When Smriti Mandhana tackled the Pink Ball fearlessly

Smriti Mandhana made batting look extremely easy.

Smriti Mandhana
Smriti Mandhana. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Sai Kishore
Sai Kishore

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Smriti Mandhana is one of the most exciting cricketers in the world today. She is a very important pillar of the Indian women’s cricket team’s batting lineup. The elegant left-hander is a rare talent and a treat to watch when on song. The poster girl of women’s cricket is celebrating her 26th birthday today. 

On this happy occasion, let us rewind and relive Mandhana’s maiden Test century which came against Australia back in October 2021 on the Gold Coast. It was the first ever Pink Ball Test that the Indian women’s cricket team featured in. 

The rain gods had the ultimate say on the outcome of that Test as it ended in a draw. But the historic match will remain etched forever in the memory of cricket fans because of how Smriti Mandhana tackled the pink ball with her exquisite stroke play and fearless approach.

All the talk about Team India’s lack of preparation with the pink ball ahead of the encounter was put to rest the moment Mandhana pulled Darcie Brown in the second over to bring up the first boundary of the match.

On the rain-marred opening day, the Australian bowlers were guilty of being on the shorter side. Mandhana latched onto every opportunity that came her way, especially in the early part of the first innings against seamers. She made good use of the pull shot and raced off to 33 in 28 balls.

Smriti Mandhana made batting look extremely easy

Her opening partner Shafali Verma did struggle to find her usual rhythm even as she was dropped thrice by the Australian fielders. But Mandhana was in a different zone at the other end. She pierced the offside field with a well-timed push-through cover to bring up her half-century in the 15th over, a feat coming in just 51 deliveries.

The left-hander made batting look extremely easy. It did not for a moment appear that before the Test Mandhana was involved in only two net sessions with the pink ball. She paced her innings to perfection and did not try to be over-aggressive, especially against the spinners, something which the opposition skipper also acknowledged.

“Her tempo was excellent in the innings. She was punishing the bad balls, defending the good ones. It’s pretty simple but when you actually execute that, it’s certainly very effective. She sort of counter-punched a bit. We were just a bit off with our lengths: she was really punishing us. So far she’s been extremely good…and showed how to adapt to this format”, Meg Lanning was quoted as saying by ESPNcricinfo after the end of the first day’s play which saw a little more than 44 overs being bowled.

Mandhana’s maiden Test century put Team India in a commanding position

Resuming her innings from the overnight score of 80 runs, Mandhana survived a scare on the very second ball she played the following morning. Beth Mooney took a brilliant catch at point off the bowling of Elysse Perry to stun Mandhana. But luckily it turned out to be a no-ball.

Mandhana reached the 90-run mark with a glorious straight drive off debutant Annabel Sutherland. The left-hander then hit two boundaries in an over from Perry to bring up her maiden Test century.

Mandhana’s innings was studded with 22 boundaries and a six, which came from the bowling of Tahlia McGrath hit over the deep square leg boundary. She was eventually dismissed for 127 off 216 deliveries by the off-spinner Ashleigh Gardner. But by then Mandhana had made sure that her team was in a commanding position in the match.

A remarkable feat 

Team India declared in the first innings at 377/8 and in reply, Australia managed to save the follow-on and declared at 241/9. Indian women then set the Aussies a target of 272 runs. However, rain played spoilsport throughout the match, and close to 100 overs got washed away. It meant there was no realistic chance of any result in the match other than the possibility of a draw.

Team India certainly had the upper hand in the match. “I thought India played really well…Mandhana’s innings was exceptional. But we were behind for the rest of the match and they held all the aces, they earned the right to put us under pressure. And we never really got back in the game,” Matthew Mott, the then Australia coach said after the Test.

The Pink ball has always posed a different set of challenges to cricketers across the globe. Even the Indian men’s team took its own time to shed its inhibitions before agreeing to play its first-ever Day-Night Test against Bangladesh in 2019 at the Eden Gardens.

More women’s Tests are the need of the hour

One must also take into consideration that Indian women cricketers hardly get to play many Tests. For that matter, very few Test matches involving the international women’s teams are held in general.

In this context, Mandhana’s maiden Test century was an eye opener. Her brilliant knock epitomized the kind of talent and class women’s cricket has to offer. Perhaps Mandhana’s knock will prompt the BCCI and its fellow boards to organize more women’s Tests.

-by Shubhadeep Dutta