It is bizarre to think that Smriti Mandhana’s selection for the 2017 World Cup in England was actually not straightforward. One cannot imagine the Indian team these days without her services at the top of the order. India’s success is largely intertwined with how well Mandhana does. Until Shafali Verma came along and establish herself as the star of the T20 World Cup at the start of 2020, India’s top order was heavily dependent on Mandhana who, at 24, is already a veteran.
But 2017, a watershed year for Indian women’s cricket, began on a horrendous note for the opening batter.
Playing for Brisbane Heat, Mandhana suffered an ACL injury during Women’s Big Bash League in Australia in January. In the land where she had scored her first ODI century, back in February 2016 as a bespectacled teenager, the youngster’s knee buckled while bowling. She had torn her meniscus and ACL in her left knee. And she knew she was in trouble. Forget the pain of the moment for a second, she suffered the worst start possible to a World Cup year.
You could sense the lump in her throat in the video below when she spoke to the International Cricket Council during the World Cup. The context? She had started the tournament on fire with two sensational knocks.
The match against hosts (and eventual champions) England in the tournament-opener for India saw Mandhana play an ODI for the first time since November 2016. A break of more than seven months in the career of a player who was promising so much could have proved decisive, in a bad way.
The selectors and team management showed faith in her, because her talent warranted that. And on her debut World Cup match, she showed what all the fuss about her was. Mind you, that was not her first outing in England; the then teenager’s steady 51 was instrumental in India’s famous Test win in 2014 and since then, her stock had only grown in international cricket. In 2016, Mandhana was the only Indian in ICC’s first ever ODI women’s team of the year.
Making her comeback to international cricket, Mandhana showed where there was a will, she can find a way. A stroke-filled (is there another kind?) innings from Mandhana helped India get off to a winning start.
And then came her second ODI century immediately after. She scored an unbeaten 106 to guide India to a comfortable seven-wicket victory against West Indies in Taunton. Mandhana started off from where she left against England, hitting 13 fours and two sixes en route her second ODI ton. And in the process, the then 20-year-old became the youngest Indian woman to score a World Cup hundred.
“While I was injured I made sure that I worked on my weaknesses. Many people have seen my game so I worked on that. I tried not to play too many shots because I had a habit of playing too many shots after getting set. That was the thing I worked on in the last two or three months,” Mandhana said after scoring her second ODI hundred.
Unfortunately, from there on, Mandhana’s fortunes at the World Cup took a dip. She could manage just 36 runs from the remaining matches, including a duck in the final where Indian hearts were broken.
Smriti Mandhana at the 2017 World Cup
|90||72||11||2||125.00||caught||1||v ENG Women||Derby||24 Jun 2017|
|106*||108||13||2||98.14||not out||2||v WI Women||Taunton||29 Jun 2017|
|2||9||0||0||22.22||lbw||1||v PAK Women||Derby||2 Jul 2017|
|8||11||1||0||72.72||caught||1||v SL Women||Derby||5 Jul 2017|
|4||2||1||0||200.00||caught||2||v SA Women||Leicester||8 Jul 2017|
|3||10||0||0||30.00||caught||1||v AUS Women||Bristol||12 Jul 2017|
|13||24||2||0||54.16||bowled||1||v NZ Women||Derby||15 Jul 2017|
|6||6||1||0||100.00||caught||1||v AUS Women||Derby||20 Jul 2017|
|0||4||0||0||0.00||bowled||2||v ENG Women||Lord's||23 Jul 2017|
But with benefit of hindsight, the sparkling return from the injury must outweigh the disappointment of the finish to the campaign because Indian cricket needed her to find her feet.
Bouncing back from knee injuries is never, ever easy. Mandhana 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 had told Scroll.in in an interview on returning from England.
And even when things started looking up for her again soon after, she did not lose the perspective. Asked about her thoughts on being called the best in the world (she was crowned the ICC player of the year in 2018), her response was immediate: “We still haven’t won the World Cup. Our team is really focused on bringing that trophy home. I’ll feel I’ve done something good if we win the World Cup. Individual awards pale in comparison to it.”