The inaugural Women’s T20 Challenge played simultaneously with the IPL playoffs was an important step up from the one-off match last year.

Then, that match was played in the afternoon before the men’s game. This year, it was three-team four-match league played under lights, telecast during prime time with a top-notch commentary panel and the individual award and prize money on par with that of IPL.

But it was not just the catch of the match award or the viewership alone that made it a success, it was the performance of the Indian players, rookies and veterans, when given the platform.

For Smriti Mandhana, this temperament showed under the spotlight was the biggest gain from the tournament.

“If you look at it, the best performers from each match were Indian players so that was the biggest takeaway for us as the Indian team,” Mandhana told Scroll.in.

“All the players will be in a similar situation in eight months in the World Cup, playing under lights. [The matches] will help players get used to that in India and with the best of players all over the world, it will give a lot of confidence to all the girls,” the ICC Cricketer of the Year added.

Harmanpreet Kaur was the Player of the Match in the final while Jemimah Rodrigues had a Player of the Match and Player of the Series trophies to take home. Mandhana herself was the star of the first match. In fact, Danielle Wyatt was the only non-Indian player of the match in the tournament. Additionally, young Indians gave good account of themselves, from newcomers to the Indian team Harleen Deol and Priya Punia to uncapped 15-year-old Shafali Verma.

“All the young players Jemimah, Shafali Verma coming off good, even Radha [Yadav] scoring 10 runs [off four balls] in that last over. This is going to give a lot of confidence to all these youngsters and they will be prepared when they come in and have the same sort of pressure when they play for India,” she said on the sidelines of the CEAT Cricket Rating Awards 2019.

India have always had mixed fortunes in the shortest format of the game but in the last year or so, there has been a conscious buildup towards a more complete T20I team. Several Indian players made their way into overseas T20 leagues, the squad has been blooded with youngsters and they have been given the license to hit. Going for the boundaries to score big runs is in fact one of the biggest changes in the team. Mandhana attributes this change to various factors.

“The reason for this change is because the runs in international matches has increased. You are generally chasing a 170 or 180-odd total. Only if the wicket is bad you get to chase 130 or 140, but on a good wicket it is almost above 170. You have to adapt and play that brand of cricket no matter what,” she explained.

“In the last one two years almost all the matches we play is live. So whichever girl is coming into the team or wanting to be a cricketer is going to watch those matches and what the scoring rates are and what they need to do if they are to come in the Indian team.

In the IPL also you see [Sophie] Devine and [Suzie] Bates, power hitting in the nets hitting so far, you feel like if they can do it even we can do it,” she said.

Smriti Mandhana at the CEAT Cricket Rating Awards 2019.
Smriti Mandhana at the CEAT Cricket Rating Awards 2019.

The matches being telecast live, a relatively new development due to the wave of recognition after the 2017 World Cup, has helped the women’s game substantially. It is not just about visibility, it’s about accountability, says the world No 1 ODI batter.

“I think it is better that you are answerable to something because if you are not, then you don’t really work that hard. When you know your performances are going to be criticised or accepted well, you put your mind into what you do. So it is a good thing that matches are live and people are following it,” the 22-year-old said.

“I don’t think while batting you look into the camera, we play according to the ball. I don’t think as a batter it is going to matter if the match is live or it is not,” she added with a laugh.

As a cricketer, the last year has been breakthrough for Mandhana with the runs and accolades flowing in. Yet, she feels there is a lot of room to improve, particularly when it comes to shouldering the batting lineup.

Too often in the past, the fall of the left-hander’s wicket invariably leads to a collapse and a loss for India. She has said she is working on spending more time on the crease and building a longer innings and the results are gradually showing.

Mandhana is candid about this chink in her armour. “The mental shift has to happen, whenever I am in 16th over or the 30th over I need to concentrate harder. It is more a mental thing rather than anything else, mental and fitness. But there has been a lot of work going on,” she said, wishing for it to happen in a match situation soon.

Batting aside, the last few series have also given the former Maharashtra captain a taste of leadership at the highest level. It is no secret that she is a future India captain and she is happy with the role.

“Leading the side was a very good experience for me. Whenever I have captained domestic sides, it is different pressure but when you lead India or Trailblazers in the IPL, its a completely different environment, you have to interact a bit more with players. A lot of takeaways and lots of things to learn and to improve as a captain,” she said.