This is what Smriti Mandhana had to say after receiving the player of the match award for the second time in two matches.

“It feels great but I think our bowlers deserved the player of the match award more than me. I will give it away to our bowlers, they did a great job to restrict New Zealand on a good wicket.” 

During the course of the second one-day international between India and New Zealand, plenty of stakeholders spoke about the pitch. From the coaches, to commentators and the players themselves, all of them felt it was a slow pitch that required patience as a batter to get your runs. Even Indian captain Mithali Raj thought it was a difficult pitch to get your eyes in. And the numbers would back that up for the most part. Only two players in the match scored at more than run-a-ball — New Zealand’s No. 11 Lea Tahuhu took 9 balls for her 12 runs.

The other? Mandhana of course, who made 90 not out off 83 balls.

The fact that she thought it was a good batting wicket where almost no one had the numbers to prove it was as definitive a proof as you could get for the fact that she is in a league of her own right now.

Dream run

And if that’s too small a sample size for you, consider this. Since the start of 2018 in women’s ODIs, Smriti Mandhana has:

  • Scored the most number of runs (864 in 14 innings)
  • Registered the most number of 50-plus scores (10)
  • Scored more sixes (14) and fours (102) than anyone else

When it comes to the 50-over format, Mandhana — 2018’s ICC Cricketer of the year — is head and shoulders above all others.

Most 50-plus scores in ODIs since Jan 2018

Player Inns Runs / Average 50-plus scores (100s/50s)
Smriti Mandhana 14 864 / 78.54 10 (2/8)
Sophie Devine 9 568 / 81.14 5 (3/2)
Lizelle Lee 14 565 / 47.08 5 (1/4)
Tammy Beaumont 9 452 / 56.5 4 (2/2)
Mithali Raj 12 423 / 52.87 4 (1/3)

In this series, Mandhana made short work of a run-chase against White Ferns for the second match running.

True, like she said, the bowlers made her job easier. Chasing targets of 193 and 162 are not exactly the kind of challenges the best batter in the game currently would consider tough. Nevertheless, the ease with which she helped her team cross the finish line in both those matches is evidence of a player seeing the ball so well, and feeling good about her game.

In Mount Maunganui, the only other batter on the day who scored at a rate over 80.00 was New Zealand captain Amy Satterthwaite (71 off 87 balls, 9 fours). But even that innings was off to a very sedate start, and the scoring rate quickened towards the later part, courtesy a few outside-edged boundaries added to the mix as well.

In contrast, Mandhana hit a boundary off the second ball she faced by which time she had already lost her opening partner Jemimah Rodrigues. By the time she scored her second boundary, India were already two down.

Just when it looked like the Indian batting lineup was under pressure for the first time in the series, Mandhana spent most of the time off strike while Raj was settling down. But the slow scoring rate overall never affected the 22-year-old’s strike rate too much. She rotated the strike much better than Raj and found the odd boundary too.

This innings also showcased that there is more than one way that Mandhana can score her runs. That she doesn’t have to go bang-bang in the powerplay. That she can start slow, resist the temptation to play uppish strokes when her team is under pressure. After all, it’s not often you see Mandhana score her first six of the match after the 30-over mark. Even Raj had a six before her in this innings.

It is this sign of maturity that makes you forget that she is still only 22 years old. She is learning to rein in her natural instincts. She, in her own words, is trying to ensure that she is not getting out after reaching the 60s and 70s.

It’s fair to say, Mandhana — on current form — is India’s most important player. She is the present and the future, and Indian cricket is all the more better for it.