Smriti Mandhana made her debut at the tender age of 18 against England. In a lush green top where the batters like Charlotte Edwards failed to score runs Mandhana with a 76 under her belt in the 2nd ODI scored 22 runs. Against the seam attack that consisted of the names of Jenny Gunn, Kate Cross, and Anya Srubshole she faced 67 balls in the first innings. This classy left-handed opener then struck a brilliant 51 in 132 minutes to steer the Indian chase. While her cover drives earned praise from the experts the opening partnership of 76 runs with Thirus Kamini gave a stable start which led to a historic victory against England in Wormsley. She got out cheaply in the only home test she ever played.
She had to wait another 7 years for another Test match. In the meantime, the first Indian woman to score a double century in a limited over game has established herself in white-ball cricket. With 4 overseas hundred, this Indian opener with her mastery on the offside has given Indian an opener they have looking for. In the first innings of the Bristol Test, the one which we remember for Shafali Verma’s 96 and 63, she played her part too. A partnership of 167 runs with debutant Verma before India triggered a collapse saw Smriti Mandhana chipping in with her 2nd half-century. A 78 that lasted almost 4 hours witnessed 14 boundaries.
It took India 15 years after their innings defeat to play any test against Australia. India though hasn’t won any test match against them, but at the same time, they also did not lose any game after their 2006 defeat against Australia. A streak of 5 matches. Though Australia played a Day-Night Test in 2017 Ashes, it is India’s inaugural Day-Night Test. And Smriti Mandhana left-handed Indian opener, choose the occasion to project her prowess in the white clothes as well.
After playing cautiously in the first over against Perry she started with her stroke against the debutant Darcie Brown. Brown got a reputation for her pace and made full use of it. Mandhana loves to play on the wicket which has pace and ball carries well. With a hint of grass and 5 seamers in the lineup, Mandhana’s eyes must have lit up. No 177 for Australia has run and the first ball of the over was short on middle and leg. Mandhana transferred the weight back pulled that in front of the square and to the midwicket boundary. A ball later she bisected the gully fielders for another boundary. And in the next Perry, who was searching her rhythm in this series, was punished for throwing down the leg.
After a couple of quiet overs, where both the batters left the balls well, Brown again came under the hammer. Mandhana cut the first ball and though the stroke remained in the air for a while, the third ball went sent through the same region. Mandhana was gradually fining her grove. It is a criminal if you bowl short pitch to Mandhana without the deep square leg in position. It was the ploy that was used well by South African seamer Marizanne Kapp in the 2017 World Cup. After that, though Mandhana controlled her pull stroke well, she has fallen to that region time and again. But Lanning kept the region vacant while Mandhana kept her busy to pull the short pitch ones.
💯 to Smriti Mandhana!
— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) October 1, 2021
In that over Brown conceded another two boundaries, through square leg and point. 16 runs came from that over. Mandhana was racing towards her half-century with a strike rate of more than 100. Another debutant Stella Campbell was welcomed to the arena of test cricket with a boundary while Smriti Mandhana dispatched Ellyse Perry, both sides of the wicket. She dispatched anything that was short and wide.
While Shafali gradually started to take the attack to the opposition, Mandhana completed her 3rd Test half-century with a boundary. While in the initial overs this lefty batter showed her class in pulling the ball, this time with a cover drive she bisected the field. It was the ball that invited Smriti to drive and Mandhana just leans into it and punches for another boundary. 51 from 52 balls.
Lanning would have not expected that. A lot of chatter has been there regarding the pace attack, Australia seeing the grass on the wicket. These are the same bowlers who have troubled Indian batters with the short ones in ODI’s. Brown’s opening spell ended with 4-0-28-0 while fellow debutant Stella Campbell went for 14 in her first three-over burst where the slowness of the surface negated her attempts to bang the ball in.
Mandhana’s innings were full of superbly timed shots off the front and the back foot although the Australia bowlers fed her with too much width and, overall, were too short with the new ball. Unable to stop Mandhana with a short one, Lanning packed the off-side field. Darcie and Stell Campbell were removed from the attack. With 6 fielders on the offside Lanning introduced her spinners which checked the run flow.
Alongside that McGrath continued from the one with a different strategy. She now kept the ball away from Mandhana with a short cover, silly mid-off, and three on the point region. Mandhana dropped her anchor. Mandhana has known for being unable to convert half-centuries into the big score. But it seemed like she was determined to the shade of that reputation of her. Even ex-Indian coach WV Raman stated on Twitter that she need to convert her 50’s into big ones without throwing away her wicket. Mandhana too was unpleased with the way she got out in the 2nd ODI after her 86.
She dropped the anchor. She left the ball one after another against McGrath, refusing to fell in the trap while consumed dots against Molineux and Gardner. After Shafali fell to hoick the ball, Mandhana tried to break the shackle by hitting a boundary, that came after almost 40 balls from her. Australia controlled the phase with Molineux and McGrath, and then by Gardner giving 31 runs in 18 overs till lunch.
After the lunch break, Smriti Mandhana showed no hurry to go against the bowlers and continued with her own pace. As the Australian bowlers found their rhyme after the first hour of the play Mandhana struck to the wicket without giving any opportunity to get herself out. Mandhana told in the press conference that she knew her obsession to get out after playing a reckless stroke and how her teammates helped her to remain pumped up.
After the rain break which halted the game for hours, probably Mandhana played the stroke of the day. McGrath who was on the verge to complete an economical spell was dispatched for six. Mandhana took only two balls to hit that. In that spell, it was a rare incidence when T-Mac put it short. Mandhana rocked on the back foot and effortlessly pulls this over deep square leg. Mandhana ended day one of the historic test match with her highest individual score, an unbeaten 80.
— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) October 1, 2021
In the breaks that curtailed Day 1 of the test match, Smriti Mandhana repeatedly talked to herself. She talked about the breaks, talked about the cons of these breaks, and how to not lose focus. Once the play was resumed on day two, it looked like Mandhana would replicate how she started the previous day. But she played Annabel Sutherland and Ellyse Perry with utmost respite while run running between the wickets became more frequent. Though she sliced a full toss from Perry straight to point, she was saved at Perry overstepped on that. Seems like the ghost of no-balls have hunted Australia after the 2nd ODI. Mandhana moved to the nervous 90s with a glorious straight drive to Sutherland.
The ball was a bit fuller and Mandhana took a stride towards the ball. Her right foot moved a bit while her bat came down swiftly. The ball raced past the bowler and the wicket and even bit the athlete like Perry towards the boundary. Having said the previous evening that she would not change her game insight of three figures, Mandhana was true to her word. She moved into the 90s with arguably the shot of her innings, a perfect straight drive off Annabel Sutherland, and it took her just another 11 balls to reach the century.
Perry who was continuing from another end came round the wicket to Mandhana who was batting on 93. She pushed the first ball back to Perry in a solid manner. The next one was not that short but she never mined. She stood three runs away from her maiden Test Hundred. Perry steamed in and the ball angled into her body. Mandhana who generally loves to pull short in the smashed it with control. Though deep square leg was there the ball won the race. Smriti Mandhana became the first Indian woman to score a Test Hundred in Australia and the first Indian woman to have a century in a day-night Test match. Just like her maiden ODI century, her maiden Test century also came against the best in the world. A 171 balls innings witnessed 18 boundaries and a lone six.
Mandhana never played a pink ball test before, just like her teammates before. However, she ordered a pink Kookaburra ball, just to keep that in her room. She knew there’s going to be a Test match so that she can at least look at the ball and understand that. She didn’t actually bat against it, other than the two sessions. But the pink ball was there in her kit bag for the last two-and-a-half [or] three months. Despite her intention to have a session she really didn’t get the time to do that.”
There's a wicket! It's Ash Gardner with the breakthrough.
— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) October 1, 2021
Mandhana didn’t stop there before and hit three boundaries to Stella Campbell. Mandhana felt in the trap that was set for her from the first day. She chipped one straight to McGrath against Ash Gardner who with the economical bowling made life harder for batters. Her 127 is the highest individual score in a Test innings by a visitor in Australia. She broke Molly Hyde’s 124, a 72 years old record. Besides she now holds the record of highest individual score in all three formats of the game for India in Australia. Mandhana played stroke all around the ground and against most of the bowlers who were brought into the attack. A 102 runs partnership in 259 balls for the 2nd wicket and put India into a strong position.
If one goes through Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Life of Galileo, there is a scene, which may catch our attention. Galileo has been taken away to appear before the Inquisition and there are contradictory thinking among her daughter and pupils. His pupils are expecting that Galileo will not recant his view, while his daughter thinks of the exact opposite ad will survive the wrath of the church. While Galileo accepted the teaching of the church, one of his pupils Andrea said loudly “Unhappy the land that has no heroes!” Brecht writes, to this Galileo says in response,” No. Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.”
One might interpret the saying in different ways. But the people of the subcontinent, as Ramchandra Guha has mentioned, love to worship heroes. And seems like Mandhana has put herself on a higher pedestal.