WPL 2024: Can Smriti Mandhana beat the pressure to rise for RCB?

Costliest player in the league, the star batter scraped together only 149 runs from eight games last season

Smriti Mandhana (photo: RCB)
Smriti Mandhana (photo: RCB)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

While Smriti Mandhana never lets the smile be wiped off her face, the pressure on her is palpable as the most expensive player in the Women’s Premier League (WPL) tries to make amends for a dismal last season this year. The Mandhana-captained Royal Challengers Banglore managed to win only two of their eight matches, finishing fourth among the five teams.

Enjoying a price tag of Rs 3.4 crores in the IPL 2023 auction, Mandhana – a two-time ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year – endured a nightmarish season with the bat as she scraped a measly 149 runs from eight games to finish 19th among the run-getters. Meg Lanning, the Australian legend and captain of Delhi Capitals, finished on top of the charts with 345 runs.

As the WPL 2024 got underway with a Mumbai Indians versus Capitals showdown in Bengaluru on Friday, 23 February, the RCB camp was conscious to ward off any pressure of expectations on Mandhana – one of the most prolific scorers in modern women’s cricket.

Speaking to the RCB media, head coach Luke Williams said on the eve of their opener against UP Warriorz on Saturday: “Obviously there’s responsibility (on Smriti) with captaining and opening the batting, but she’s got plenty of support from the team with lots of experienced senior players to help her and trying to really separate the two roles. The captaincy is one part of it, but then at other times, it’s when she’s out there batting it is Smriti Mandhana the batter and trying to be the best batter for RCB she can be. Because if she’s able to do that, we know how much impact that she can provide for our team.”

The franchise had finished a 10-day preparatory camp at their base and the Australian coach is happy with the way Mandhana has shaped up. “It’s been great to spend some time with Smriti over the last 10 days. She is practising really well as she is in a really confident and happy space with her cricket and the leadership. So Smriti is really excited about the season ahead,” he said.

Williams revealed that RCB had utilized their camp to not only work on specific skillsets and match simulations but also to do several bonding exercises that are expected to help the team gel as a unit.

“We've had a really productive 10-day camp leading into the WPL. It was carefully planned and constructed both from a cricketing point of view, but also a culture and team point of view in terms of how we set that up. We had one practice match but as well as the cricket side of things, there’s been a lot of time spent with both planned and unplanned team activities.

‘’We’re really looking forward to our first match. We’ve got five games at home and we know we’re going to have a really passionate and loyal fan base behind us, so we’re really excited. We really focus on playing an exciting brand of cricket in front of the fans. You’re going to see a team that’s united and really wants to compete,’’ concluded Williams.

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