Smriti Mandhana is a right-hander, naturally. But because she grew up watching and imitating her elder brother Shravan bat left-handed, who had also grown up watching their father bat left-handed, she didn’t actually know there was an option to bat the other way. Left-handed batting is all she knew.

And it gave the cricketing world one of the classiest modern day batters, who adds to the somewhat widespread prevalent notion that left-handers make everything look just... a bit better.

The Indian opener is a joy to watch in full flight, and has added bucketloads of runs to the oodles of talent that she has. Having made her debut as a 16-year-old, incidentally under Harmanpreet Kaur’s captaincy in both ODI and T20I formats, she is now her deputy for India across white-ball cricket.

The only Indian to win the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year award twice, Mandhana has been an integral part of the side for so long, it is easy to forget she only recently turned 26. She does sport a sheepish smile every time she refers to herself as a veteran, being surrounded by young guns like Shafali Verma. But it is hard to deny the fact that Mandhana is now a well-established senior cricketer in the Indian squad and is a big part of not just the batting lineup, but the leadership side of things as well.

And as one of the star names at the upcoming Commonwealth Games, she has the chance to be a part of something unique and special for Indian cricket.

In a conversation with, facilitated by Nike India, Mandhana spoke about about the shots in her repertoire, the excitement of being a part of Birmingham 2022, her evolution off the field and more.

Here are excerpts:

When people think of Smriti Mandhana, they think off-side. It is one of the signature aspects of your batting. Was it always the case, did you start off as a primarily off-side player?

Am I? (laughs) Thoda bohot khel leti hu leg side pe bhi (I am OK on the leg side too). But yeah I think as a kid, I always loved cover drives. I don’t remember if that (playing off-side) was the case particularly but I was so fond of cover drives that I ended up playing cover drives the whole day and my coach then used to shout to attempt other shots so maybe, that has had a little impact but thoda bohot toh aisa leg side pe khel hi leti hu.

Did you particularly enjoyed the cover drive because it came off well or do you remember the feeling that you had when playing the shot, as a young kid starting off?

I think if you ask almost every cricketer about their favourite shot, 80% of them will say it’s the cover drive because I think it’s a different feeling when you pierce those covers and extra covers or the covers and mid-off gap, when you middle the ball and it just flies off your bat. I don’t know, there’s just a different satisfaction to it. Any other kind of shot or a six would not give you the sort of satisfaction that a cover drive will when you pierce it properly.

Indian vice captain for CWG 2022 Smriti Mandhana (Photo: Nike India)

Has it evolved over the years? Are there specific tweaks you’ve had to do to your off-side game in terms of where you concentrate on playing your shots?

Of course, over the years, you do tweak your technique and a little bit of your batting here and there but not anything major, it depends on that particular match and where they’ve placed the field. More than anything, regarding where do I have to actually play or where I actually stand... on the leg-stump or middle stump, I would say it’s pretty much the same.

You keep working on it as many times and it keeps getting better. Say, maybe two years ago, I wouldn’t play as many balls as I have been since then. So as many balls you play and as many practices you have, you get better. That’s it.

In my head, I haven’t really thought that ‘Okay, I have to play this in a certain way or something.’ It’s just a reaction that I have. Of course, I have tried to develop many of my aerial shots but if you ask me about the grounded ones, not really, I haven’t really changed a lot in the last few years.

Are you aware that you are called back-foot ballerina? Is it perhaps a double-edged sort of situation for you... where you get a lot of success but also sometimes get dismissed by that shot?

Well, I have always believed that whatever is your strength, also is your weakness. So, when you end up playing that shot many times, maybe 80% of the time it gives me a lot of runs but people tend to focus on the 20% when I have got out playing that particular shot. No one will say that I have gotten out attempting to play a cover drive that much because even though I might have gotten out as many times also, people wouldn’t really talk much about that because it is a straight-batted shot. When you play a cross-batted shot and get out, it kind of becomes something to talk about.

But for me, I look at it as a scoring option. Of course, I have worked on it over the years on how to place it properly or keep it down which has helped me massively but I just think 80% of the time, you get that shot right and 20% of the time, you get out on your strength. That’s just cricket, you have to take it. It doesn’t mean that I take away the 80% times.

The power-hitting aspect is increasingly prevalent in the game but you continue to clear the boundaries with your timing.

But in my head, I have put all the power in that shot (laughs). So I don’t know what you’re saying... in my head, I have put all the power I can to get that six but I don’t know why people always feel that I just time the ball!

Fair enough. And are there some shots of other players in the game that you really admire and wish you had in your game?

Yeah, there are a lot of shots. I also don’t have all the shots in my book but now, looking at where T20 cricket is reaching, I think watching the English and Aussies play the reverse sweep is pretty good. I feel like want to develop that shot. But yeah, it’s a long process as it’s a predetermined shot. I’m a reactive player when it comes to batting so yeah, it’s a little difficult for me. But it’s one shot I have a liking towards, especially in T20 cricket because it gets a lot of runs for all the players who actually play it. It is also difficult to bowl to people who can play the reverse and straight-bat shots. Maybe a good slog sweep is also something... players like (Sophie) Devine, or a Harman (Harmanpreet Kaur), or Richa (Ghosh) slog sweep sixes... it makes me feel like ‘Wow, that’s crazy!’

If you close your eyes and imagine where the women’s game will be five years from now, what would you see?

Hopefully, with a cabinet that has a T20 and ODI World Cup for India. And a Commonwealth Games medal. I hope if I close my eyes and wish, that would be me thinking of the Indian women’s team after five years.

So, what’s the excitement like for the Commonwealth Games?

Because of the fact that it’s going to be the first time, we really don’t know what to expect because we’ve always travelled as a cricket team and not like an Indian contingent. So yeah, I think it’s just exciting to be part of the first-ever women’s cricket event at the Commonwealth Games and to think we can actually end up making history, to be the first team to do it. I think it’s a pretty exciting time to be involved in women’s cricket. And I’m really, really, looking forward to be part of it.

The Games village is something that the Olympic athletes also speak about a lot... where there are world class athletes from other disciplines. Is that something you’re looking forward to?

Definitely, something that’s on my top priority list because I have watched a lot of vlogs of Olympic athletes at the Games Village. I’ve seen a lot of athletes putting up videos of how the mess and gym looks like. I always thought it’s a cool thing to have different athletes, different sports people being part of the same big tournament.

You’re one of the biggest stars in Indian cricket and you’re now part of the leadership group. There’s a lot expected out of you. What would you say would be on top of your priority list in order to inspire the next generation?

Well, for me, it is to win as many matches as we can for the Indian team and to probably do well in this tournament, so that when people watch us on TV, they want to be like us, they want to be a part of the Indian team. So that is the motivation for all of us. To play a brand of cricket that makes young girls feel like ‘okay, this is what I want to do in my life’. That’s something I personally look forward to.

Let’s talk a little bit about your processes. Are you like a routine focused person? Is that the sort of person you are like away from the spotlight of international cricket? Also, how important is it to be disciplined when you’re not playing?

Abhi kya main khud ki taareef karu? (laughs) The amount of matches we play, so if I am not actually playing, I just like to be away, focusing on my own game. I wouldn’t really put up a lot of things of how I practice on social media because I just like to keep it very limited and focus on what I’m doing at that time. So yeah, in that sense, I really like the time off when I go to Sangli, work on my own batting, work on the things which I have marked in the whole season to work on.

Itni khud ki taareef nahi kar paungi main ke I am disciplined and all that, but I quite enjoy the process of preparing for a tour. I think that’s something I really look forward to. I just love that feeling during the seven-eight days we get before a series at Sangli and prep for that.

You mentioned your time away from social media but we see you featuring on Jemimah’s Instagram often. What is it like beyond training and the tours? Do you guys talk about cricket often or is it about other worldly stuff such as the movies, TV series and music?

I think most of the times in the dressing room also, whenever all of us are together, we don’t speak much about cricket. Like definitely if there’s some time where you feel like lifting up a person and if they’re not in a good touch or, you know, those things we definitely do. But other than that, there won’t be a lot of conversations around cricket, we will just end up watching a movie, just put some songs on the speaker and just enjoy a nice tease together with all of us chilling in a room.

Not a lot of conversation around cricket because we play so much and we are together on the ground for eight hours or ten hours if we are playing a one-day tournament. So after that we don’t really want to talk about it again. But yeah, if there’s someone who’s low, then all of us go up and cheer her up and just say ‘it’s okay’. All those sort of things do happen.

And with these girls like Harleen (Deol), Radha (Yadav) and Jemi, I don’t think there’s a shortage of entertainment. They are always dancing around here and there.

Now being at the front and centre of this current generation of cricketers, are you getting used to the regular media interactions, being the face of brands and so on?

Well, I think I am pretty used to it now. Seeing how this interview has gone, I think you should tell me if I am used to it or not (laughs).

But is that something that you look back at and see the growth in you?

Yeah, I think the last four years apart from cricket also, there’s been a massive growth. I was a pretty shy person and I still I am, but of course in interviews and the way I have to be it’s definitely a work in progress. But yeah, I’m much more at ease now compared to four years ago. I’m pretty used to it and fine about it. Otherwise, earlier, I would have been a little shy even in the interviews.

Heather Knight recently said in an ICC video that the moment you get out of your shell, you’re actually very witty and funny and sort of the leg-puller in the squad. Has playing in tournaments like the Kia Super League, WBBL and The Hundred opened you up as a person as well as a batter?

I actually always had that side to me. Used to be in a very controlled environment with the people who I know. But playing in Big Bash, The Hundred and the KSL has taught me how to actually break the ice. I was very bad at it. Until people didn’t really break the ice with me, I was a little shy. I didn’t know how to start a conversation and the first season of the Big Bash went in that only. I didn’t really speak much. I didn’t know what to speak because I didn’t know how to actually break the ice. But then I understood that I have to learn. Those experiences have actually helped me as a person. I now know how to start a conversation, how to feel comfortable in a different team. It definitely takes few days as it’s not an environment we are used to but yes, it’s a fun thing to experience one or two months in a year.

You also say that you’re a very level headed person in that video, that when you made it to the Indian team, you just called your parents and said ‘yeah, I’m gonna play for India now’. Does that help you say in defeat to not get too bogged down?

Be it good days or bad, I just think about it for a while. I definitely think I’m pretty level headed. Sometimes the human side comes out and in defeat, it could take maybe a day more than any other day to come out of it. Close defeats especially. But otherwise, I think I’m pretty calm about all those things because we are playing cricket and are bound to win and lose. I’m bound to get out on zero, just like I’m bound to get centuries. The best thing is I actually don’t get really excited about a century so there is no chance that I will get really upset about the zero or a low score.

Even when you win awards, your reactions are usually understated. Underplaying your knocks, almost. You never go over the top. Is that something you do consciously?

It’s not conscious. I think I’m just like that as a person. It’s not like this is a different side, I am exactly like that in my head. If I think ‘oh, I’ve done something cool’, I have this fear that it’ll spoil things or something of that sort. I’m always like ‘whatever happened is okay, I’m going to go back and score. Start the inning from zero’. So whatever it is, I enjoy for 10-15 minutes and that’s it. I always have that fear of the next match. You don’t get to start your innings on 100 in the next match, right?

Team India squad for CWG 2022 as originally announced: Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Shafali Verma, S. Meghana, Taniyaa Sapna Bhatia (Wk), Yastika Bhatia (Wk), Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Thakur, Jemimah Rodrigues, Radha Yadav, Harleen Deol, Sneh Rana.

Standby: Simran Dil Bahadur, Richa Ghosh, Poonam Yadav.

India's group stage fixtures at CWG 2022

Date Opponent Venue
29th July Australia Edgbaston
31st July Pakistan Edgbaston
3rd August Barbados Edgbaston

Smriti Mandhana is a Nike athlete.