“They showed us how to play T20 today” said Australian wicket-keeper Alyssa Healy after India successfully chased 140 in the first match against the three-time world champions. India women followed it up with a comfortable 10-wicket win in a rain-reduced match to seal the series 2-0 and to register their first bilateral series win against Australia in their backyard. But few knew that they achieved this feat without any warm up match. The only scheduled match against the Governor General XI was abandoned. They got only two practice sessions, and only three players, Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Harmanpreet Kaur, had played on the Australian soil before. Or even the fact that they hadn’t played any international game since July 2015 when they played New Zealand at home. Which goes on to prove MS Dhoni isn’t the only Indian captain with a midas touch. In a manner befitting the occasion, it was Mithali Raj who hit the winning runs for India. On the non-striker stood Smriti Mandhana, the upcoming star.
“Are parents always more ambitious for their children than they are for themselves?” asks Jeffrey Archer in his book Prisoner of Birth. If not more, Shrinivas Mandhana was equally ambitious for his kids. This former district level cricketer from Sangli had high hopes from his children. He wanted one of his kids to play for India, so that he could realize his dream through them. That didn’t look likely when his son Shravan gave up the game to take up a bank job with a multinational company. But Shrinivas’ daughter, Smriti, came to rescue and made sure her father’s dream didn’t go unfulfilled.
She made her presence felt in 2013 when she made an unbeaten 224 for Maharashtra in an U-19 tournament. But then, you are bound to make big scores playing with a bat Rahul Dravid gifted to your brother, aren’t you? This innings made her an obvious choice for the squad and the playing XI when India women went on to play their first Test against England in England. With as many as eight debutants in the team, India went on to win the match.
Mandhana’s 51 while chasing 183 set the stage for Mithali Raj and Shikha Pandey to finish off the proceedings. Later in the same year, she was awarded the Best Women Cricketer Award by the BCCI. This isn’t something one would ordinarily expect out of a class 12 student. But calling Mandhana ordinary would be inappropriate.
With a smile that can melt icebergs, when this bespectacled beauty takes guard it instills confidence like nothing else would. She has three 50s to her name in the fifteen ODIs she has played since 2013. In T20Is, she has made 189 runs in 12 matches with the highest score of 52. Her quickfire 29 and the 55 run-partnership with Veda Krishnamurthy laid the foundation for the ease with which India women chased down 140 in Adelaide. She followed it up with an unbeaten 22 at the MCG to take her team to a historic series win.
“We attend more camps than matches,” quipped Mithali Raj once. While Cricket Australia organised women’s BBL, BCCI also up to the state of women’s cricket in India. Awarding central contracts to the players, organizing bilateral series are some of the steps being taken in the right direction. Even the WT20 2016 scheduling is drastically different from the 2013 World Cup when all the women’s matches were played in only Mumbai and Odisha. This may not sound like a lot but things have come a long way from where they used to be. For a young player, at the beginning of the career, these small steps help you to stay in the game. And if the world’s richest cricket board loses out on talent because of monetary or other issues, guess whose loss would that be?