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After Making the Most of the Pink-Ball Test in Australia, Bigger Test Awaits Smriti Mandhana in New Zealand

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Last week Smriti Mandhana basked in the glory of a Test match century against Australia at the Gold Coast venue of Carrara Oval. Not really in good nick by her own high standards since the resumption of cricketing activities against South Africa at Lucknow last March, the left-hander gave glimpses of the aggressive brand of cricket in a Test match that was supposed to place exacting demands on the India openers, especially facing the pink ball under the lights. In these tough circumstances, Mandhana passed the test with flying colours.

She had made her Test debut against England seven years ago, when she was just 18, and at the beautiful countryside venue of Wormsley. She made a good impression scoring 22 and 51 against an England attack that had Anya Shrubsole, Kate Cross, Sonia Odedra, Jenny Gunn, Natalie Sciver, all medium pacers. India won that Test by six wickets, and Mandhana took away happy memories from that match.

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Two months after her first Test, she made eight in the home Test against South Africa at Mysore. India won the match and so she went into her third Test seven years later against England at Bristol having not experienced defeat in the multi-day format. She — like majority of women cricketers — had spent much of her time between 2014 and 2021, showing off her batting skills in white-ball cricket.

The Sangli-born batter made 78 in the first innings at Bristol five months ago and 127 in the first innings at Gold Coast against opponents which was assumed to be superior in home conditions. Both were outstanding efforts, but henceforth the 25-year-old will get only the odd Test match opportunity coming her way in the future.

The full members of the ICC will have to go out of the way to arrange bilateral Test series for its women cricketers, otherwise it will be part of the package that will lay emphasis on white-ball cricket with an odd Test thrown in. But the likes of Mandhana have demonstrated that Test cricket among women can generate considerable interest, should they be able to sustain the pace with exciting batting and bowling feats and take the game towards a result.

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The recent Test was all about Mandhana’s brilliant stroke play that surprised the most discerning among the Aussies. Not having played a match with the pink ball made her exertions even more remarkable. Surely she has benefited a lot from the different coaches she has worked with like Purnima Rau, Tushar Arothe, WV Raman and Ramesh Powar.

Talking to News18.com from Baroda, Arothe, who was the coach of the Indian team during the 2017 ICC World Cup that India lost to England in the final, said: “Smriti is a very positive player. She is mentally tough. There is no doubt about it. She reads the pitch and bowling well. She has improved in shot selection. She prepares well before a match. “

Mandhana had a slice of luck though; when on 80, she was caught at point, but the umpire’s signal of a no-ball by the bowler Ellyse Perry allowed her to carry on and add 47 more runs. She thanked her luck and expressed the need to make the chance count. She also rated her 127 among the top three best effort.

While her first Test century, only the ninth Indian women cricketer to do so after Sandhya Agarwal, Shanta Rangaswamy, Shubangi Kulkarni, Mithali Raj, Hemlata Kala, Anju Jain, Punam Raut and Thirush Kamini, is reason to celebrate, Mandhana will be looked upon to deliver in the next year’s 50 over World Cup in New Zealand.

The previous World Cup in England was like a curate’s egg for her; she began with a bang making 90 against England and 106 not out against the West Indies. Thereafter, she hardly troubled the scorer, falling for cheap scores in seven matches (36 runs), including a zero in the final.

Her display in four T20 World Cups has been lacklustre, just 298 runs in 17 innings for a poor average of 18 62. She must be keen to set everything right in New Zealand.

Former Mumbai opener and a keen watcher of the game, Shishir Hattangadi says he would go to a match to see Smriti bat.

“For once she is a left-hander. I would go to watch a left-hander. I don’t think she bores herself as a batter. Generally what happens is, when you as a batter bore yourself, you tend to stop people coming through the turnstiles to watch you. When you see somebody like Prithvi Shaw, you would know that he would probably fail seven out of ten times. But you go through the turnstiles because you know there is hope of an entertaining inning from him.”

Furthermore, talking of Mandhana’s style of play, Hattangadi explained: “Her’s is like an Amir Khan film, you know what to expect. You will expect something different. Smriti is a lot like that, because you are going to get something different. She is not going to play something different to her character. They will always intrigue you as a spectator. These are the type of players who will arouse you as a spectator hoping to see a gem. And Smriti is capable of a gem. What is required of her is consistency, but not at the cost of losing her flair.

‘She reminds me a lot of Salim Durani. Yes, because of the way she plays, she is always susceptible to taking chances. Her risk percentage is always going to be high. That is the beauty of stroke players and people who play shots around the wicket. Especially square of the wicket. They always give you the feeling of being attractive when they are in the middle. And also the feeling of being soft and casual when they get out. Smriti should be conscious about consistency, but again as I said not at the cost of losing her flair.”

Mandhana has won plaudits for making the most of the pink ball day/night Test. But a bigger test awaits her in New Zealand.

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