“Two strong performances, do you now think India can be a contender for this tournament?”
“Why, you didn’t think so?”
Apart from dishing out “You go, girl!” quotable quotes in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, India have been dishing out the results too.
This latest salvo was from Smriti Mandhana, after her match-winning century against Windies in Taunton on Thursday.
But don’t mistake the attitude for arrogance. There’s a cautious, well-earned confidence in the Indian team, and an awareness of areas they are lacking in.
A few things have gone right for Mithali Raj’s team. Fielding, perhaps, isn’t one of them. But, it knows that.
“We fielded well till the 40th over. We gave 20-30 runs extra in the end, we have to work on it,” said Mandhana, referring to the dropped catches unprompted.
They also know that they didn’t make most of the cold, mittens-weather conditions on offer having won the toss.
“I was hoping the seamers would utilise the conditions, having won the toss and electing to bowl, but maybe it wasn’t [their] day,” said Raj. “The spinners did exceptionally well to get us back into the game.”
The big thing that has gone right in these early days is Mandhana, who followed up her 90 in the opener with a 106 not out off 108 balls for her second international 50-overs hundred. Unlike the maiden ton, away in Australia, this one wasn’t in a losing cause.
Mandhana seems to thrive in conditions that allow her to use the pace of the ball to clear the ropes. In fact, she shot to the big league after her match-winning 51 in India’s historic Test win against England in Womsley in 2014.
“I love the conditions here. I love playing in cold weather. It makes me happy from inside!” she laughed. “It’s not that I don’t like playing in India, I enjoy playing here more. I concentrate just on my game, there’s no TV to distract you, that helps me concentrate more on cricket.”
The young left-hander loves her shots, and favours a ‘don’t think too much’ approach. For Thursday’s game, however, it had to be curbed, even as the nerves showed up. Yet, she ensured she scored at a brisk rate, punctuating the singles and twos with boundaries. She chose the deliveries to attack, pivoting and executing her pulls with excellent timing, and was as strong on the back foot as always.
“I didn’t see my score, I was just seeing how much we needed to win, until Mona (Meshram) told me, ‘Don’t play any rash shots, you have to get your hundred this time.’ We were in the batting Power Play, so I really wanted to go for my shots. I should thank Mona for holding me back and telling me to concentrate on my singles, which was how I was batting right from the start.
“I was quite nervous, as it would have been my first Would Cup century.”
The calming influence of Raj, with whom she shared a hundred-run stand for the third wicket too was vital. “She made me calmer. I was a bit panicked after two [early] wickets. We had set a target to stay till 125 [left to get], then 75, then 50, we were making it less. She helped me not to play rash shots, because I have a tendency [to do so],” said Mandhana.
“We both really wanted to go after the bowlers at one stage, but we were holding it back because we had lost wickets and the weather was dicey. One wicket down and the DLS score would have gone up, so I was holding her back, she was holding me back.”
A good personal fielding performance – to make up for the dropped catches the previous game, she said – including a run-out, gave her additional confidence before going in to bat.
Not like she needed further motivation, of course. Mandhana has already said how much she was motivated to come back after a painful injury that kept her out of action nearly all of 2017. Her friends and teammates note how driven she was in making sure her recovery was miraculously quick. But importantly, she realises it’s a job half done.
“Well it’s not over yet, but I’m really happy,” she said. “I’ve made a good comeback after the injury.
“I don’t think I’m satisfied at all. I haven’t worked hard for five months to get fit for a 90 or a hundred. I want to do well and win the World Cup for India. That is what I was craving for the last five months. That is what keeps me going after 50, because I have a tendency to get out after 50. I hope that I continue.”
“We need to have belief”
Anisa Mohammad, the Windies vice-captain, urged her teammates to go out and express themselves in the 50-over game.
“We have some of the greatest players in the world. Players just need to believe in themselves and believe they can go out and do the job. Just go out and express themselves,” she said after the loss to India, their second of the tournament.
“People keep saying we are a great T20 team, but this is the same team that helped us qualify automatically for the World Cup. So we can win 50-over games as well. We just need to keep believing in ourselves and go back to what worked for us in the past three-four years."
Inability to rotate the strike had hurt the team against India, she said. “We need to score some more runs if we want to win games in this tournament.”