Lefties across borders – The Mandhana influence on Litchfield’s rise

Australia’s uncapped teenaged batter Phoebe Litchfield has heaped praise on India opener Smriti Mandhana for sharing insights during the Women’s Big Bash League last year and termed her one of her “favourite left-handers to watch.”
Mandhana led the charts for for Sydney Thunder in WBBL 2021-22 with 377 runs at a strike rate of 130.44. Litchfield, who became the youngest batter to hit a WBBL half-century in 2019, was next on the list with 263 at a strike rate of 109.12. While Mandhana opted out of the WBBL this season, Litchfield was Thunder’s top run-getter with 280 at a rate of 117.64, with two half-centuries. Those runs contributed to a call-up to the Australia side that is now in India for a five-match T20I series.

“Smriti was awesome to play with. She is a class above,” the 19-year-old Litchfield said in Mumbai on Wednesday. “As a lefty I learnt a lot off her. She helped me through those innings. I definitely made the most of her [time] over there [and] picked her brains. She’s one of my favourite left-handers to watch.

“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 about] just batting insights around how to go about a game. Sometimes you shank some, sometimes you go well. You’ve got to stick in there and put an innings together. She helped me with that.”

Litchfield has been regarded as a bright prospect ever since her WBBL debut. She stroked her maiden List A century this season for New South Wales Breakers in the Women’s National Cricket League, underlining her next-big-thing status in Australian cricket. While the tag sits comfortably on her, she admitted to the occasional pressure that it brings.

“I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t cross my mind,” she said. “The pressures of scoring runs always plays on the mind, especially as a young player. With the media going ‘oh, you are the next big thing’ and I hope like I don’t go nowhere or something like that. But as soon as I hop on the field it disappears, which is nice.

“I focus on scoring runs and actually having fun around the group and seeing players like Rach [Rachael] Haynes, Alyssa Healy play and mirror my game to the T and have fun.”

Litchfield is looked at as a like-for-like replacement for Haynes, who retired from professional cricket this season. Having had her first practice session in India on Tuesday, Litchfield, who’s into her first full season as a full-time cricketer – and not having to juggle the sport with school – said she was still getting to grips with subcontinental surfaces.

“I am like-for-like for Rach – as in a top-order, middle-order batter, lefty and a fielder,” she said about her possible role. “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.

“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 yeah, it was lots of fun batting with Midge [Healy], who was smacking it down at the other end while I was struggling to get off the mark.”

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