Smriti Mandhana is one of my favourite left-handers to watch, says Australia’s Phoebe Litchfield

Australia’s teenage batting sensation Phoebe Litchfield lavished rich praise on India vice-captain and left-handed opener Smriti Mandhana for sharing batting insights during last year’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), calling her as “one of her favourite left-handers to watch.”

Phoebe, who hails from Orange city in New South Wales, has been carrying the badge of ‘next big thing’ in Australia women’s cricket since she was 16, and became the youngest batter to hit a half-century in the WBBL in 2019.

Her path with Smriti crossed during the 2021/22 season of the WBBL when the India opener represented Sydney Thunder, making 377 runs while Phoebe, her fellow left-handed batter made 263 runs.

“Smriti was awesome to play with. She is a class above. As a lefty, I learnt a lot off her. She sort of helped me through those innings. I definitely made the most of her (time) over there (and) picked her brains. I am actually excited to catch up with her, potentially over here. She’s one of my favourite left-handers to watch,” she said to reporters in Mumbai ahead of the five-match series starting from December 9.

Phoebe elaborated on how helpful Smriti helped her with knowledge of building together an innings. “She actually gave me one of her bats at the end of the series. I used that and it was a peach! (The chat with her was around) just batting insights and around how to go about a game. Sometimes you shank some, sometimes you go well. You’ve got to stick in there and really put an innings together. She helped me with that.”

While admitting that she is still getting used to batting in Indian conditions, Phoebe, who has played for Australia U19 and ‘A’ sides, thinks her role in the Australian side could be to fill the big void left by retirement of senior cricketer Rachael Haynes.

“I am like-for-like for Rach (Rachael) – as in a top-order, middle-order batter, lefty and a fielder. I guess that’s the spot that is free in the Aussie set-up. But I am not looking for anything at the moment and just relishing the time in the group and learning everything I can.”

“It wasn’t the greatest hit on these spinny, slow wickets. But it’s my first hit in the subcontinent. It is not going to be perfect but it was lots of fun batting with Midge (Australia captain Alyssa Healy), who was smacking it down at the other end while I was struggling to get off the mark.”

Being branded as the next big thing in the Australian cricket circuit brings a lot of pressure, especially being constantly under the spotlight, which brings a certain chance of being one’s very harsh critic too.

Phoebe admitted talk about her bright potential has added more pressure on her and is trying to manage her emotions as a young cricketer, but once she steps on the field, she keeps all the outside talk aside.

“I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t cross my mind. The pressure of scoring runs, it always plays on the mind and especially as a young person with the media going, ‘oh you’re the next big thing’ and I’m hoping that I don’t go nowhere. But as soon as I hop on the field it disappears, which is nice, and I just focus on scoring runs and having fun.”

“I think I’ve improved a lot as a batter, both with my power, but also just learning how to read the game and setting up innings. Then I think my temperament has definitely improved from a silly 16-year-old. I’ve been learning how to manage those emotions out in the middle in those pressured situations.”

An international cricket debut will be a dream come true for Phoebe, but for now, she is enjoying her time in the Australian set-up and soaking in all the learnings which could help her in future.

“(To debut for Australia) would mean the world. Playing for Australia has been my dream for so long and if I get the call up that’d be awesome … but I’m not expecting too much.”

“I guess that’s the spot that’s free in the Aussie set-up (in the middle-order), but I’m not looking for anything at the moment and I’m just relishing the time in the group and learning everything I can.”

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