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Mandhana: 'It's a lot of fun to bat with Shaifu'

India opener hopes she and her partner Shafali Verma can bat through to the 15th over and set the team up in the decider against England

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana's 790 runs as an opening pair are the most arcross teams since Verma's debut  •  BCCI/UPCA

Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana's 790 runs as an opening pair are the most arcross teams since Verma's debut  •  BCCI/UPCA

Smriti Mandhana wants India's openers - basically her and Shafali Verma - to bat long into the middle overs to ensure better results in T20 cricket.
Since Verma's debut in September 2019, this combination has scored 790 runs in 22 innings, the most across all teams. Australia openers Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney's 750 runs in 23 innings are second on the list. Overall, Mandhana and Verma have the seventh-highest tally for an opening pair and the third-highest among Indians.
With the third and final T20I on Wednesday set to decide the multi-format series, which England lead 8-6 on the points table, Mandhana hoped for a longer stand between her and her partner.
"It's been about a year and a half since Shaifu [Verma] and I started opening together in the T20I format," Mandhana, the India T20I vice-captain, said. "In this tour I also opened with her in the one-dayers and the Test. It's a lot of fun to be involved in partnerships with her.
"Our conversations and communication is [good]; we know what exactly to tell each other, so that helps quite a bit, especially in the T20I format. The one thing we need to work on as an opening combination, as you mentioned, is to carry on till at least the 15th or the 16th over. That will be good for our team. We will be working on that."
India savoured a hard-fought win in the final over of the second T20I in Hove on Sunday and they hope to keep up that momentum. Mandhana identified a key aspect that may help them do so: being on guard against losing wickets in clumps.
"We have had a discussion about the middle overs and also the death overs about how we can get better," Mandhana said. "Definitely one point is that we are losing out two wickets at a time. That really puts a brake on our run rate. That's something we have to work on as a team.
"That happened in the previous formats as well and it's happening in the T20I also, that we are getting out back-to-back. That puts pressure on two new batters. That's a communication thing we need to get better as a batting unit. We have all definitely understood our mistakes, and hopefully we'll better our mistakes in tomorrow's game."
India do have a few positives as well that will stand them well in tomorrow's decider. Like captain Harmanpreet Kaur showing signs of her vintage best in scoring 31 off 25 balls in the last game.
"Definitely, Harry di coming back and hitting a few balls - that's a very good thing for the Indian team," Mandhana said. "So, the win was really important and it puts us in a position to win the T20I series in the next match and draw the multi-format series."
There have been other contributors too. Seventeen-year-old makeshift wicketkeeper Richa Ghosh, for example, effected four dismissals in the first T20I and three in the second, with the run-out of Nat Sciver particularly standing out.
Having made her international debut last year as middle-order batter, Ghosh was handed the gloves for the first time in T20 internationals back in March, in a match Mandhana was captaining. That decision was taken in part because she had become a liability in the outfield but on this tour of England she has put that criticism behind her.
"I think she has improved massively on her keeping and I could see her working hard even when the Test and the one-dayers were on," Mandhana said of Ghosh. "She was really working hard with her keeping. That's also showing in the matches. She did pretty well with the gloves and she taking the gloves for us in the long run can be very useful for the combination and the balance of our team."
Allrounder Sneh Rana has been another key player for India this tour. Back in the side after a five-year gap, she helped save the one-off Test with a stunning 80 not out in the final innings and has continued in the same vein during the limited-overs matches as well.
"I think Sneh Rana's comeback is very inspirational for all of us," Mandhana said.. "I was in the team when she part of the XV three-four years back. To see her come back in this way and open the doors in all three formats. That's something really inspirational because when you're coming back, you have the extra added pressure of performing well and proving yourself once again.
"Not only coming [back] in one format, she has performed in a way that she has crashed into and come into the XI in all three formats. That's something that's really commendable. She performing that way is going to add a lot of balance to the team, especially the batting skills she has. She can hit the ball really well. That's going to play a crucial role in the upcoming years or months."
Though India are facing the pressure of a series decider, Mandhana also had time to focus on the big picture. The team's next assignment is a multi-format tour of Australia in September-October, and with the next ODI World Cup due in April 2022, she highlighted various areas that need working on.
"There are lots of things we have to work on as a team, especially, I feel, in the batting department going forward," Mandhana said. "The next seven months are going to be really crucial and we have to start putting up good scores. In the one-day format, we have to start putting 250- and 260-plus scores consistently when you're batting first. And, of course, our bowling and fielding can get consistent.
"We are probably having one good performance and then one which is okay, so I think we can be consistent in that department. The next seven months are going to be crucial to get ourselves completely ready before the one-day World Cup. The Australia series is also going to be big in terms of preparations for the World Cup."

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha