India vice-captain Smriti Mandhana is considering pulling out of the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) to manage her workload and to keep herself fit for international commitments.
For Mandhana, 2022 started with an ODI tour of New Zealand in February in the lead up to the ODI World Cup in the same country in March. That was followed by domestic white-ball tournaments in India in April and May before the Indian team played ODIs and T20Is in Sri Lanka in Jun-July. Later in July and August, India played five T20Is in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where they finished with a silver medal, and Mandhana has been in the UK ever since, first for the Women’s Hundred to represent Southern Brave who finished runners-up, and then for the international white-ball games against England, which started with a T20I series on September 10.
“I think more than the mental part, it’s about managing a little bit of physical part,” Mandhana said in a press conference from Derby. “Definitely I’ll be thinking about pulling out of WBBL because I don’t want to miss out on playing for India or having any niggles when I play for India because I want to give my 100% when I play international cricket. So definitely I’ll be thinking about playing or pulling out of Big Bash.”
Mandhana took pains to add that she wasn’t really complaining about the volume of cricket she’s had to play because this is the kind of schedule women cricketers have wanted for years.
“I have been on the road for a while now,” she said. “Post the one-day World Cup, I have been on the road with the domestic and the tournaments you mentioned [the Sri Lanka tour, the Commonwealth Games, the Women’s Hundred]. I just try to tell myself that because of Covid we haven’t really played a lot of cricket and we really hoped that we came back and start playing cricket.
“And now I can’t be complaining that we have a lot of cricket on the platter. As a woman player we always wanted this sort of schedule for us. I’m really happy to be playing so much cricket and I’ve had my family over, like my mom is over here and she was here for the Hundred as well. So that also helps to be in a good mindset and the team-mates have been just amazing. It feels like we’re a family together.”
India have a pretty packed schedule coming up. As per the new Future Tours Programme – a first of its kind for women’s cricket – India wrap up their series against England on September 24 and immediately fly out to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup which runs from October 1 to 16.
The WBBL would have started by then – Mackay hosts the opening game on October 13 – and will go on till the end of November. India will host Australia for five T20Is in December following which they fly out to South Africa in January 2023 for a T20I tri-series involving the hosts and West Indies. February marks the start of the women’s T20 World Cup.
There is no respite even after that. The women’s domestic season in India has been brought forward in 2023 to ensure the month of March remains completely free. That’s when the BCCI plans to hold the inaugural women’s IPL. It will be a standalone tournament, leading into the men’s edition.
India women may get a break in April-May before they go on the road again, touring Bangladesh in June-July for three ODIs and as many T20Is. Then, they’ll welcome South Africa in September for three ODIs and three T20Is, New Zealand in October for the same number of games, England in December for a Test and three T20Is, and Australia in December-January for a Test, three ODIs, and three T20Is. It’s all part of a bumper home season for India in 2023-24.
It is in light of such a busy calendar that Mandhana feels as her captain Harmanpreet Kaur’s does: India need a sports psychologist travelling with them.
“Harman rightly pointed out…we had a psychologist Mugdha ma’am with us during the World Cup and she helped a lot of girls,” Mandhana said. “The way the cricket schedule is right now, many girls will benefit from such a mentor or psychologist in the team. I agree with Harman that such a move will help a lot of girls in the team.”
Mandhana pulling out of the WBBL won’t be the first instance of a high-profile player taking a break in the women’s game. Katherine Brunt was rested for the ongoing series against India “with a view to maximising her mental and physical recovery off the back of what has been an intense year so far” and her wife Nat Sciver also withdrew saying, “I am very emotionally fatigued.”
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo