24th June 2017: The County Ground in Derby was in all readiness to host one of the most awaited clashes of the World Cup as arch-rivals England locked horns with India in the opening clash of the mega event.
With excitement for the World Cup sky-rocketing for the first time since its inception, it is fair to say that women's cricket well and truly arrived on the biggest stage in the southern hemisphere with glaring attention from the media and people across the globe.
While the fans thronged the stadiums and waited patiently for the game to begin on their television sets, it was a sense of accomplishment for the likes of Mithali Raj and Heather Knight, who have seen women's cricket rise from the ashes.
The home team won the toss and asked the Women in Blue to bat first on a slightly gloomy afternoon in Derby. Well, and the rest, as they say, is history as the world witnessed an array of strokes from the blade of Smriti Mandhana en route to her blistering knock of 90 off 72 deliveries that laid the foundation for the visiting side.
While the knock earned her plaudits from various cricketing legends and fans around the world, it was a testament to her immense grit and determination to don the national jersey after a career-threatening knee injury five months before the campaign.
Not sure how much time it would take to recover from a torn ACL injury that required surgery, Mandhana returned to India and underwent gruelling hours of rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy with the sole aim of featuring in the World Cup.
While she missed most of India's games in the lead-up to the mega event, including the Qualifiers, her ability at the international level was never doubted, and the team management drafted her in as soon as she was fit and available for selection.
The opening clash of the World Cup and walking out with a fellow Mumbai player, Punam Raut, at the biggest stage with over a billion eyes glued to the television, it doesn't get better than this.
In the next 75 minutes that followed, the southpaw not only showcased her exuberant style of play but also announced herself as one of the most dependable young batters in the Indian ranks post the Mithali Raj era.
Five years have passed since the iconic event, and Mandhana's stature in Indian cricket, and rather world cricket, has grown from strength to strength.
Hailing from Sangli, a city in Maharashtra, Mandhana donned the national jersey for the first time in the shortest format at the tender age of 16. While most people of that age contemplate career choices, the teenager was living her dream in the white-ball series against Bangladesh.
With shades of brilliance, Mandhana showcased her immense talent to ensure she was one of the players to watch out for. Like most players, she started her career in the shadows of Mithali and Harmanpreet Kaur before coming into her own zone in the last couple of years.
Since making her debut in 2013 till the T20 World Cup Down Under in Australia, Mandhana scored 1451 runs in 64 innings at an average of 24.59 and a strike rate of 117. However, with the additional responsibility of being the vice-captain of the side and the retirement of Mithali Raj from the shortest format, Mandhana's consistency has improved by leaps and bounds.
In the 32 innings since the T20 World Cup in 2020, the 26-year-old has scored 930 runs at an average of 34.44 and a strike rate of 133.4, leading India's charge with the bat.
There ain't any doubt that her consistent performances at the top of the order, along with her vital partnership with Shafali Verma, has been the catalyst behind India's white-ball resurgence.
While the 19-year-old has been exuberant in her style of play, it is the calmness of Mandhana at the other end that has helped the Women in Blue forge a formidable foundation at the top and power them to massive totals on the board.
With 1488 runs in 46 innings at an average of 32.3 and a strike rate of 136.5, the duo have been one of the most destructive opening combinations in the modern era, and the Indian team will rely heavily on them in the upcoming T20 World Cup.
They have done it in the last mega event in Australia, and there ain't any reason why they will not be able to replicate their heroics in the land of the Proteas.
And, despite faltering in the final hurdle in front of a packed crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Mandhana vowed to come back to her best as she went back to her drawing board, aiming to eliminate the scars of the summit clash.
With the world coming to an absolute halt amid the growing concerns of the pandemic, Indian women's cricket suffered a 15-month hiatus before they played South Africa at home in a white-ball series.
While the Indian side struggled to get going and were outplayed by the visiting side in all three departments of the game, Mandhana stood tall amidst the chaos.
The opening batter is the leading run-scorer since the 2020 T20 World Cup and has smashed 935 runs in 35 innings at an average of 32.2 and a strike rate of 130.6.
Despite stumbling yet again in the final match of the Commonwealth Games, Mandhana will be keen to make amends and guide India over the line in the world event.
A young vice-captain of the Indian Under-19 side had done it for the team a couple of days back, and all eyes will be on Mandhana, who is shouldering the bulk of the responsibility of the senior side to help India etch their name in the record books.