Smriti Mandhana: Of Innate Honesty And Artistry

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Smriti Mandhana: Of innate honesty and artistry. The trademarked Mandhana drive was out in force on the opening day.

Smriti Mandhana: Of Innate Honesty And ArtistryThe trademarked Mandhana drive was out in force on the opening day.

There's a raw, almost untamed, honesty to Smriti Mandhana. It comes through in every facet of her being. But it's more than just a case of ‘what you see is what you get'. There's a genuineness to this innate sincerity, regardless of whether she's on the field or off it, that makes you appreciate it more.

It certainly came to the fore when she spoke to the media at the end of a frustrating, weather-affected opening day of the pink-ball Test. She'd been the biggest positive on either side, having scored an unbeaten 80 in between all the rain and lightning breaks.

And Mandhana wasn't holding back on whatever her view was sought on about the goings on at the Metricon Stadium. Ask if the Aussies had bowled too short with the new-ball on a pitch where they could have been fuller, she says that they should have stuck to the length they'd bowled to her in the ODIs. When the tempo of her innings, especially the rapid rate at which she kicked off, gets brought up, she smiles and goes, “I didn't look like I had a tempo did I?”

Tell her that she didn't look too chuffed with her own batting during the two days of training before the Test, the 25-year-old throws you a quizzical look. She then insists in fact to have felt too good about it to even want to practice much. Almost immediately though comes a disclaimer. “Maybe I looked like that because I was playing some shitty shots.” It's like she lays it all out but without any fuss about really doing so.

That honesty reflects in her batting too. There's a tinge of nonchalance to it. But not in the flamboyant fashion of say her opening partner Shafali Verma.

You bowl her a loose ball, and she'll put you away. You bowl her a good ball, she'll let it go, or push it into the off-side. You bowl her a short ball. She'll pull or hook it away. You put a fielder out for that shot. And she'll still go for it, only that she'll look to hit it to a different part of that boundary.

“If the first ball is my strength, I'll go for it,” like she said on Thursday (September 30).

Going back to the nets' session on Tuesday, two days out from the Test, there was one aspect of her batting that Mandhana seemed to be stressing on. It was to do with bringing her bat down a lot straighter and making sure she doesn't slice the ball and get caught, like had transpired twice during the ODI series. And it was her good friend Jemimah Rodrigues' honest opinion that she sought out in the matter. Mandhana began by placing a ball on the ground, in between her feet and driving it from a stationary position. Rodrigues was tasked with checking the motion of her bat and its follow-through.

Mandhana then got the youngster from Mumbai to lob a few balls at her to drive. Unfortunately, the first one from Rodrigues yorked the left-hander while the second one came screaming towards her face. Though amused, Mandhana didn't look ready to see the funny side of it. She kept at it for a while before returning a day later to get her head literally over the ball.

That she was prepared to work that bit harder even on a day where she revealed to be otherwise feeling very good about her batting, just told you that the honesty is very much an integral part of her cricket.

Mandhana got to her 50 off 51 balls and then settled into a lower tempo.

A Mandhana knock will of course have plenty of eye-catching shots, generally through the off-side, like was the case from the time she walked out to bat on the Gold Coast on Thursday. She was helped on her way in the early going by the Aussies' shortness of length, and also their tendency to keep offering the easy scoring opportunity to the elegant opener. When it was full, Mandhana drove through the covers, when it was short, she cut or pulled and when Ellyse Perry drifted down her pads, she tucked it away towards the fine-leg fence.

As Meg Lanning would say later with a tinge of awe, Mandhana's plan was simple but her execution was absolutely incredible.

For all her attractive strokeplay though, it was Mandhana's ability to constantly alter her plans based on the changing conditions and the home team's approach that was a hallmark of her success. After scoring at a rapid rate en route to her half-century, she adjusted her game to fit in with Lanning's ploy of packing the off-side with a one-day like field – five saving the single at one point. Rather than looking to pierce the gap, she preferred either leaving deliveries or just stroking them confidently towards the fielders. She did the same against the impressive spin duo of Sophie Molineux and Ash Gardner, waiting patiently and playing on their patience. It was yet again Mandhana being honest with what she was faced with at the present, rather than banking on the breezy start she'd made to her innings.

It wasn't the kind of day where, as a batter you could maintain any sort of rhythm either. The first rain break lasted for nearly two hours. Mandhana spent most of that time chatting away with her teammates in the dug-out, occasionally getting up to shadow bat. As she would tell the press later, the Indian Test vice-captain also got her teammates to keep her honest, by reminding her about not getting too ahead of herself. To make sure she doesn't end up playing a “casual shot” to get out once the break was done.

She didn't. Instead, she stuck to keeping out the length balls while swivelling and hooking Tahlia McGrath away for a four and a six during the last phase of play before thunder and lightning turned the Metricon Stadium into an apocalyptic battleground.

Some of the Australian players brought out their dance moves to the classic numbers on an overall impressive playlist that echoed around the largely empty stadium through all the breaks. Mandhana though waited with her pads on, even deputising for Mithali Raj on a couple of occasions for meetings with the umpires. with the hope of getting back out there to complete a deserved ton.

It wasn't to be on Thursday. The forecast for Day 2 isn't encouraging either. But you know that Mandhana will be back on Friday (October 1), prepared as ever to take stock of what she is faced with. She'll keep out the good ones and put away the bad ones. If they pitch it short, she'll pull and hook. Through it all, she'll make sure you are entertained. And whether she gets to that maiden Test ton or not, she'll be honest about what it felt like, just like she is with everything else.

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