Stop any 10 people on the street, who have at least the faintest idea about Indian women’s cricket, and ask them who India’s key player is for the upcoming ICC Women’s World Cup. Chances are, most of them will say Harmanpreet Kaur.
It is a testament to Harmanpreet’s fame as much as her form; she is the most followed on social media from amongst the Indian team, and for good reason. India’s T20I captain has registered a number of firsts, the latest being becoming the first Indian to be signed on to play in England’s T20 competition, the Kia Super League. Harmanpreet will play for the Surrey Stars, which means she will remain in England for the tournament that starts in August.
Harmanpreet made quite an entrance to international cricket in 2009. As a shy teenager picked primarily for her medium pace bowling, she smashed 19 off eight balls against Australia in her first ever televised match. While the score might not be significant, the manner of scoring was. Her first boundary came when she stepped out and hit the ball over midwicket for six; the recipient, a pre-ankle-surgery Ellyse Perry, then one of the quickest bowlers in the world.
It was a harbinger of the kind of batting she would display over her career; she remodeled herself as a top-order batter who could bowl a bit of off-spin. The previous year saw her produce a number of noteworthy innings.
It began with her debut as regular T20I captain of India: 68 not out, 43, and 60 not out in T20Is against the team who are world champions in the shortest format, the West Indies. Then came the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), where she made history once again, becoming the first Indian woman to play in any foreign T20 league. She finished her six antipodean weeks with almost 300 runs in the tournament, including belligerent knocks of 64 off 37 balls and 47 off 28 balls, the latter on primetime television in the tournament opener.
In one of our interviews during the WBBL, she emphasized the importance of individual preparation, despite cricket being a team game. “From the warm up to the preparation, everything is more individual-oriented”, she said.
“Every player knows what they have to do before a game or training. This will be the way forward. Because it means we have to think about our own games. Here (with the Sydney Thunder) we are left on our own, to do our own things; we just need to give results.”
And the results had started to show. If the WBBL was the build up, the crescendo came in the ICC World Cup Qualifiers in January this year. The two knocks she had played in the WBBL had ended in narrow defeats for her side, but she produced an even better one in the final of the Qualifiers. Chasing 244, a total never before successfully chased by India, she scored an unbeaten 41, and delivered India a last-ball one-wicket win against South Africa.
The win looked highly unlikely when there were eight needed off the last two balls, until Harmanpreet sent a ball air borne over midwicket for six. It was India’s first win in an ICC event, and more significantly, it was achieved without stalwarts Mithali Raj (injured for the final) and Jhulan Goswami (missed the entire tournament with injury).
The match has more than six-and-a-half lakh views on YouTube, where it was live streamed, and the final over has more than 6.5 million views on ICC’s Facebook page so far. This is the kind of impact that Harmanpreet’s heroics are having, around the world.
Harmanpreet can now be counted on as a finisher, a role that the Indian team badly needed someone to step up and fill. Typically, she builds her innings up slowly, and backs herself to clear the boundary and find the gap towards the end. It is a pattern she has often showed in domestic cricket; with her at the crease, even chases with run-rates as high as eight-an-over are not impossible any more.
“Playing in the WBBL and the home series against the West Indies had given me confidence. I had played some tough matches in the last few months,” she told Sportstar.
Harmanpreet is also India’s ODI captain in waiting, and it is very likely that after this tournament, she will be handed the reins of the ODI team. She is one of four players in the team to already have played two World Cups.
Experience, form, confidence, even celebrity, all walk with Harmanpreet going into the biggest tournament of her life. How her long English summer begins will play a big role in India’s fortunes, and consequently, the state of women’s cricket in India.