WPL 2024 – Smriti Mandhana lauds RCB’s fighting spirit – ‘I just want to say, Ee Saala Cup Namdu’

Exactly a week ago, Richa Ghosh sat motionless on the turf after being run out off the last ball as Royal Challengers Bangalore were pipped by one run by Delhi Capitals in a thriller. Shreyanka Patil, who was batting with Ghosh, sobbed inconsolably at the other end. RCB’s playoffs had been hanging by a thread.

On Sunday night, Ghosh hit the winning runs as RCB lifted their maiden WPL crown, while Shreyanka picked up four wickets, including that of Meg Lanning, to walk away with the Purple Cap for the most wickets in the competition. Shreyanka went against medical advice to feature in the Eliminator and the final, after being diagnosed with a hairline fracture.

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When it mattered, she willed herself on to play through pain. As the team celebrated, a packed Arun Jaitley Stadium was witness to her leading the team’s dance moves on the podium. Among those who was coaxed into shaking a leg was Smriti Mandhana, the captain.

“The feeling hasn’t sunk in, maybe it’ll take time,” Mandhana said at the post-match presentation. “It’s hard to come out with a lot of expressions at the moment. The only thing I want to say is how proud I am of the bunch. We’ve been through ups and downs, the way they stuck together and got us through the line was amazing to watch.”

Last year, Mandhana presided over five losses to begin the tournament, which crushed RCB’s playoffs hopes. She had a tournament to forget, failing to notch up a single half-century. This time around, she ends as the second-highest run-scorer behind Ellyse Perry.

Her 39-ball 31 in the final helped anchor RCB’s small chase of 114. When she was dismissed, they only needed a manageable 32 off 30 balls, which Perry and Ghosh knocked off with three balls to spare.

“The Bangalore leg was really good, we won three out of five, but in Delhi we had two tough losses,” Mandhana said as she reflected on their campaign. “We spoke of how our last three games were effectively like a quarterfinals, semi-final and final. We had to step up at the right time. In tournaments like these, you need to peak at the right time, maybe we saved our best for the last.”

Mandhana’s lean run with the bat coupled with the team’s fortunes – they finished fourth among five teams – necessitated a structural review during the off-season. Mandhana was an integral part of it. The decision to bring in a new head coach in Luke Williams was among the key decisions.

Mandhana had recommended Williams, who she had worked with at Southern Brave [Williams was assistant coach there]. The team also made key signings at the auction; Sophie Molineux and Georgia Wareham among them. Molineux’s second-over proved game changing as she picked up three wickets as Delhi Capitals collapse from 64 for 0 to 64 for 3. That led to a complete breakdown in momentum.

“Last year taught us a lot of things,” Mandhana reflected. “We spoke of what went wrong, what went right, both as player and captain. The management backed my ideas when I went to them after the tournament. They said this is your team, build it the way you want to. It’s been amazing. They’ve been through a lot as well, for them to have this trophy is also really exciting.”

Mandhana described the WPL title as a moment “definitely in my top five.”

“I think for RCB it’s a lot more,” she said. “I’m not the only won who has won the trophy, the team has won it. To win it as a franchise is really special. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it feels definitely like one of the top five moments. Definitely a World Cup win will top it.”

As she was about to collect the trophy, Mandhana paused for a second and then thanked the franchise’s loyal fan base. “We’ve always heard that one statement always ‘Ee Sala Cup Namde.’ I want to say now, ‘Ee Sala Cup Namdu.”

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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