She's flamboyant, yet elegant! When in full flow, Smriti Mandhana is ‘poetry in motion’ and can make batting look ridiculously easy. Those Kumar Sangakkara-esque cover drives, well-controlled cut and pull shots, lofted on-drives, everything about her batting is picturesque and soothing to the eyes.
The left-handed opener is inarguably India's best batswoman and has played a huge role in the growth of women's cricket in the country in the last two-three years. On Saturday (July 18), Mandhana turns a year older. She is still only 24 but has already become a household name.
No other batter has scored more runs than Mandhana in ODIs and T20Is since the start of 2018. However, the Women's T20 World Cup 2020 didn't quite go her way as she only managed 49 runs at 12.25 in the tournament where India had an impressive run before getting trounced in the final by five-time champions Australia. The showpiece event didn't quite turn the way she would have wanted but Mandhana has been India's most consistent performer in the last few years.
ONE OF THE BEST IN ODIs!
After impressing on the domestic circuit, Mandhana made her international debut in April 2013. The left-hander played her first ODI against Bangladesh in Ahmedabad and since then has been part of the Indian set-up. She managed scores of 25 and 23 in her first series and looked very good until she was at the crease. In her first few years, Mandhana scored runs on a consistent basis but wasn't able to convert those 20s and 30s into something more substantial.
She was averaging way below 30 in her first three years of ODI cricket but it started to pick up in 2016 after she performed well on the tour of Australia and then against Sri Lanka at home. Then came the 2017 World Cup in England that changed the face of women's cricket in India after the Mithali Raj-led side made it to the final of the mega-event. Mandhana started the campaign with scores of 90 and 106* but couldn't keep her form going.
Things however began to change in 2018 and Mandhana became a different beast altogether. She scored a century and a fifty in South Africa and then even did well against Australia and England at home. Out of her 21 50-plus scores in ODIs, 13 have come since the start of 2018. And all these runs have come against top teams like England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand. During this time period, Mandhana has contributed almost 29 percent of the total team runs.
"I've been selective about shots. Having a lot of shots in your book can make you a better batsman but it gets you in trouble as well, because you may be tempted to feel every ball has to be hit. So selecting my shots has been important, and not having only one kind of game. It's a major thing that has changed in my batting from the start of 2018," Mandhana told ESPNcricinfo in an interview.
Mandhana has always been good against fast bowlers but her numbers against spinners were quite mediocre. Pre-2018, the left-hander had an average of 27.12 against spinners which has now gone up to 55.62. Against left-arm spinners, Mandhana had an average of just 19.3 but since 2018, it has gone up to 77. Talking about pacers, Mandhana has an average of 81.85 against such bowlers in this timeframe.
Mandhana has been a key for India in the last two and a half years. She averages just over 100 in the 11 ODIs that India have won since 2018, while it drops down to 36.37 in the nine encounters that the Women in Blue have lost. Amongst batters who have scored a minimum of 200 runs in matches that their respective teams have won during this span, only New Zealand's Amelia Kerr (180.5) and Sophie Devine (167.66) have a better average than Mandhana. This comparison is enough to tell you how much India relies on Mandhana in the 50-over format.
... AND IN T20Is!
In her first 10 T20Is, Mandhana registered seven single-digit scores. Just like she did with her ODI career, Mandhana has managed to turn things around in the shortest format of the game since 2018. Mandhana, who has also played T20 leagues in England and Australia, has become a lot more consistent and even her strike-rate has improved a lot.
In her first 27 T20Is, Mandhana scored just one half-century but in the last 30 months, she has managed 11. Her average dropped down a bit after she struggled to score runs in this year's Women's T20 World Cup, but apart from that, Mandhana has been pretty decent. Since 2018, she averages over 35 against teams like Australia (41.25), New Zealand (38.6), England (43.42) and West Indies (35.66) and she has scored all these runs at a strike rate of close to 140.
Mandhana's back foot game has been top-notch since 2018. The left-hander averages over 61 while playing on the back foot, with Heather Knight, Bismah Maroof and Ellyse Perry being the only others with a better average than Mandhana amongst batters with a minimum of 100 runs scored since the start of 2018. However, Mandhana has scored her runs at a strike rate of 127.3, which is better than all the aforementioned names. Only West Indies' Hayley Matthews (133) has operated at a better strike-rate than Mandhana during this phase.
The emergence of a young sensation, Shafali Verma has made Mandhana's life slightly easier up the order. Both these batters are destructive and flamboyant and watching them bat together is a sight to behold.
INCONSISTENT IN ICC WORLD EVENTS
Mandhana has played one 50-over World Cup and four T20 World Cups so far. But apart from the 2018 edition of the T20 World Cup in West Indies, the stylish left-hander has been quite poor in major ICC events. In the 2017 World Cup in England, Mandhana started off with scores of 90 and 106* against England and West Indies respectively but in the next seven encounters, she only managed 36 runs.
Talking about T20 World Cups, Mandhana was brilliant in the 2018 edition in which she scored 178 runs in five encounters at an average of 35.6 and a strike rate of 125.3. If we take that event out from the equation, Mandhana has managed just 120 runs at 10.90 in three other editions (2014, 2016 and 2020) of the T20 World Cup.
India have made it to the knockouts every single time in their last three major ICC tournaments. They lost to England in the final of the 2017 World Cup and then lost to them once again in the semi-final of the 2018 T20 World Cup. They managed to make it to the final of the T20 World Cup 2020 but were thumped by Australia. In these three matches, Mandhana has scores of 0, 34 and 11.
"It was disappointing for me as I couldn't perform, especially because I was in great touch before the World Cup. It was disappointing to not contribute to the team let alone your own form. Not scoring runs for the team is much more disappointing than thinking about your own batting. I will make sure I am a consistent performer throughout the tournament," she told Cricket.com after the T20 World Cup 2020.
Mandhana is already a superstar and everyone knows it, but the 24-year-old would now like to help India win major titles and write her own legacy. The next few years are going to be very interesting for both Mandhana and Indian women's cricket.