Smriti Mandhana’s World Cup campaign can be divided into two diametrically opposite parts: The first two matches where she scored a whopping 196 runs and the next seven where she managed only a total of 36 runs.
The 21-year-old opener was the one who kick-started India’s spectacular World Cup campaign on a high – with a 72-ball 90 in the first match against eventual champions England. But she got out on a duck in the final against the same team, a failure that haunts her.
“Even if you don’t do well but the team wins, you feel good. But if you don’t do well and the team loses, then you start blaming yourself,” Mandhana told The Field.
The youngster firmly believes in team before individual though, and is very happy with the overall performance. “A different individual standing up and winning matches, we had some different Players of the Match in each game,” the only Indian to have won two such trophies in the tournament said.
But the conversation also makes it clear that, for Mandhana, none of this makes up for the regret of losing the close final. “We were really disappointed because it was a close match. If would have been one-sided, we would have been okay. But it was in our hand till almost 40th over. It was really disappointing especially us youngsters, we all wanted to win this for Mithali di and Jhulu di,” she said.
However, there is a silver lining to it all, the runner up finish and her poor run of form – the fact that the batter could make it to England in the first place. Playing all the matches in the World Cup itself was an achievement for the 21-year-old, given the horrific injury at the start of the year.
Mandhana suffered an ACL injury during the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia and had to undergo surgery and strenuous rehab. She was on crutches for five months and actually returned from injury before the full recovery period, all to be part of the tournament. The team management showed faith in her, despite not having enough match practice, and she responded by jump-starting India’s campaign with two, consecutive match-winning knocks.
“It was very important to prove to myself that I am still the same after the injury. That was something that was haunting me for the last six months. Right from the day I got injured I was worried I won’t make it [to the World Cup] because I came back to cricket in less time that what I was supposed to. I hadn’t played any matches for the last six months and I was worried whether I will be able to bat in the same way I used to,” she said recalling the tough six months.
Once she was back though, and with a couple of practice games under her belt, it was easy to settle into the groove with opening partner Punam Raut who she shares a great rapport and conversations in Marathi with. “The first match against England [the practice match where India lost by 141-runs, she was the one who was pepping me up because I wasn’t batting very well. She was the one who was giving me confidence – just focus, don’t let your nerves take over,” the left-hander said.
Even though Mandhana sustained her injury playing for Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League and had an overall ordinary outing, there were other positive takeaways from her trip Down Under as well, and a lot of them didn’t have to do with cricket.
“More than the cricketing part, I felt it makes you more individual. You stay away from home for 45 days – as Indians we are not used to living alone – you have to do your own work, cook, go to practice, it makes you an individual,” she said.
Cricket wise as well, the experience was rewarding for both her and Harmanpreet Kaur, who played for Sydney Thunder. “It teaches you how to deal with pressure situation and you know what you have to do when you play for your country. This time we knew almost all the Australian players and I could give the inputs to my captain and coach to plan for them. That really helps to know other players weakness and strengths,” she added.
In an earlier conversation, former captain Mamatha Maben has singled Mandhana as someone who has the potential to be a batting heavyweight like Mithali Raj. And when talking cricket with the youngster who turned 21 just a week back, it’s easy to see why.
Talking about the “insane” reception the team received at the airport at 3 am, she says she wants to continue performing well so that the team gets the same reception always – a thought different from what almost everyone had to say about the overwhelming reaction.
Be it cricket or interviews, Smriti Mandhana stands out. And leaving behind her diverging run at World Cup 2017, the southpaw definitely has a long, successful career ahead of her.