April 6, 2018. Nagpur.
India was taking on England after a disappointing tri-series against England and Australia. The series was super important because every single ODI carried points for the World Cup direct qualification. Since India had lost the tri-series, India needed a win. Badly.
England after batting first made 207. It was a difficult surface and 207 was a great score. There was an awkward bounce, the ball was turning square and it was keeping low. As expected, India kept losing wickets. India needed someone to stand up and Smriti Mandhana took up the responsibility.
If there’s delivery outside off, she would normally swing her bat, smash it through covers. It is more like an instinct for her but this time, it was all different. It was not her game to bend down and defend the deliveries. It was not her game to leave deliveries that she normally hit. She did. She did for the team because her partners kept disappearing. Still, she had four sixes and five fours in that game where she went on to make 86. India went on to win the match by one wicket and won the series 2-1.
The amount of responsibility she showed that day was phenomenal, something we all have been seeing in Mithali Raj for years and something that was missing with Smriti early in her career, but 2018 it was all different. Making runs became her habit, improving every single game was her favourite past time and standing up for the team is something she loves to do. Most importantly, she takes that pressure off Mithali Raj who has been carrying this team for like years now. With age, comes responsibility. Smriti though so young has already aged when it comes to her game. Why do you think she sits at number one?
Right from her double ton in the domestics, everyone knew there is something special about Smriti. Everyone was able to see that spark in her eyes even though those big spectacles she sported those days. Of course, things were pretty evident when she opted for the lens. That spark would never let her sleep unless she plays well. Maybe, that spark is super vicious that it threatens her opponents too.
She would stand at the leg stump and taps her bat in between her legs, two steps towards the off-stump while lifting her bat, not completely straight to her body, but it looks like how one would load and trigger the gun to shoot it right away. The ball after hitting the bat goes like a bullet though. It wasn’t the same during the Asia Cup time where she faced a bit of a slump. It took her time to recover. She watched, re-watched her videos millions of time and it was during one of the net practices at the KSL, she found that she was thinking too much and it was all about changing her mindset and the batting stance. The backlift is kind of close now, and that helps her to play all-round shots with ease, especially those flick at the leg side.
What’s more special about Smriti is that she loves perfection. If she missed a shot at the nets, she never gives up that easily. At times, the practice continues indoors too, no matter what is the time. Despite all her bonding with the teammates, this probably will be the complaint you would hear from every single roommate of hers and of course, sleeping and play station.
Now, what makes Smriti different from other players?
Most of the cricketers of her generation would love to play shots on the front foot, but with Smriti, she loves to play on the back foot, play it late. As she plays it late, the most important factor remains her timing rather than just the power. Also, staying at the back helps her to move forward easily as well.
The best part of Smriti is not that she has all the shots in her kitty but is the shot selection. This probably is the difficult part, somewhere young Smriti missed out, but this new “responsible” Smriti has come out with flying colours.
With years to come, undoubtedly, the Indian cricket is in the safe hands of “responsible” Smriti now. She already has changed the face of the game, and this Arjuna Awardee will continue to do so.
For the love of those lofted straight drive off the pacers,
For the love of those flick off the leg side,
For those pretty sweep,
For those dancing down the pitch lofted cover drives,
For those powerful hits over the midwicket,
For that graceful touch,
For those many more POMs.
Happy Birthday, Smriti Mandhana. Now, go get that cup for the country, for the team, for yourself. We love you!
Image Courtesy: Wisden | Getty Images
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