During India's ODI series against South Africa, the Indian skipper Virat Kohli was at his very best, scoring runs for fun. Whenever the fans saw no.18 walking into the pitch, they were sure about witnessing a runfest. On the other side of the same nation, another no.18, wearing Indian jersey punished Proteas bowlers every single game. But the fans couldn't enjoy the flair of the game as no broadcasting took place. That was a left handed female who started writing her name in the history book of Indian Cricket, The Female edition. From that coastal African nation she carried that form to India as well, tormenting both Australia and England. Smriti Mandhana - undoubtedly the future of Indian women's cricket!
Allured to cricket after watching his brother playing the sport, she took the willow in her hands. Her growth as a cricketer is indescribable. Achieving a cap in the Maharashtra under-19 team at the age of 11, the doors for the national side opened for her at 16. Slotted first as a number 3 player, she started to open the innings for India very soon. From then there is no looking behind for her. The way she overcome the ligament injury to get into the world cup squad and the way she announced her come back in the world stage is simply incredible. After two extraordinary knocks she claimed a star status but couldn't rise to become a Superstar after 7 worst performances. But this year Smriti is back with a bang. She tears appart the proteas attack in their own turf scoring 219 runs in the 3 match ODI series. When you score runs easily in a bowler friendly nation, then it won't be hard for you to keep the scoreboard ticking in the batting friendly Indian pitches. And for a player like Mandhana it's a cakewalk. 7 half centuries in the last 10 ODI and T20 innings combined, she is going to be a nightmare to bowlers for sure.
In Mumbai from where Indian cricket's many superheroes have arrived, I met this Wonder woman between a busy schedule. From that interview:
Your Indian debut is at 16. What was the feeling when you got into the national side at that young age?
Yeah I felt extremely happy at that time. I worked really hard to get into the Maharastra team. And getting into the Indian team at the age of 16, I felt good. But it comes with the responsibility also. Whenever you play for India regardless of the age you have to perform. I liked the challenge at that young age and it was an incredible experience. I have to thank my parents for that. Whatever i'm today is only because of them. They've really supported me well in every single aspect. More than me, my mom and dad wants me to be an international player. so it was their dream, which i'm living right now.
You are nominated for the Arjuna award. How excited are you to receive such a prestigeous award?
It is a special and elated moment. I never expected it to come so quickly. But, BCCI nominating me for this award is like a big responsibility. I feel motivated to do even better.
In the later stages of the 2016 world cup, you failed to score consistently. But now you have redifined the term 'consistency'. What is the secret of this turnaround?
The world cup was good in a way for the team. But personally it was very disappointing with my performances in the later part. I've never been through that kind of phase ever in my life. It was a big learning for me. i was open to any suggestions from my coaches. They have told me to change my stance and some of my batting techniques. I happily accepted that because I want to perform consistent in the biggest stage. Previously I prefer conventional stance and after the world cup I tried open stance. It worked out well on the last home series and the South africa series and am happy about it.
When you step into the 22 yards with the bat, no matter what the situation of the game is you just start hitting from the very first ball...
(Even before I finish the question, she start answering with a laugh) It's not actually what you think. If you see the first odi against England I've scored slowly. 50 in about 80 balls (She scored her half century in 79 balls in that game) which is not my usual game exactly. Because the wicket demanded me to play like that. If the wickets are very nice to play, I'll proceed with my usual style. There the situation of the game won't play in my mind. In those kind of pitches you don't feel like cutting down your shots. But when the wicket is not supporting your batting, you shouldn't play too many shots. That's what all is about. The rate at which I strike the ball purely depends on the condition of the pitch and not the situation of the match.
You are playing for the national side under two different captains. How does that feel and is there any difference in the way they lead the side?
They both are legends. I'm really happy to play under both of them one day under mithali and one day under haridi (Harmanpreet Kaur). You can't see too much difference in the way they lead the team. They are aggressive in their own way. Mithali aggressive in mind, haridi aggressive in the field. Actually it's fun playing under both of them.
Who is your best friend among your team mates?
We are all good friends. It's actually like a family. Shika, Harman...everyone is good to be with. You just can't name a single person. It's more like a family.
How's life after last year's World cup? Do you feel any change?
As a person, i don't feel any change. I am the same person before and after the wrold cup. From the other side, I definitely feel changes. I feel some good changes here as a women's cricketer. Nowadays people started following women's cricket. They started recognising us and even criticising us if the performance is not good. That's very good for womens' cricket. When people criticise we can change our mistakes and can improve our game. I really love that.
What do you feel about this current Indian side?
There is a good blend in the side. We have a lot of talented youngsters and also seasoned campaigners like Mithali, Harman and Jhulan. The youngsters are coming and showing good performances while seniors are also stepping up. It's a settled team right now and the future is really great. We have to put our hands up in the big tournaments.
Where do you see yourself in the indian team's future?
Personally for me it's about winning more matches for india and that's what i'll be focusing on. And one big thing I have to think about is 'how many years I'm going to play this sport?' I should keep myself fit to play for a long time. That's very very important.
Your jersey number is 18 and virat's also 18...
(Again interrupted with a big laugh) Many of my friends have asked me about that. I chose it because my birthday is on 18 (July) That's the only reason. It's just a coincidence (Continues laughing)
If you want to watch a match as a spectator, which match will you choose?
Maybe Ashes or a test match that India play against either Australia or England. I love watching test matches. Even I want to go to a football arena to watch Cristiano Ronaldo. Whatever match it maybe I want to watch him do some magic in the field.