“Winning and losing is part of the game, but from the time Ramesh (Powar) sir has joined us (as head coach), our mindset has changed,” said Harmanpreet Kaur in the post-match presentation after India beat New Zealand in the opening match of the 2018 ICC Women’s World T20 in Guyana on Friday (9 November). That changed mindset was evident in the way Taniya Bhatia approached her first knock as an opener in international cricket. It was on show when Hemalatha Dayalan, making her T20I debut, took on Hayley Jensen in the power play. That positive intent was clear in the way 18-year-old Jemimah Rodrigues took on the role of aggressor when she was joined by her captain. But most of all, that mindset was on display through Kaur’s incredible 51-ball 103 that laid the foundation for India’s 34-run win.
Kaur is a big-match player. The Indian T20I captain seems to revel under the spotlight of a major tournament, pulling out her best performances in World Cups. Back in 2009, she announced herself on the word stage with a whirlwind 8-ball 19 against Australia. In 2013, she scored her maiden international century in a World Cup at home. In 2016, she was the lone bright spot in India’s disappointing World T20 campaign, and in 2017, she went on to play arguably one of the greatest ever innings in a knockout match — an unbeaten 115-ball 171 against Australia in the World Cup semi final.
On Friday, Kaur became the first Indian woman to score a T20I century, and only the third overall — after Deandra Dottin and Meg Lanning — to score a century in a T20 World Cup. Her knock, in what was though to be as a potential quarter final, set the tone for India’s campaign and propelled them to a massive score of 194 for 5.
She walked out to bat with her team struggling at 40 for 3 inside the powerplay. Lea Tahuhu’s pace had rattled the young Indian top order, but Kaur was determined to soak up the pressure. While Rodrigues rode her luck at the other end and took the attack to the bowlers, Kaur took her time to assess the conditions before launching a counter attack.
There was a real sense of calm about the 29-year-old when she entered the arena. Her movements were relaxed, but her body language was aggressive and her eyes had a fierce focus. She has always been one to step up when the team needs her the most, and this time she led the way with aplomb.
After a sedate start, where she nudged her way to five off 13 deliveries, Kaur decided to put the pressure back on New Zealand. Her century consisted of seven fours and eight sixes — one more than the entire Indian team managed during the 2016 World T20 at home — and was an exhibition of sheer power. She mauled the spinners, using her feet to great effect, hitting through the line and always making sure to go “with the wind”. She was most severe on young Jess Watkin, the off-spinner, blasting 27 runs off only seven deliveries.
As is her trademark, Kaur’s striking was as clean as could be, but it was her batting smarts that stood out. Tied down by Leigh Kasperek in the early part of her innings, the right-hander took the the off-spinner apart in her final over. First, when Kasperek dug the ball in short, Kaur used the pace, guiding it fine, to collect a boundary behind point, before launching the next delivery, a flighted half-volley, over the long off rope. The confidence with which she dealt with the spinners was incredible: at one point even standing outside the crease when facing up to Amelia Kerr and Watkin.
Despite Kaur’s brilliance through the game, New Zealand may have missed a trick when she first came in. Amy Satterthwaite, who had initially been very proactive with her bowling changes and field placements, somewhat played into Kaur’s hands at the start of her innings. With Tahuhu in wonderful rhythm and bowling real thunderbolts at close to (and sometimes above) 120 kmph, New Zealand could have let her have a go at Kaur. After all, one more wicket and India would have really been under the pump. Instead, Satterthwaite turned to the military medium pace of Jensen and her spinners, allowing Kaur to settle in to her innings without much trouble. New Zealand only brought Tahuhu back once Kaur had entered ‘Harmonster’ mode, and by then it was far too late.
Kaur’s century and her 134-run stand with Rodrigues — India’s highest partnership in T20Is — has set the benchmark for India. The pair showed a sense of urgency between the wickets and quite often used soft hands to get off strike — something unseen in India’s previous matches. They played the field beautifully, picked the perfect moments to unleash the big shots, and forced New Zealand to keep changing their plans. Most importantly, they showed the will to dominate, just as Powar had taught them.
Although India secured a comfortable victory in their first match, their performance was far from complete and the Indian skipper is well aware of that. Her continuous insistence that the team has a long way to go and much to work means that there is surely no room for complacency. Kaur has made a statement with her innings: India mean business in this tournament, and they will take nothing less than a win.