India’s Smriti Mandhana vows to grow from tough T20I captaincy debut against England



Smriti Mandhana plays one on the off side © PTI

Smriti Mandhana, India’s stand-in T20I captain, says her initiation to leading the side with a thumping loss against England in the first match may help her perform better as a leader and batsman in the second, must-win fixture for India in the three-match series, on Thursday.

“It was a really tough game to go out there, and first game as a captain you are really nervous and excited,” Mandhana said of India’s 41-run loss against England in the series opener in Guwahati. “But things did not go the way as I expected it to be. I have to accept that I was a bit nervous.

“Definitely, before the second match, now that I have made my captaincy debut, I wouldn’t be nervous and I will be proactive in captaincy and in batting, [I] will be able to give a good start to India.”

Mandhana’s 8-ball 2 on Monday was part of a lacklustre performance from India’s batting line-up, whose chronic infirmity in the 20-over format has worsened around relying on her and No. 3 batsman Jemimah Rodrigues for steady starts and, most of the time, squandering that.

Most tellingly, the over-reliance came to the fore during India’s 3-0 whitewash in New Zealand, where designated T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur, who is out of the current series with an ankle injury, also had a lean patch as a middle-order batsman.

Mandhana said the focus during an open-wickets session at the Barsapara Cricket Stadium on Tuesday and a nets session on Wednesday had been on addressing the T20I side’s biggest concern: “get the batting order right and avoid collapse”.

On Monday, Mandhana had squarely pinned the blame for India’s defeat on herself, Mithali Raj and Rodrigues, who make up India’s top four, with allrounder Harleen Deol having made her T20I debut in the series opener.

“As a batter who is settled, our top four, we are playing for a long time now,” Mandhana had said after the loss. “I, Mithali, Jemi have to take more responsibility, and bat more and take the time through [the finish line]. We have to give a bit of cushion to the youngsters.”

On the eve of the second game in the three-match series, Mandhana’s assessment differed little. She did, however, take hope from the lower-middle order’s rearguard, which involved Deepti Sharma, Arundhati Reddy and Shikha Pandey contributing a combined 63 runs in India’s total of 119.

“The batting order,” Mandhana said, “even in New Zealand, we didn’t capitalise [on] the good start. The last match we didn’t get a good start. But one positive is how Shikha [Pandey], Aru and Deepti played at the end. That was the big positive for us.”

Shikha Pandey celebrates a wicket © Associated Press

Pandey, the leader of India’s pace attack, was also the most economical of the five bowlers used by Mandhana, who was satisfied with the quality of fast bowlers coming into the side, despite left-arm seamer Komal Zanzad not being handed an international debut in the first T20I after running through the England line-up with a blistering four-for as part of the Board President’s XI two weeks ago.

“We have really good pace bowlers coming in,” Mandhana said. “Of course, you won’t get someone like Jhulan [Goswami] because she has so much experience. It is wrong to expect a pace bowler coming in to deliver the same as what Jhulu di does for us because she is one of a kind.

“I played the Board President XI’s match as well. Even I used to feel that. But seeing the pace bowlers [in that game], I think they did a brilliant job. We got almost four or five wickets in the first 10 overs. And those were all pacers. So I don’t think there is lack of depth. Only that we have to give them enough chances to be a match-winner for India.”

Mandhana’s view of the fast-bowling talent on the domestic circuit comes two days after 36-year-old Goswami, the senior-most bowler in the Indian contingent, reclaimed the No. 1 ODI spot on the back of her eight wickets in the preceding series in Mumbai, which India won 2-1.

“That is the position where she deserves to be,” Mandhana, the top-ranked batsman in the 50-over format, said of Goswami, while also commending Mithali Raj (No. 10 on the batsmen’s rankings), Pandey and Poonam Yadav (ranked fourth and tenth on the bowlers’ rankings respectively) for figuring in the top 10 from the second-placed Indian side.

“It’s an exciting thing,” Mandhana said. “But now our goal is to get the team to the No. 1 ranking. Individuals being up there on No. 1… but it’d be much better if the team is at No. 1 on the ICC rankings.”

While Tammy Beaumont, England’s Player of the Match in the first T20I, said after the game losing the toss may have worked in the tourists’ favour, Mandhana defended her decision to chase.

“Definitely not [a wrong decision to bat first],” Mandhana said. “I think the wicket was really good to bat on. It didn’t change at all. If the wicket changed in the second innings, then we would think that the decision was wrong. But the wicket remained the same.

“Only in bowling we thought we gave 10-15 runs extra. One-sixty was quite chaseable, but none of our top-order batters got any start. I think if anyone would’ve batted until the 15th over, it would have been a different game.”

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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