the only message the seniors and staff have for the side,” she pointed out.

Heading the Indian support staff is domestic veteran Amol Muzumdar, the new India head coach. Muzumdar was part of eight Ranji Trophy title triumphs in his sixteen seasons with Mumbai and has more than 11,000 First Class runs to his name. Mandhana acknowledged the advantage of having such experience in the tank when dealing with a format the side doesn’t play as often.

The Indian team during the T20I series against England in Mumbai
The Indian team during the T20I series against England in Mumbai

The Indian team during the T20I series against England in Mumbai

“Whoever comes in, youngsters, potential debutants or those playing their second Test or so, it’s just about guiding them a bit. We have a very experienced coach in Amol sir who has played so much Ranji cricket and red ball cricket and a lot of girls have been approaching him to know his mindset during certain periods of play. It’s all about applying ourselves on the wicket,” she added.

The Indian team did have some time to train with the red ball in Bengaluru, where they went up against the India A side in a practice game.

“We had one practice match with the India A team. I had sit that one out due to a physical issue. Four days in Bengaluru. That was a good prep to get the girls into the habit of playing Test match cricket. This was a few days before the Zonals began. So there was a fair switch between white and red ball training. If you mentally prepare yourself, I don’t think it’s a big change because it’s just about applying yourself. There’s no question of changing technique. It’s just about patience more than anything and playing to demand of that phase of play. These two days before the game are going to be crucial for us,” she said.

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In the long-term, Mandhana echoed former India captain Mithali Raj’s call for a World Test Championship in the women’s game.

“I would love to be a part of a World Test Championship. Having watched a lot of men’s Test cricket and men’s WTC, it would be really exciting to be a part of that, but that’s something for the ICC to take a call on,” she said.

India takes on England in the only Test from December 14-17 at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.

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