[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Why Indian Women Cricket team’s vice-captain Smriti Mandhana hopes more girls take up cricket
For any cricket enthusiast, Smriti Mandhana’s cricket journey is well known and well documented. The Vice-Captain of the Indian Women’s Cricket team, Smriti, was named the Best Women’s International Cricketer by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in June 2018.
In the same year, in December, Smriti was awarded the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Award for the best female cricketer of the year.
In a conversation with HerStory, India’s opening batswoman Smirti Mandhana talks about sports, cricket, injuries, and getting more girls to play the game.
Sitting in a hotel room, Smriti is set to start the cricketing season. While a year of the pandemic may have stopped all sporting activities, Smirti is raring to go.
“Sports teaches you a lot. But the best thing cricket has taught me is that even if you score a 100, you need to start from zero the next day. That is something I even apply in my life. It taught me a lot to lead my life even outside cricket,” says Smriti.
The last two years have taken a toll on everyone, she says, adding, “I have had my internal fights, but it is a good fight. It teaches you a lot when you overcome it. It is important to enjoy the process and enjoy every moment — batting, training sessions, etc. When you enjoy what you do, it reflects in your results. It is important to go out there and live the game. I do it all for myself because I simply love the game.”
Starting at the age of four
For Smriti — who was named the ODI Player of the Year by the ICC in 2017— her cricketing journey began when she was young. Her brother and father were cricketers whom she would accompany on their practices.
“I would just pick balls, and I just fell in love with batting and cricket when I was four. It is my very first memory of when I started playing cricket. I got into the state team when I was nine years old,” she says.
Cricket was an obvious choice for Smriti. She says she was lucky to have the support she needed from her family and her coaches.
“I used to train with the boys, and being the only girl, the coaches would give me a lot of attention and even pamper me a lot. They would push me to practice more, bat more,” recollects Smriti.
She admits that it can be a little challenging. While today women’s cricket has made a mark of its own, Smriti says there is always a constant comparison against men’s cricket.
“The difference in physicality always brings in comparison. When I was younger, I would wonder why they would compare me with a boy. But it is common, and sometimes, we face it even now, but you overcome it with experience. You focus on what you need to build and grow,” says Smriti.
Since Smirti started young, she had to juggle school and practice. Before going to school, she would do an early morning fitness session and practice again in the evening.
“In the early days when you are getting to know the game, three to four hours of practice is enough, and once you decide to play professionally, training changes drastically,” says Smriti.
In fact, there are times when she ends up batting for seven to eight hours if she isn’t feeling too good about it. And other times, it is just 30 minutes.
“Today, all our training schedules are different. If you look at us 15 girls, we all train in our own way. It all depends on what suits the game and the body, and this, too, comes with experience,” she adds.
In 2013, Smriti became the first woman to score a double century in the domestic circuit. As the opening bat, 200 was far from her mind until she received a message from her coach asking her not to play “rash shots” and aim towards the goal.
This catapulted her into the big league, with India making it to the finals of the ICC Women’s World Cup in 2017, which brought women’s cricket into the forefront, making her, along with the others, stars in their own right.
Amidst all things cricket, Smriti is also the brand ambassador for fantasy gaming platform Playerzpot.
“Fantasy gaming has got people closer to the game. People are more passionate about it, and Playerzpot has been able to build that connection, and that’s how the association has come about,” she says.
Like every other high achiever, Smriti has had her highs and lows. “My low point was five years back when I had an ACL surgery just before the 2017 World Cup. It was hard, but that experience taught me a lot of things, which no 100s have taught me. It was an important point in my career,” says Smriti.
For her, the highest point would be winning the World Cup.
Cricket in India is growing, and this growth doesn’t stop. She adds many young girls want to take cricketing as a profession, which is a good sign.
“We have a long road ahead, but I hope the Indian women’s cricket team inspires more young girls to get over 100 girls to play cricket,” Smriti hopes.