Former India head coach WV Raman remembers Smriti Mandhana as a “very laid back character” who didn’t think too much about her game, didn’t “talk cricket” too much or exaggerate things in training.
“She’s had it in her head all along that ‘I have to get off to a good start, I have to contribute a lot as a senior cricketer’ and things like that,” Raman recalled when speaking on Sony Sports India on Friday about Mandhana’s mentality when looking through a dry run.
He alluded to the up-and-down phase following Mandhana’s 2018 breakout following the mid-to-end tournament silence at the 2017 ODI World Cup, after racking up runs for fun and the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year 2018 Mandhana started 2019 with the promise of many, even a blistering 105 in India’s first-ever match of the year. But in the 48 innings since, before Friday, she couldn’t get to three numbers once. In 12 of those innings, Mandhana lost her wicket after reaching half a century. And had a forefoot no-ball by Ellyse Perry on day two of the on-going Pink-ball Test against Australia not ruled out a catch, Mandhana would have had a thirteenth missed hundred to her name.
That she got there was due to luck, but it may not have been because of… yet another bad ball thrown at her.
“I’m actually quite afraid of bad balls. When that happened on the second ball of the day [I faced]… I got a full roll and I was like, ‘Oh, s***!’ I thought, ‘Oh, God, what is this! I prepared so much overnight, and I ended up with a full toss!’ For us, we thought the catch was caught and the ball came out of the box,” Mandhana said across the lifeline, delighting reporters with her animated narration after the clipped second day play at Carrara Oval.
On a day when she hit 127, breaking the 72-year-old record for highest score by a visiting batter in the women’s testing in Australia, Mandhana usually looked like the “determined” batter she’d wanted to be after finishing. from night at 80.
In an in-play interview with 7 Cricket, she also acknowledged the mental hurdle the protracted wave of near misses had become: “Really happy to finally get through these 80[-run] period because I kept coming out in the 80s and 90s so I was really focused and wanted to at least cross that and try to get to three figures… Disappointed I gave it away towards the end. Still, I’m happy with the performance.”
“From 2018 to this year, I wasn’t able to bat the way I’d wanted to. Even though I made it to the fifties or whatever scores I got, I was still trying to find the kind of feeling I wanted to look for”
The monkey off her back, Mandhana opened up how the fear of losing her ability to fire as she imagined felt. This, especially when she goes over her past performances with older brother Shravan and longtime personal coach Anant Tambvekar at home.
“From 2018 to this year I was unable to bat the way I would have liked to bat,” she said. “Even though I was getting the fifties or whatever scores I was getting, I was still trying to find the kind of feeling I wanted to look for. Also with family I just kept asking…we kept watching the videos of what’s out there happened All I was working on was trying to get the kind of feeling I wanted as a batter.
“When the tours came up, I didn’t think about that because whatever you’re playing at the time, you have to deal with it and just go forward and try to play the game. But this series definitely made me feel a lot better as a batter and definitely wanted to make it count because of the few chances I’d lost in the past two years [because of the lack] of my feeling. So I wanted to try to make it right and I still want to try to make it right.”
Mandhana had hit all “two net sessions” with the pink ball before opening the blow for India on Thursday. But it was up to her that despite the lack of familiarity with the pink ball or long-form cricket in general, India had come into a strong position, the opener set the mark with her “pace”, as Meg Lanning described it.
On Friday, Mandhana added seven fours to bring her total to 23 limits in a 216-ball knockout. And when the milestone came on the backs of two fours — the second a deceptively languid short-arm pull — over from Perry in the 52nd, an unusually energetic celebration ensued.
“In the 14-day quarantine [in Brisbane, ahead of the start of the series]”I did all that by myself: I tried to imagine I was hitting and trying to celebrate my century,” she explained, deconstructing the party, taking off the helmet, raising both arms and putting her name on the tapped the back of her shirt with the bat, as if to make a statement.
In his review of Mandhana’s 127, Raman went back to conversations while insisting that she “consume overs,” as just staying in the middle would be enough for her naturally flowing style of scoring to dictate the pace of her — and India’s – collections. “Runs will keep flowing — whether you go for it or not… even if you take some time, you’ll always make it up,” he recalled saying.
Based on the evidence from the first two days of the test, she may also be on track to make up for the missed hundreds.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha