Vice-Captain of the Indian Women’s National Cricket T20 Team
I clearly remember the day I discovered Smriti Mandhana. The year was 2017 and the Indian Women’s Cricket Team had just made it to the finals of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup. For the first time ever, India’s women cricketers captured our collective imagination as they found themselves on every newspaper and television channel and received well deserved honour from all across the country.
Smriti was all of 21 years then. Speaking about following her only passion, she says, “My passion and drive stems from my dream of representing India on an international level and this always motivates me to win matches for my country. That’s how it’s been when I was young and it still stands to this day, as I know I will sleep peacefully once I’ve got on the field and given my 100%.”
Smriti was born in Mumbai to Smita and Shrinivas Mandhana in 1996. When she was two, the family moved to Madhavnagar, Sangli in Maharashtra. Both her father and brother, Shravan, used to play cricket at the district level for Sangli.
Smriti’s cricketing journey began when she got inspired after watching her brother play at the Maharashtra state Under-16 tournaments. At the age of nine, she was selected in the Maharashtra Under-15 team. At 11, she was picked for the Maharashtra Under-19 team.
Her first breakthrough came in 2013 when she became the first Indian woman to achieve a double-hundred in a one-day game. Playing for Maharashtra against Gujarat, she scored an unbeaten 224 off 150 balls in the West Zone Under-19 Tournament, and there was no looking back.
At 24, Smriti is a regular in the Indian Women’s National Cricket squad and has innumerable national and international awards to her credit. In 2018, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) named her as the Best Women’s International Cricketer. In the same year, the International Cricket Council (ICC) awarded her with the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Award for the best female cricketer of the year and also named her the ODI Player of the Year. In 2019, she won the International Woman Cricketer of the Year award at CEAT International Cricket Awards.
All through her journey, Smriti’s family has been closely involved in her cricketing activities. Her father Shrinivas, a chemical distributor, takes care of her cricket programme; her mother Smita is in charge of her diet, clothing and other organisation aspects; and her brother Shravan still bowls to her in the nets. “My family constantly inspires me, but I also look-up to players like Serena Williams and the impact she’s had on tennis as well as Alex Morgan, both of whom have paved the way for a lot of women,” says Smriti.
Considering the cult status of cricket (especially Men’s cricket and cricketers) in the Indian sub-continent, it is difficult not to ask Smriti about the status of women in sports. “There are a lot of improvements that can be made, but there has been some growth in how women in sports are being seen as leaders. There are a lot of women out there who act as role models to young girls, which in turn has led to better facilities and opportunities for women,” she feels.
However, Smriti thinks her biggest challenge was being the captain of Maharashtra at 18, India’s T20 captain at 22 and the vice-captain now: “These were all moments I was super proud of, but it was also tough to lead a lot of players older than me. Again, they’re all challenges that end up teaching you the most about what it is to be a leader. Losses are disappointing, injuries are painful, but it gives you time to reflect and work on yourself.”
Smriti reserves her Saturdays for herself. She explains, “Saturday mornings are for training, as I like to get a bit of work done on the weekend. You can find me getting ready to go to the gym, where I like to get a few sets of workout done. I also like to spend some time on the bike.”
A thorough sportswoman, Smriti is also fond of football. “When I have time, I love playing FIFA – I could spend hours on the Play-Station. But I also love going out to try new food and driving around, just enjoying the day,” she shares.
For us, Smriti may be an esteemed player of the Indian Women’s National Cricket Team, but she still feels like the girl-next-door. “I think it’s important to balance cricket and home. so it’s equally important to go home, relax, spend time with family and train at a pace that is comfortable to me. There have been sacrifices that have been made, but at the end of the day, I am happy to be where I am,” concludes Smriti.