Smriti Mandhana, the Indian women’s cricket team’s youngest captain in T20Is, has her eyes firmly set on winning the three-match series against England, starting in Guwahati on Monday.
Mandhana will be leading India for the first time as regular skipper Harmanpreet Kaur hasn’t yet recovered from her ankle injury.
Speaking to the media ahead of the first T20I against England, the skipper said she will try to help her players in every way possible.
“I’ve played under multiple captains over the past four-five years and have been able to learn a lot from each of them,” said Mandhana. “For me as a captain it’s important to not think too much about it. I want to be a captain who listens to what the players want and not dictate things. I’ll try to help my players grow in any way I can. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing whenever I lead.”
India won the preceding three-match One-Day International series with relative ease, but the new captain isn’t going to take her opponents lightly. “T20 has a totally different format from ODIs. It’s a different ball-game altogether. I don’t think England can be taken lightly, and both the teams are pretty evenly matched,” she said.
Mandhana won’t be changing her pre-match routines now that she is leading the side. The only extra thing she wishes to do is talk to the bowlers a little more before a match.
“My preparations won’t change. I’ve been the vice-captain of the team for the past two years and have attended team meetings. So I’ve known all this while what needs to be done before a match,” she said.
The 22-year-old has been India’s stand-out batter over the past year, and she reckons that captaincy will only make her more responsible with the bat. “Captaincy and batting are two totally different aspects for me,” she said. “If I mix the two, I’ll end up complicating matters for myself. The responsibility of captaincy may help me bat the full 20 overs and win matches for the country.”
India will have a fresh-looking team in the series against England, with batter Bharati Fulmali and pacer Komam Zanzad getting called-up for the first time. The ICC Women’s T20 World Cup is less than a year away, but Mandhana isn’t too keen on simply “auditioning” new faces in the run-up to the mega event in Australia next year.
“We’re looking to win the series and not just audition the new faces in the squad with an eye on the World Cup,” said the skipper. “It’s important for us to go into the series believing we’re going to win, rather than just experiment with the playing XI. The first goal for us is to win the series. By winning, we’ll find some promising new faces anyway.”
Mandhana lavished praise on Zanzad, who plays domestic cricket for Vidarbha, saying: “I think she is very good. She had a good Challengers Trophy. I followed her during the Big Bash League. She was very impressive in the match between Board President’s XI and England. She definitely has a really bright future.”
With world-class stadiums being built all across the country over the past few years, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has now started taking women’s cricket to smaller cities. Mandhana believes this is a big step by the BCCI for the development of women’s cricket.
“It’s a brilliant initiative to take women’s cricket to smaller cities. We’ve had an amazing reception in Guwahati. All the players are really happy with the response by the public,” she said. “This will help women’s cricket in a big way because players enjoy playing in front of large crowds. We had a crowd of 18,000 people when we played in Baroda last year. That was amazing. Hopefully, we’ll see a similar turnout tomorrow and have a good game.”
Mandhana was recently awarded the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year and the ODI Player of the Year. The left-handed opener is also ranked No 1 in the ICC ODI rankings for batting.
The Mumbaikar says she is now motivated to work even harder to stay at the top. “As a kid, when you start playing, you dream of winning the World Cup. And then you have some individual targets like reaching the top of the ICC rankings. So it’s really pleasing to have gotten there,” said Mandhana.
“But this has motivated me to work harder. It’s important to stay at the top, not just get there. Becoming the No.1 batter in the world was definitely one of my goals, a small goal unlike winning the World Cup, but it was surely one of my individual goals.”
India: Smriti Mandhana (c), Jemimah Rodrigues, Mithali Raj, Veda Krishnamurthy, Anuja Patil, Arundhati Reddy, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (w), Shikha Pandey, Radha Yadav, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, Harleen Deol, Bharati Fulmali, Komal Zanzad.
England: Amy Ellen Jones, Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Winfield (w), Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver, Danielle Wyatt, Georgia Elwiss, Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, Alex Hartley, Kate Cross, Linsey Smith, Freya Davies, Laura Marsh, Sophia Dunkley Brown.
The first T20I between India and England will start at 11 am (IST) on Monday.