Franchise cricket is hard. Ask Smriti Mandhana.
In 2016, when she became one of only two Indians to be signed on for the Women’s Big Bash League, alongside Harmanpreet Kaur, it was a testing experience for the left-hander.
“I did not enjoy it at all. I was an 18-year-old going into a new environment and set-up, with people whom I didn’t know. Staying alone, as an Indian, is very tough to do overseas, especially without your mom, dad or your teammates, whom you actually know. I just wanted to come back home,” Mandhana said in a conversation with WV Raman on Sportstar’s weekly show Wednesdays with WV.
“I stuck it out. I spent a lot of time with my own self. Since then, I understood I have to change myself as a person. I have to be a little more outgoing, a little more approachable with having different bonds with new teammates and not just being in my own shell,” she added.
Watch the full interview here on Sportstar’s exclusive show Wednesdays With WV.
Seven years later, Mandhana is front and centre of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team in the inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League — India’s much-awaited entry into the women’s franchise cricket ecosystem. Here too, it was a rocky beginning — only two wins in eight games alongside a massive slump in form.
With scores of 35, 23, 8, 4, 8, 0, 37 and 24, the weight on Mandhana’s back was evident. The shrugged shoulders, pensive expressions in the dugout and (commendably) honest post-match press conferences were all part of it. RCB, a team of superstar international captains — Ellyse Perry, Sophie Devine, Heather Knight, Dane van Niekerk — tried its best to protect her in cotton wool, support that Mandhana hails in keeping the team together.
“I haven’t seen a team with this kind of a positive environment, especially after losing three, four and five matches. They have a big role to play because their experience came into helping the girls keep going, helping the domestic players keep at it. It’s a privilege to lead all of them,” Mandhana gushed.
Her weakness against off-spin in this tournament sparked a lot of debate and criticism. Of the eight dismissals she suffered in the WPL, only one was by a pacer, thus giving teams a ready-made template to attack her and the RCB top order.
“When you keep getting out to a particular bowler, twice or thrice, it’s human nature to think hard about it. The same thing happened to me eight years ago in the U-19 setup. I had to go back and work a lot on my process. As an international batter, you have to accept that sometimes when you get out twice or thrice to the same bowler, people are going to talk about it. I’ve been playing for almost a decade now and it’s not like I haven’t played spinners before, or I’ve suddenly forgotten how to play an off spinner. But yeah, it’s about trying to eliminate those thoughts and trying to play your natural game. It’s a small little battle within your own self,” Mandhana explained.
At the hardest point of the season, she also found support from a fierce international rival. After RCB’s loss to Delhi Capitals, as pundits and fans sat down to dissect RCB’s performance to the bone, cameras caught DC skipper Meg Lanning hopping across to Mandhana and having a long conversation with some shadow batting involved too.
“I was just standing there waiting for a few of the Delhi girls and she walked up to me and asked me, “Are you fine, Are you okay?” It was very kind of her to do that. She started talking about batting and how cricket can be cruel at times, how cricket is amazing at times, and she’s gone through similar situations. She spoke of balancing captainship and batting. She said a few things about my own batting that she noticed. I think it was just an amazing moment for two cricketers to have that sort of a conversation,” Mandhana remembered.
Her pursuit to remain positive is also inspired by her best friend, Jemimah Rodrigues, who plays for Delhi Capitals.
“I was off social media for a while. I just watched a few clips of her ‘flossing’. I’m happy. She’s doing that because that’s her personality and that’s her as a person. She was definitely going away from it for the last two to three years because of the things which were not going in her favour or what people were speaking about her. I’m very happy that she’s got back to being herself again, expressing what she feels and not trying to be a different person. Regardless of her batting performance, she just wants to just be there and enjoy the moment. For me, I think that is very cool.”
“I think a massive takeaway from the men’s IPL, as with the WPL, is that players get a platform to express themselves, be their own selves and play cricket the way they want. Apart from the glamour and the challenges of it, I think this is a big takeaway for me.”SMRITI MANDHANA THE IMPACT OF WPL ON PLAYERS
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