Rarely does the best performer in a game insist on a second Player-of-the-Match award for their team-mate. Rarer are the times they direct a demand of this sort at cricket’s governing body, at a world tournament at that.
Mandhana’s century was her second at an ODI World Cup and the second against West Indies, too. Harmanpreet’s, meanwhile, made her the first Indian woman to score three hundreds in ODI World Cups. Both knocks proved pivotal in lifting India to the safety of a 300-plus total a week after 310 was nearly chased down at the same venue. Against a West Indies side that had downed hosts New Zealand and defending champions England in their first two outings, it was all the more critical for India to post an imposing total after opting to set one.
“As batters, we both prefer chasing and setting the target both together,” Mandhana said of the dynamic of her partnership with Harmanpreet. “Our strengths are really different because she is really good with spin and I like pace on the ball. So when the spinner comes on I give her the strike and when the pacer comes on she gives me the strike.
“It’s always fun to bat with Harry di. We have battled a lot in T20s in last six to seven years I’ve been part [of the Indian team], I’ve had a lot of partnerships with her and we always complement each other really well. We share a really good bond on and off the field.
“When she did he walked in the situation was quite tricky, so I didn’t want to get her [to] lose her focus. So I didn’t really joke around at that time. But once she was in 30s and 40s, we both were actually having a lot of fun after that; we started talking a lot more. And I don’t think today I needed to tell her because she was smiling a lot more than she generally does.”
Despite India’s attacking start – thanks to opener Yastika Bhatia’s 21-ball 31 – India found themselves precariously placed near the 15th-over mark when No. 5 Harmanpreet joined Mandhana in the middle. Together, they powered India from 78 for 3 to 262 for 3 at a rate of over a run a ball. A standout feature in their stand were their ease at stealing ones and twos, a major part of both their innings built on along-the-ground strokes.
“When she came into bat, we were focusing more on singles and doubles because we had lost three quick wickets and we didn’t want to play another [fancy] shot or get out or something and we didn’t want to even stop the run rate,” Mandhana explained. “So our discussion was that we’ll just keep batting and we will get singles and doubles and convert the singles into doubles. That’s something we all spoke in the dressing room after the New Zealand match, where we couldn’t start the momentum and carry it also.”
Deputy to Harmanpreet in the T20I side, Mandhana was effusive in her praise for her senior and ODI vice-captain’s work ethic and resilience.
“From the outset, I feel when her back is towards the wall, that’s when she comes the best out and that’s something which I’ve seen,” said Mandhana. “Her work ethics are really up there in the whole team. She keeps going even if she does not get the results. That’s something that really gets her going. World Cups are the place where she comes good and comes big.
“I’ve been getting out on 70s and 80s quite a lot, so something which was consciously I was thinking that if I feel like playing a shot I have I don’t have to stop myself.”
“From the practice game she’s been batting well, so we are really confident that she will be able to score runs in this tournament. I’m happy that she just got back to back score fifties And most importantly I think today’s century will give her a lot of confidence and [to] the whole team as well because we were not in a great place to start with and from there for her to bat and get us out of that situation, I think it was an incredible innings.”
During the innings break, Mandhana described her 119-ball knock as “uncharacteristic,” for she scored at a strike rate of under 90 for the best part of her innings. Later, she admitted she “had a little nervous nineties today,” dropped on 94 at deep point by Aaliyah Alleyne and then surviving a bouncer and an appeal for lbw soon after.
“I was a little nervous about that ball going up in there and I prayed to two-three gods saying that please let the player drop it and she put it down, so I should thank her actually because otherwise I would have got out on 96,” Mandhana said. “It’s been a long way for me to come [and score the hundred] …
“I’ve been getting out on 70s and 80s quite a lot, so something which was consciously I was thinking that if I feel like playing a shot I have I don’t have to stop myself. I’ll just go with the flow and I’ll just play according to the ball. That’s how I started my inning, so that’s something which I was really working on. Hopefully, I will be this kind always on me and I will convert the 60s and 70s into a big score because if I do that India is [usually] in a great position.”
Mandhana will likely have to make do with just the one Player-of-the-Match trophy for herself and Harmanpreet from this game. It was fitting, nonetheless, that the third in line for India’s ODI captaincy honours, doffed her hat to Harmanpreet, the captain Mandhana made her limited-overs debuts under, when she could have the spotlight entirely on herself.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha