In her maiden Kia Super League season, Smriti Mandhana smacked 421 runs in nine innings. That is the most runs by a player in a women’s T20 league anywhere in the world. The next-best tally belongs to Australia captain Meg Lanning, 405 at the inaugural Women’s Big Bash in 2015-16.
While Mandhana herself admitted she “did not expect” to be so prolific, India T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur, who debuted the same year as Mandhana in both the WBBL and the KSL, put her deputy’s performance down to the “freedom to swing her bat”.
“Smriti is someone in the Indian side I discuss a lot of cricket with,” Harmanpreet told ESPNcricinfo after returning from England, where her side Lancashire Thunder were eliminated in the league stage. “When I met her in the UK, she said her team [Western Storm, who will be defending their title on Finals Day on Monday] had given her the freedom to swing her bat. And it was clear usko mazaa aa raha tha [she was enjoying herself].”
Among the many causalities that the Mandhana juggernaut claimed in the KSL was Harmanpreet’s own side, which lost both their home and away games to Storm. While Harmanpreet announced her belated arrival in the tournament with a scintillating 21-ball 34 not out on debut, Mandhana marred her captain’s first outing at home – in Manchester – with a maiden T20 ton.
“That was one of the best innings I’ve seen her play,” Harmanpreet said. “She was looking very confident; you could see that in her strokeplay. That’s what you need in a player: confidence and flow. And that comes, to a great extent, from that freedom.”
Smriti Mandhana launches one over the top Getty Images
In a frame bookended by the joint-fastest women’s T20 half-century five days earlier, and 49 that helped keep Storm’s blemish-free KSL streak against Thunder alive, the century also played a part in tempting the team to live stream the reverse-fixture in Taunton.
That Mandhana had struck her maiden World Cup century a year ago at the same venue may also have helped make the decision. Besides, the explosiveness of the Harmanpreet-Mandhana combination, and the contrasting nature of their aggression, makes them a unique selling proposition for any domestic tournament.
“We both played in the WBBL and now the KSL, so that experience is there,” Harmanpreet said. “We’ve come to know each other quite well that way, and the output of my discussions with Smriti has mostly been that she likes being given freedom.
“When you’re playing for the country, there’s a lot of pressure on you to deliver, game after game. You have to live up to the expectations that the tag of a ‘match-winner’ brings with it. But it works well for Smriti when she is assured of that freedom by the captain and the management.”
Harmanpreet also underlined that having “a good line-up and 4-5 strong players down the order” has helped Smriti’s freewheeling approach. It was only seven months ago that Mandhana made the same assessment when talking about Harmanpreet’s batting in the WBBL. “The batting depth of Harry di’s side [Sydney Thunder in 2016-17] was good… it helped her style.”