Watching Smriti Mandhana bat is a sight for sore eyes; she flowed at her best in the England match    Getty Images
Watching Smriti Mandhana bat is a sight for sore eyes; she flowed at her best in the England match Getty Images

The Athirapally falls in Kerala are magical. Watching the Chalakudy river surge by, gushing past large rocks, the current getting stronger as the river prepares to plunge down into the river basin, is breathtaking. The sounds of the birds chirping, monkeys fighting for food, and the constant babble of human voices somehow fades into nothing as you gaze at the magnificence of the falls. In South India, nothing quite compares.

On June 24, when Smriti Mandhana took the field after an absence of 160 days, she produced an innings that rivalled the beauty of the Athirapally waterfalls. As India s Back-foot Ballerina cut, punched and shovel-pulled her way to a scintillating 72-ball 90, it was as though her five-month absence had never happened.

When she dispatched the first ball she faced for a boundary through square-leg, the floodgates were opened. After months of waiting, Mandhana, still a mere 20, was finally back playing competitive cricket. She was hungry and determined to make the most of every opportunity.

I was preparing for 24th of June from the day I got injured, said Mandhana. Winning a match for India was the thing I was craving for, for the last five and half months.

Mandhana s assault on Katherine Brunt, England s most attacking bowler, was brutal. She peppered the square boundaries on both sides of the wicket, quickly rocking on the back foot to take a toll on the erring bowlers. While the home team may have played into her hands by constantly pitching the ball short of a length, when they did pitch it up, Mandhana simply pummelled them down to the ground.

What has set Mandhana apart from her predecessors, ever since her debut in 2013, is her attacking instinct. Mandhana simply plays the ball on its merit if it is good she keeps it out, and if it is in her slot she goes after it, no matter who the bowler may be. It is an approach that has seen India get off to some brisk starts in limited overs matches, something they had struggled with before.

If anything, one criticism of Mandhana is that she can be over-attacking. Once she gets into the groove she tends to play too many shots, going after every single ball and not just those in her arc. On Saturday though, that was not the case. She got off to a rapid start, reaching 36 off just 18 deliveries, but was then pegged back when she played a maiden off Natalie Sciver. Instead of trying to hit her way out of it, Mandhana simply waited it out, collecting singles and twos when the boundaries were hard to come by.

Madhana s return to the international circuit has been nothing short of authoritative. She was not only in a race against time to recover fully before the World Cup, but also faced tough competition to regain her spot at the top of the order, with Deepti Sharma, Punam Raut and Mona Meshram all having done well. She did both with a great deal of aplomb surging past her competitors like a hungry river, the current getting stronger with every passing second. Her appetite has been whet and Mandhana is hungry for more.