WPL 2024: Smriti Mandhana, Meg Lanning – similar yet different leaders on the cusp of trophy

New Delhi, March 16 (IANS) There is a thread which connect Smriti Mandhana and Meg Lanning –- of being run-makers who send opposition bowlers in a tizzy when on song. But on Sunday, when they take the field for the final of the 2024 Women’s Premier League (WPL) at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, they will also have another common thread added -– leading their teams in the title clash of the tournament.

At the same time, they are different as leaders on the cricket field. Captaining the Delhi Capitals, Meg is enjoying life in franchise cricket after calling it quits at the international level. With seven World Cup titles and a Commonwealth Games gold medal, Meg is tactically astute and is credited for bringing the best out of people, seen in DC making their second straight WPL final.

On the other hand, Smriti has previously filled in as India’s captain when Harmanpreet Kaur was unavailable. When Royal Challengers Bangalore finished fourth in WPL 2023, Smriti was far from her expected best as a leader. But this time, she has been more assured and proactive in leading RCB to their first WPL final.

When Smriti was asked about the plan to outsmart Meg in the leadership front during Sunday’s final, it made the duo smile. “I think we give a lot of importance to the role of captainship. I think it is as good as his or her team. Nothing changes on Sunday. We’re taking on a good Delhi Capitals’ side that has played some amazing cricket over the last two seasons.”

“Nothing changes for us. One thing cricket has taught me is that we have to stay in the present. I have not had that conversation with my other India teammates on how to outsmart anyone. We’re just focusing on playing good cricket, and whoever does that is going to win,” said Smriti in the pre-final press conference.

She also had some admirable words for Meg Lanning and the way she took Australia to greater heights. “I always looked up to her (Lanning), a little conversation with someone who understands batting as much as she does really helps. Really taught me how to look up to other players. From the time I (made my) debut, Lanning was the top run scorer for Australia. It’s been nice to watch the way she has gone about.”

In reply, Meg was effusive in her praise for Smriti and how she’s shaping as a leader, making one feel like the duo had already entered a mutual admiration club full of kind-heartedness. “Whenever we came up against India, we always spoke about how to get Smriti out early because we knew just how dangerous she could be. She’s a proven matchwinner in any condition.”

“She’s on her own leadership journey where she’ll go through her own ups and downs, and it’s starting to sound like she’s starting to understand the ins and outs of that, and obviously, she’s done an awesome job with RCB this year,” she said.

In the five-run Eliminator win over MI, Smriti went through a range of emotions whenever a chance of dismissal was squandered and at the end of the match, she looked in disbelief and had tears of joy in her eyes over RCB getting a thrilling win. In comparison, Meg has managed to perfect the art of having a poker face while being at the cricket.

“Definitely, the emotions kicked in. That said, the group was really calm, no matter what was happening out there. Even if it looked extreme, after winning, we had a bit of a celebration because sometimes, however, you want to control emotions, they come out. I am happy we have experienced something like this, for me personally too. It is good sometimes to express these feelings, and it only gives this group more confidence,” she said.

Whoever between RCB and DC wins the WPL 2024 title, it will be the first major title win for the franchise across its franchise competitions in India, something which their male counterparts are yet to do. RCB had made it to the final in IPL 2009 after missing the bus in the first season in 2008.

Likewise, RCB women missed Women’s Premier League (WPL) 2023 knockouts and find themselves in the final of the 2024 edition. Does that comparison rings anything in her mind? No, said Smriti. “Firstly, I think this year was really important for us to connect to the whole franchise with what’s happened with the men, sometimes it puts pressure.”

“So we were just thinking that we are two seasons into it, so let’s not put too much stress. So not really co-relate with what happened with the men’s team. What cricket has taught is it is important to live in the present. It’s just about playing good cricket on that particular day, whoever plays the best cricket tomorrow is going to win.”

“Last year wasn’t the greatest campaign for RCB. The conversation in the last 25 days has always been around we are enjoying each other’s company, really focused on the process, and training well. So doesn’t change anything. We are not changing anything overnight because it is a final.”

Delhi Capitals played in last year’s WPL final and ended up as runners-up, but Meg stated the side is focused on the job for Sunday instead of thinking about what happened the last time in this situation. “I don’t think we’ve thought too much about what happened last year. Like Smriti said, what matters is what happens tomorrow. Even the events of the season don’t matter; it’s how you play on the day that matters—preparing on the day, adapting on your feet, and taking on what’s ahead of you.”

“The experience of last year, I guess, helps in a way because we know we’ve been there before. But it doesn’t drive us in any different way. We don’t feel we need to get one back. We’ve played some really good cricket throughout the tournament, and we’re happy to allow ourselves to do that again. Hopefully, we can execute well where we need to,” she added.

If RCB claims the glittering WPL trophy, Smriti’s captaincy credentials will receive a huge shot in the arm while also bringing an end to the franchise’s trophy drought.

A victory on home turf for DC will provide Meg with the missing piece to complete her illustrious championship wins CV—a T20 franchise trophy. An engrossing Sunday evening in Delhi is set to become witness to which of the two leaders, who are alike yet distinct, will win the silverware in front of a sell-out crowd.



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