There is no question about her talent and run-scoring form with the bat in hand but there will be a different kind of spotlight on Smriti Mandhana when she leads the Board President’s XI in a warm-up match against the visiting England women’s team in Mumbai on Monday.
The match is being played at the Wankhede Stadium and Mandhana, who has been given specific targets by team coach WV Raman to build up her patience, will be keen to put the lessons learnt into practice before plunging into the series opener in the city, next Friday.
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Her run of form in 2018 for India saw her win the ICC Player of the Year award and she has started 2019 in fine style. Mandhana recently scored 196 runs in the three-match ODI series against hosts New Zealand — efforts that earned her player of the series awards. She was the standout performer from an Indian point of view in almost every match she played on the tour with scores of 105, 90*, 1, 58, 36, 86 runs in six matches.
She would be keen to carry that form into the upcoming home series and a good knock in the warm-up match will only boost her confidence. But it isn’t just about that – seen as the natural successor to the captaincy positions in both limited overs formats – this will be a real chance for Mandhana to show her skills as a leader. In her interviews recently, Mandhana has conveyed her intention to take more responsibility in the side because, all said and done, she is one of the most experienced players of the current crop of cricketers when it comes to playing at the international stage.
In last year’s women’s T20 tri-series that involved England and Australia, Mandhana had said that she was throwing her wicket away after setting herself in. Eleven months later, she feels that she is being able to improve 10% on this aspect, but the next aim was to carry on batting till the end of the innings.
“Somewhat, yes, may be 10% I have improved on that. From 50 to 60s, I have gone to 70s. But I’m still leaving 20-30 runs when we are chasing. I think it will be good if I come back not out. Hopefully I can do that against England in the (upcoming) ODI and the T20 series,” she was quoted as saying by PTI.
“I am really excited (for the England series) and we are playing the ICC Championships and we need six points to be up there. Hopefully we will all stick together and win the ODI series (against England). I hope that I can win more matches for India,” Mandhana said.
The 22-year-old is already the deputy to Harmanpreet Kaur in the shortest format and also led one of the two teams in the IPL exhibition matches last season.
With World Champions England expected to field a strong side, there cannot be a better audition for Mandhana.
Apart from Mandhana, BPXI wicket-keeper R Kalpana is also making a comeback in the ODI squad and she could also benefit from playing in the practice game. The match would also be an opportunity for out-of-favour Veda Krishamurthy to remind the selectors that she can be a reliable middle order batter. In Priya Punia and Devika Vaidya, two youngsters in the scheme of things for the senior team would be eager to impress as well.
On the other hand, England women are a force to reckon with, in the 50-over format and they utilise this game to get acclimatised to the pitch, weather and local conditions.
England also boast of some big names in Tammy Beumont, Heather Knight and Danny White, who had smashed the Indian bowlers during the T20 series last year.
The trio and others would be hoping to start the campaign on a positive note.
The following three-match ODI series, forming part of the ICC Championship, will be played at the same venue on the 22nd, 25th and 28th of this month.
England women: Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Alex Hartley, Amy Jones, Heather Knight, Laura Marsh, Nat Sciver, Anya Shrubsole Sarah Taylor (Wicketkeeper), Lauren Winfield and Danni Wyatt.
Board President’s XI: Smrit Mandhana (Captain), Veda Krishnamurthy, Devika Vaidya, S Meghana, Bharati Fulmali, Komal Zanzad, R Kalpana, Priya Punia, Harleen Deol, Reemalaxmi Ekka, Manali Dakshini, Minnu Mani and Tanuja Kanwar.