Mandhana mayhem and the art of killing them softly

Smriti Mandhana in action during CWG 2022 © Getty Images

What do you think of when you think of Smriti Mandhana – the batter? Lazy elegance, great off side game with a cover drive to die for, good off the back foot, and plays the game with a smile.

India were chasing 100 to register their first win of the Commonwealth Games 2022 when they came out to bat against Pakistan on Sunday (July 31). And Mandhana smashed an unbeaten 63 off 42 balls with a strike rate of 150.00 as her side romped home with plenty of overs to spare. But can ‘smashed’ as an adjective be used to describe her game?

They talk about some players having more time on their hands with the bat. Batters who look like they don’t have to put on any effort to play their shots and Mandhana is one of them – even if she works as hard as anyone else in the circuit. But on Sunday, her innings was simultaneously brutal as well as elegant. She bludgeoned Pakistan while still being her effortless self if that made any sense.

Going by how the sides have grown over the years, neither the target nor the opposition was much of a challenge for India on a good batting surface at Edgbaston. They have lost only two T20Is in their history against Pakistan and both of them came in T20 World Cups. If you wanted to add some context, they were at another world event and having lost to Australia in the opening fixture, it was a must-win encounter of sorts for Mandana and Co.

ALSO READ: Smriti Mandhana: Aiming for gold and we won’t just look for a podium finish

But the India vice-captain wasn’t concerned about the match or the opposition in the larger context. For her and for the unit, the idea was simple – to win matches and present themselves with the best chance to go forward in the competition.

“It was an important match in terms of qualification, rather than naming the opposition, we will look at it that way. Rather than putting unnecessary pressure,” Mandhana said in a media interaction after the match.

Again to throw in some context, Mandhana didn’t have great numbers against Pakistan going into the game. She was part of that loss against the neighbours in 2016 that put India out of the home World Cup and had only amassed 107 runs from six innings at an average of 17.83 and strike rate of 86.29.

In the Australia match, Mandhana started aggressively with five boundaries but got out trying to go after a wide one outside the off stump. With the bowlers having restricted Pakistan to 99 all out in the 18 overs in the rain-reduced encounter, no one would have blamed Mandhana had she eased into it in a relatively easy chase.

But the stylish southpaw had other ideas; she wanted to adopt the same methods that saw her make 24 off 17 balls against Australia. But it wasn’t mindless hitting or even bludgeoning, it was all about being clever and accessing the areas she wanted to hit regardless of where the bowlers bowled.

ALSO READ: Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and art of batting in partnerships

After scoring only a single off her first four balls, Mandhana moved across the stumps to access the leg side and deposited Anam Amin over long-on for a six. Having conceded that maximum, the left-arm spinner pushed the ball fuller only to offer a freebee which was dutifully dispatched for four.

Having conceded only two runs in her first over, it was up to Diana Baig to restrict the dangerous opening duo. Coming into strike after Shafali Verma took a single, Mandhana drove the pacer aerially through extra-cover for a four.

Smriti Mandhana plays one of her trademark shots © Getty Images

Pakistan skipper Bismah Maroof was forced to ring in the changes and deep square-leg was moved from there and Mandhana swivelled and pulled Baig for another boundary there displaying her batting nous. The bowler was forced to keep it outside the off stump and the left-hander threaded it through third and point to end the over on a high.

Amin’s next over saw Mandhana slice one over the point fielder for a four. Fatima Sana was introduced into the attack and was greeted with a back foot pull – this time on the ground with a fielder being around – for four and then came the shot of the match. The 26-year-old walked down the track against the young seamer to get to the pitch of the ball and deposited it over long-off for her second maximum. 52 runs came off the power play – it was reduced to five overs – as India ate into more than half of the chase.

Smriti Mandhana lofting Fatima Sana for a six © Getty Images

Some deft touch followed in the next over against the leg-spin of Tuba Hassan for a boundary to third. In the eighth over – still bowling from around the stumps – Hassan threw it wide of the off stump, but Mandhana was in the mood and launched it over the head of the bowler for her biggest six of the day. That shot meant Mandhana raced to her fifty off just 31 balls.

Chase, done and dusted! And despite all the mayhem, the innings never looked out of place in the ever-growing list of Mandhana classics.

“I was able to time the ball well. In T20 cricket, there are (very) few days where you try and play the shots and all the shots come off. Today was that day, whatever I was trying came off,” Mandhana concluded.