For the past six months, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, and Shafali Verma have gone from one bio-bubble to another. They departed with the national team to England on June 3 and returned home at the end of November. In between, they have played full-fledged series against England and Australia, but the biggest takeaway for the trio was playing in ‘The Hundred’ in England and the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) in Australia.
India’s T20I vice-captain Smriti Mandhana says the experience of playing in ‘The Hundred’ and WBBL will help her and others immensely in the upcoming Women’s ODI World Cup beginning in New Zealand on March 4. India will face Pakistan in their opening match.
“For me, the biggest takeaway was facing the international bowlers. Just playing against those bowlers, who we’ll face in the future, was helpful. It will help us prepare well for the upcoming series, especially the upcoming World Cup,” Mandhana tells The Indian Express on the sidelines of an event here.
Smriti played for Southern Brave in ‘The Hundred, while in the WBBL, she was part of the Sydney Thunder team.
“Playing in the jam-packed stadiums always gives you that extra motivation. In ‘Hundred,’ almost every stadium used to be filled with spectators, which is quite a rare sight in women’s cricket,” says Smriti.
Jemimah Rodrigues, sitting next to her friend and teammate, nodded and said: “For me just to share the dressing rooms with the other international stars was massive. We used to keep picking their brains. Just playing and competing with the world’s best was an amazing and fruitful experience. Because Covid didn’t get to play a single match for a long period. So we were eager to get matches under our belt. Luckily, we got to play a lot of matches in different conditions.
While India’s teen batting sensation Shafali Verma says that living in the bubble is not easy, she was ready to bear with the new normal as long as she was getting to play cricket.
“The quarantine part was the most difficult part, but we were getting the chance to play cricket after a long time. So it was better to stay and play some more cricket rather than come back,” she says.
Besides the trio, the other Indians featured in the WBBL were Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Richa Ghosh, Harmanpreet Kaur, and Deepti Sharma. While Harmanpreet Kaur, Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, and Jemimah Rodrigues are the five Indians who played in ‘The Hundred’.
Smriti Mandhana, 25, who plays all formats for India, feels power-hitting is not the only way to score runs in the T20 format.
“As far as my batting is concerned, I just rely on my timing because I don’t have that much power,” chuckles Mandhana.
“For me, power-hitting is just another brand of cricket. I don’t think you need the power to get a certain strike rate. You can score quick runs with timing as well. For me, it is to play smartly and manipulate the field placing,” she adds.
But the elegant southpaw accepts that the aggressive mindset of youngsters like Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh is a bonus for Team India.
“The way they (Shafali and Richa) approach their games, it shows their confidence and fearlessness. Their aggression has played a key role in our recent success in the T20 format,” she says.
Mandhana is considered as a future leader of the Indian women’s team and is already a part of the senior core group alongside Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, and Harmanpreet Kaur.
When asked about her being in the leadership group, how she deals with the youngsters, Mandhana says: “I think my only message to all the girls who come into the team is just to enjoy the process. Enjoy whatever you are doing. I don’t want to get into their spaces and tell them what to do and what not to do. I always tell them whenever they feel to talk about anything I am just a call away. As a senior making them comfortable is our top priority; the youngsters shouldn’t feel out of place,” she says.
Smriti feels the net sessions in England and Australia are quite different from those in India. “Net sessions vary from team to team, whether you are playing with your domestic team or the national.
“But in England and Australia, what I noticed was that they do more fitness sessions than the skills. Their skill sessions are very limited. While in India we focus equally on fitness and skills sessions,” she says.
Smriti is back from a fruitful stint in the WBBL, scoring a brilliant century. During the tour of Australia, she also struck a sublime hundred in the pink-ball Test. With a lot of cricket under her belt over the last nine months, the stylish opener finds herself in a good frame of mind ahead of the ODI World Cup.
“I am enjoying my cricket and would love to carry my form in the ODI World Cup, and hopefully, we will win it,” she signed off.