There was a time that much of the bulwark of India’s scoring was shouldered by the calm and collected Mithali Raj. She’s still very much in business. She’s still the highest ODI scorer in the game and is still, a force to reckon with. But perhaps if she’s often found sporting a smile against what is usually a solidly focused disposition, perhaps something you might associate with the cerebral talent on an off day or clicked reaching a book whilst live action is on, it could be because she knows someone is around.
Mithali Raj’s smile
It could be that Mithali Raj knows that in Smriti Mandhana, a lot of her worries are being taken care of. And boy could it reflect any better than what the duo have been upto in the past few outings donning the blue?
Mithali Raj begun her England ODI series with a duck and comes at the backdrop of scores like 6, 0, 53, 18, and 21. Smriti Mandhana began the England ODI series with another fifty in her 86 and comes at the backdrop of scores like 62*, 3, 76, 67, 52, 67.
Perhaps, it ought to be said, it wasn’t to surprising to note that in collecting her 10th ODI fifty and ensuring India held the upperhand over England, Smiriti was barely doing her job. And perhaps in seeing England staring confused at the Indian scorecard that read 4-166 in 35 overs alone, in chasing 208, it wasn’t anything out-worldly. After all, Mandhana’s characteristic fluent half century had saved India once again the blushes, including the ones faced by an out of form Raj and Kaur, the duo contributing merely 21 between them.
What it also did, eventually and thankfully so was that India, somehow, barely just withstood the Sophie Ecclestone storm, the slow left armer grabbing her career best against India- 4 for 37 off 10. It was unjust, it was unfair and perhaps, if you were an English fan- it was uncalled for. How often do you lose when you spin trump card earns you a four-for?
On a day that clearly belonged to spinners, beginning from Indian camp with 9 of the 10 English wickets falling to the dexterity of Ekta Bisht, Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma, Smriti Mandhana somehow found a way to trample the bowlers under the subdued effect of her blasting blade.
Spinners’ day out
On the same slow, Nagpur turf where the highest score before Mandhana padded up was a painfully slow 78 ball 45 by Fran Wilson, the Mumbai batswoman produced 109 ball 86. But that said, it wasn’t that India grabbed the game from England like an adult grabbing a candy from a child’s grasp.
A flurry of wickets- 4 of those- fell inside the space of 10 overs- the chasers receding in their effort from being 4-166 at one stage to plummeting to 8-182. Technically marginalized batting and poor shot selection earned India the nadir of Ecclestone’s brilliant left arm orthodox bowling. And it wasn’t until the penultimate over the run-chase in a typical slow scoring encounter that Ekta Bisht and Poonam Yadav- stars with the white ball- struck the winning runs off the white ball in the end.
What lies ahead?
In giving India an early advantage in the 3-match ODI series, Mandhana’s heroics saved the day. But in so doing, might have served an essential wake up call to the fulcrum of English top oder- Sciver, Wyatt and, Beaumont- the top three constituting only 64 of England’s 208 runs. The second game promises to be a mouth-watering appetiser and tone setter for the finale. But there’ll always be Smriti Mandhana’s bat- a sword- hanging over England’s head.