Photo Credit: ICC
Smriti Mandhana inflicted her wristy wrath on West Indies as the Indian megastar unfurled one of her best-ever innings at ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022.
A lot has changed for the 25-year-old since her debut on the biggest stage in 2017, when she helped propel India to their first-ever final.
“Our return tickets had already been booked after the group matches,” remembers Mandhana of the run to the Lord’s showpiece. “Nobody expected us to make the final.”
Playing without pressure is a rare luxury for an Indian cricketer, with much now expected of the elegant southpaw every time she takes to the crease at her second World Cup.
Mandhana made a perfectly-paced 123 against West Indies – as measured and inexorable as her rise to the top of sport – helping her side to a thumping 155-run victory.
The success of Mandhana’s opening partnership with Shafali Verma has been based on the power dynamic, the teenager’s aggression freeing up her elder to play an anchor role.
It wasn’t Verma who executed it but the plan remained the same as pinch-hitter Yastika Bhatia peeled off six boundaries in the first 27 balls, allowing Smriti to settle.
The loss of Bhatia and Mithali Raj in the powerplay checked the surviving opener’s progress and after 51 balls in the middle, she had 34 runs and no boundaries to her name.
Deepti Sharma was another destined to push the pace in a partnership with Mandhana and she cracked two fours through the offside in a single over from Shakera Selman.
Mandhana lost another partner as Deepti tried to sweep Anisa Mohammed but top-edged a sweep for a stunning slip catch from Hayley Matthews. India were 78 for three.
The ten overs that followed were a sign of Smriti’s steel as she knuckled down and laid the foundations for a match-defining partnership with Harmanpreet Kaur.
She brought up her second half-century of the tournament with a flick for four on the 60th ball and that milestone seemed to help her kick on even further.
Mandhana’s second half-century came off only 43 balls but nearly fell at the final hurdle when she was dropped at midwicket on 96.
Get there she did and brought up a fifth ODI century – all of which have come in overseas conditions, a tell-tale sign of her ability to judge conditions.
Harmanpreet is a remorseless master-builder of big innings, batting for three hours and proving similarly impressive on her way to 109.
Their partnership of 184 for the fourth wicket was India’s best at the Cricket World Cup and the result of a symbiosis in the pair’s techniques and mentalities.
Harmanpreet said: “It’s great to get that combination. When she was getting the boundaries, I was there to help her and take the singles.
“When I was hitting the boundaries she was there to support me and that’s what we enjoyed.”
Smriti added: “Our strengths are really different.
“She’s really good with spin and I like pace on the ball, so when the spinner comes on, I give her the strike and she gives me the strike when the pace comes on!”
The total they helped set, 317 for eight, was India’s highest at the Cricket World Cup and will no doubt turn heads at the tournament.
Jhulan Goswami became the leading wicket-taker in World Cup history by dismissing Anisa Mohammed and Windies subsided to 162 all out in reply.
Sneh Rana is emerging as one of the leading all-rounders in the world and after a superb unbeaten half-century against Pakistan, took three vital wickets with her off-spin in Hamilton.
With three wins on the board already, India are making their mark at the tournament. A clash with Australia awaits in a week’s time, shaping up to be the standout match of the group stage.
Those plane tickets won’t be booked too early this time.