Smriti Mandhana became the second Indian after Jhulan Goswami to win the International Cricket Council’s Women Player of the Year award on the back of her superlative performance in 2018. Goswami had won the award in 2007.
Mandhana also won the One-Day International Player of the Year award.
Reacting to the news, a delighted Mandhana said:“The awards are pretty special because as a player when you score runs, you want the team to win, and then when you get acknowledged for your performances through these awards, it motivates you to work harder and do well for your team.
“The century I scored in South Africa (in Kimberley) was quite satisfying and then I had good home series against Australia and England. A lot of people used to say I do not score that much in India, so I had a point to prove to myself. That was something which really made me better as a player. And then, of course, the first four matches of the ICC Women’s World T20 were quite memorable.”
She started the year with a wonderful series in South Africa. Her 219 runs in three ODIs, which included a career-best 135, helped India seal the series 2-1. She followed it up with 135 runs in five T20Is helping India finish the tour with another series win. She was the best batter from both teams across both the formats.
The knock of 135 in particular, which came off 129 balls and consisted of 14 fours and one six, was particulary crucial in Mandhana gaining her confidence back. She had started the 2017 World Cup after recovering from a knee surgery with match-winning knocks of 90 and 106 not out against England and Windies respectively, but had failed in the subsequent seven innings as India lost the final to the hosts by nine runs at Lord’s.
She returned to India to work on her technique, and it fetched her results during the tour of South Africa, which was India’s first assignment after the World Cup.
After returning from South Africa, Mandhana continued to impress in the home season against Australia and England. She made 520 runs in ten matches across both the formats, which included seven fifties.
The 109-ball 86 she made against England in the first ODI in Nagpur was a show of her adaptibility as she curbed her natural instincts on a difficult surface to bat till the 38th over of india’s chase of 208. Her wicket triggered a collapse, but India prevailed by one wicket with five balls to spare.
In the third ODI, she made a crucial 53 before retiring because of an injury. It set the base for Mithali Raj and Deepti Sharma to complete a chase of 202 and seal the series 2-1.
Mandhana also scored two half-centuries in two ODI wins in Sri Lanka and finished as the highest run-getter in the format in 2018. She had a tally of 669 runs in 12 matches, way ahead of the second-placed Lizelle Lee who had 565 runs in 14 matches.
After the triangular T20I series at home involving Australia and England where India finished third, Mandhana travelled to Malaysia for the T20 Asia Cup. She did not do well on the sluggish tracks there and India lost to Bangladesh in the final.
She, however, regained confidence when she turned up for Western Storm in the Kia Super League in England. She topped the batting charts with 421 runs at a strike-rate of 174.68, taking her team to the semifinals.
It remains the best strike-rate for any batter across all editions of KSL and Women’s Big Bash League in Australia. What stood out for her in that campaign was the ease with which she hit sixes, a skillset that was not her strength till 2017.
“Earlier I didn’t have that power to clear the rope. I used to deal a lot in boundaries than in sixes. Playing the lofted shots straight over the bowler’s head was not really my strength,” Mandhana had told Cricketnext soon after returning from England. “I am lucky that my coach (Anant Tambvekar) is an allrounder. He can bowl offspin, legspin and pace. We had two to three buckets, and in each there were 25 to 30 balls. Each bucket was for a certain delivery. So, I used to play at least 60 balls of lofted shots every day in Sangli (her hometown). Doing something regularly for a period of eight months helps. I got the confidence to execute those shots in matches.”
Mandhana was also instrumental in India winning all their league matches in the World T20 in the Caribbean and making it to the semifinal of the tournament for the first time after eight years. She then flew to Australia to represent Hobart Hurricanes in the ongoing WBBL.
Mandhana features in the ICC team of the year where Poonam Yadav is the only other Indian to find a place. Poonam’s performance as a legspinner this year has been terrific. She surpassed Jhulan Goswami to become India’s leading wicket-taker in T20Is, and also finished 2018 with 35 wickets – the most wickets by a bowler in the format in one calendar year.