Monday was probably a mixed day for Smriti Mandhana. On one hand, she would have been delighted with the news of her return to the Indian team, having recovered from an ACL tear she sustained in January. On the other hand, she might have been a little apprehensive watching her replacements break batting records one after the other.
Michael Atherton recently wrote an insightful article that started with the lines, “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” Perhaps the quote by American writer Gore Vidal resonates within Mandhana. Or perhaps the joy of being back in the national team again is enough to overshadow any envy. In either case, it is a happy situation for the Indian women’s team to be in.
A happy situation
Against Ireland in Potchefstroom, India’s opening batters took potshots at records as they batted their hearts out. Punam Raut and Deepti Sharma both scored centuries as India piled up a huge 358 for two, and then bowled out Ireland in 40 overs to claim victory by 249 runs. Raut and Deepti both scored their maiden One-Day International hundreds, Raut 109 striking at over 90, and Sharma a mammoth 188 off just 160 balls.
Deepti, only 19, became the second highest scorer in women’s ODI history. Her 188 is second only to former Australian captain Belinda Clark’s unbeaten effort of 229. It also made her the third youngest Indian to score an ODI century.
Raut, who already has a Test century to her name, could not have timed the knock better. She brought up her first ODI hundred on the same day that the team for the upcoming ICC Women’s World Cup team was to be announced. Raut made a comeback into the Indian team after more than a year for this tournament, and the century will certainly have helped her case to make it on the plane to England.
The bigger picture is promising
The pair was separated only after they crossed the 300-run mark, making them the first pair to score a 300-run partnership in women’s ODI cricket, and only the fourth if you include men’s records. Deepti also had 27 fours in her innings, another record in women’s ODIs. Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Shikha Pandey then took seven wickets between them, to give India their biggest ever win in terms of runs.
But more than the runs they have scored, it is the bigger picture that is promising. Along with Deepti, Mona Meshram, who made a comeback to the Indian team in the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier, also impressed in that tournament, scoring two fifties, both against South Africa. Raut herself came into the Indian team on the back of strong domestic performance. And now there is Mandhana who is set to return to the World Cup. India will be going into the World Cup with four openers, and will present some healthy selection headaches for the management, not to mention a competitive environment within the team.
For a batting unit that has traditionally been dependent of the one or two players in the past, it is a welcome sight to see these less experienced batters take on the responsibility. Indian batting has for long been overly reliant on ODI skipper Mithali Raj, and recently Twenty20 skipper Harmanpreet Kaur. To see so many records tumbling, without either of them even coming to the crease, is not a sight fans are used to, but won’t complain about one bit.
Infusion of young talent
Add to that, Raut and Deepti are also excellent fielders. Raut, now 27, was one of the better ground fielders in the country for some time now, and Deepti is an excellent option in the slips. So the infusion of young talent, some new and some old, has not only made India a more rounded batting side, but also a better fielding one.
Granted, the opposition is not exactly elite level. Ireland sit last (No 10) on the ODI rankings chart. Raut alone scored as many runs as the entire Ireland team could muster. But this record, and the runs that come with it, are valuable confidence boosters going into the most important tournament on the calendar. It is also irreplaceable experience gained. For the likes of Raut and Meshram, who are making a comeback, there is no substitute to time in the middle. Though, come the World Cup, they will not find the going so easy; Australian and English bowling attacks are not likely to be as accommodating as the Irish.
The Indian team is currently on a 16-match ODI winning streak, the second longest in the history of the game, just one shy of Australia’s record of 17. Many of those wins have come from collective team performances, especially in the batting department, where more than one player has made a significant contribution. It is a healthy shift from the individual centric scoring pattern of years past, and augurs well, going into the World Cup.
Mandhana can no longer walk into this team on the basis of her past exploits, no matter how precocious. She will have to bat her way in, and the healthy competition is good news for team India.