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

Smriti Mandhana in action © Getty Images

India’s vice-captain Smriti Mandhana has said that the team will target gold at the Commonwealth Games and will not just be content with a podium finish. She also said that the team is full of match-winners and will focus on one match at a time.

Women’s cricket will feature in the Commonwealth Games for the first time this year in Birmingham. The tournament will see more than 100 Indian athletes take part in multiple sports and Mandhana was looking forward to the new experience.

“Really excited to be a part of Commonwealth Games. It is something completely new for me and the team. We have never been part of a tournament previously where other sports are involved,” she said in a press conference on Friday (July 22) ahead of the tournament which starts next week.

Mandhana said the team will derive confidence from ‘a good tour’ of Sri Lanka, where they won five of their six matches across formats. Some of the players ‘have had a fitness camp’ after that tour, while others were part of ‘a skills camp’.

With one of the Indian players reportedly testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of the departure, Mandhana said, “The medical team and BCCI will update on the fitness of the players.”

India head into the tournament as one of the favourites and Mandhana said they were targeting nothing short of gold. “We have always aspired to lift the trophy and have not had the experience of playing for a gold medal. We have to now start imagining climbing the podium and winning a medal,” she said, referring to being in the unusual position of competing for a medal instead of a trophy.

Mandhana said the team will draw inspiration from their past memories of the Commonwealth Games as well a seminal moment at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

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“We have all watched the Commonwealth Games and Olympics and we know the feeling when the Indian flag goes higher and we hear the national anthem. We are aiming for gold and we won’t just look for a podium finish because when the flag goes up and the national anthem is played, that is the best feeling. I had goosebumps when Neeraj Chopra got it in the Olympics. We now have the same opportunity, to do it in the Commonwealth Games.”

The domestic season for 2022-23 in India will feature an Under-16 tournament for the first time and Mandana welcomed the development with a reference to her own experience. “I remember when I was 10 or 11 and really striving to be a part of the Under-19 team but I was always told that I was too young. Under-16 was not there back then and it’s really important because it will help a lot of girls. We have a lot of girls who are in that age group and have started playing cricket. It is really good for young players as they will have two tournaments – Under-16 and Under-19 – to prepare for the Under-19 World Cup.”

India will start their campaign by facing World Cup champions Australia on 29th July. The two teams played in the final of the last T20 World Cup in 2020 and Mandhana said a lot had changed since then.

“It doesn’t feel like yesterday for us for sure. We had Covid and all of us went through different phases of life. The team did really well in that tournament. We couldn’t do our best on the finals day. We definitely know what our strengths and weaknesses are now,” Mandhana added.

India’s group also features Pakistan and Barbados, who will be playing at the international level for the first time as the winners of the T20 Blaze in West Indies last season. Mandhana said the unfamiliarity will not be a problem for India. “The groups were decided long back and we have our plans in place for Australia, Pakistan and Barbados.”

When asked if India would focus on the Australia match as the big clash, Mandhana said that she doesn’t prefer terms like that and the teams gives every match equal importance.

“I wouldn’t use terms like big team or small team because I think when you play a T20 tournament, all the teams are equal. Any team can beat any team on a given day. For us, all the three games are equally important.

The plan is to win all three matches and not thinking that if we win the first match, it will be easier for the team,” she said.

Mandhana was not at her best in the Sri Lanka tour, going past 50 only once in six innings but she was optimistic about her learnings from the series, saying, “The Sri Lanka series was good for me and I learnt a lot of things from what I saw there. I didn’t have the time to apply that during the matches but I learnt a lot.”

As vice-captain, Mandhana is a key part of the team’s think tank and she explained the decision to promote Yastika Bhatia to the role of India’s lead wicket-keeper, while also explaining the decision to only pick Richa Ghosh among the standbys.

“Yastika did really well in the domestic competition with the gloves and she has been batting really well for us for the last two years. She played a few good innings at the World Cup and is showing signs of being a batter who we can rely on,” she said.

“Richa is a match winner and a special talent but in the last year she has not been able to do what she’s capable of. Once she gets back to what she does best, there’s no stopping her,’ Mandhana concluded.