She threw her bat in excitement even as teammates ran to the centre to hug their hero who extended the India’s unbeaten streak to 13 ODIs. © ICC

She threw her bat in excitement even as teammates ran to the centre to hug their hero who extended the India’s unbeaten streak to 13 ODIs. © ICC

Dhoni wala feeling aa rahi hai,” said Harmanpreet Kaur soon after hitting a six and a two off the last two balls in India Women’s thrilling one-wicket win over South Africa Women in the final of the Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 at the P Sara Oval on Tuesday (February 21).

Harmanpreet was disappointed coming into the final of the World Cup Qualifier 2017. She had not yet been able to adjust from the fast surfaces in Australia, where she represented Sydney Thunder in the Women’s Big Bash League, to the slow surfaces in Colombo. Her father called her from India on Tuesday morning and helped her get back in to the right headspace.

“I was very disappointed and I had not spoken to my parents for a few days. All were expecting good runs from me and I was not giving the team what was needed,” she said. “I was very upset. Suddenly my father called me in the morning and said, ‘Don’t worry, you will do it today, try to play the last ball of the match.’ I said, ‘OK, papa I will try to do that.’ And, that happened. I am really happy.”

With India needing eight in the last two balls with just one wicket in hand to complete their highest successful chase of 245, and around 30,000 people watching it online, Harmanpreet swung a good length ball from Marcia Letsoalo over the deep midwicket fence. Had India taken a single off the final ball, they would have still won the title by virtue of having beaten South Africa in the Super Six stage and finishing on top of the table. But Harmanpreet, destiny’s child, wrote her own script with a hoick to the vacant area on the leg side that fetched her two runs. She remained unbeaten on a run-a-ball 41

“I was waiting for that ball because that is my strong area. I knew we needed nine runs in the final over and I was going to hit the ball. If we run then we will go for two runs,” Harmanpreet said, explaining that six. “My partner [Rajeshwari Gayakwad] also did a great job and ran two runs [in the last ball]. It was a total team effort from our side.

“Sometimes I wait for the ball to be pitched in my strong area. They had an offside field and [were] trying to bowl outside away from my area, so I was trying to go that side [off] and bring the ball into my area,” she elaborated. “But in the end she bowled me in the slot and I went for it.”

The build up to the climax was tense.  When Harmanpreet, captaining in the absence of an injured Mithali Raj, walked in, India needed 97 off 97 balls. She lost a settled Veda Krishnamurthy on the first ball of the 41st over, and then Shikha Pandey was run out in the 44th over just when India looked in control. Devika Vaidya, Sushma Verma and Ekta Bisht were bowled off excellent yorkers, and Harmanpreet had only Poonam Yadav and Gayakwad for company.

When Poonam came India needed 22 off 26 balls. Poonam’s edge to the third-man fence in the 48th over settled some nerves, but South Africa kept her on strike to leave India with nine to get off the final over. Poonam was run out going for the second run before Harmanpreet played out three dot balls to almost give South Africa the game. 

“There was a run, but [Shikha] was not looking at me and looking at the ball. I was disappointed that she did not throw herself to save her wicket. Hopefully in a similar situation in the future, she will throw herself [into the crease] and save her wicket,” Harmanpreet went on. “When Poonam came we needed 30 [22]. I told her not to think of the target, and just give me five runs, I will make the rest. Luckily, she got a boundary with a nick. I was happy for that, and then I told her to give me two-three more runs. I told her if I hit and the throw is in your side then we will run because we have one more wicket and we will make use of it because by then balls were less and runs needed more. She threw her wicket for me. It was good teamwork. Everyone contributed today.

“I was nervous because I was waiting for the big shot,” she added. “I knew we had only one wicket in our hand. If a batter was at the non-striker end then it is different, but we can’t depend much on a bowler. I just told Rajeshwari that I will play the full over and if I hit down the ground then we will go for two runs. She said okay, and that’s what happened in the last ball.”

She threw her bat in excitement even as teammates ran to the centre to hug their hero who extended the India’s unbeaten streak to 13 ODIs. While it was a thrilling finish in every sense, what made Harmanpreet’s show even more indelible was that she was batting with a strained right hand.

She discovered a ligament tear on her right wrist when in Australia and played the last few games for Sydney with pain. She took pain-killer injections on returning to India. While the doctors advised her three weeks of rest, she worked with Tracy Fernandes, India’s physiotherapist, to be available for the Qualifiers.

“It’s a nerve problem so I took an injection on my wrist and I didn’t get that much practice. I have been getting the pain for a long time, but I took injection in India because trusting anyone outside of NCA won’t be right. That’s why before Super League they were giving me chance to get adjusted [by promoting me up the order]. All those experiences helped me in the final match,” Harmanpreet opened up. “I have to go back to India and undergo rehabilitation.

Dane van Niekerk on the innings
The idea was to go fuller. It was in her arc. But Matshipi never bowls in the death. We threw her in the deep end. It’s a cruel game. It swung our way their way our way their way. I am not going to lie. With eight runs left in two balls, I thought we are really going to take that. Its shows a game of cricket is always one hit away. It’s not just in men’s cricket, it is one hit away. We can say lot of things that went wrong but all credit to India. I have seen Harmanpreet a little when she made that entry in the Big Bash – the two shots over extra cover were insane. We know how talented she is. She is a brilliant cricketer, and she displayed that. We didn’t really execute our plans to her, but all credit to her. She stuck it out and won the game for the team as a captain.

“Here the physio and support staff supported me. They allowed me adequate rest. Even now the right hand is slightly weak,” she said.  “After injection, the doctor had requested a rest for three months, but Tracy, our physio, worked on my hand really hard and got me fit for the tournament. I would also like to thank her.”

Hitting a six against a ball that came around “100 kilometre per hour” with a weak right hand for a batter known for her strong bottom hand is no mean feat, and she credited her personal coach for preparing her.

“When you are practising for so long for a shot…Harshal Pathak has been making me practise sixes for a long time now. When you get into the flow sometimes you practise with one hand and we also do drills with the top, left hand,” she recalled. “Now it is helping as I am totally a bottom hand player and my right hand is not working completely. Teammates, support staff, personal coach motivated me and said now is the right time to use the top hand. I think overall it is a good experience for me, and the experience from BBL also helped me today. Hopefully I will get fit before the World Cup and give some good knocks to the team.

“Right now I don’t have pain at all, but the hand is weak. So, I have taped up my hand. I took an injection at the wrist and the impact is felt bit up,” she added. “Through the day it keeps releasing [pressure] before the match, after the match. Because of the physio, I have been able to play this tournament as she has helped me to get the right amount of release [on my hand].”

It was India’s first win without Mithali in a long time. Harmanpreet said that would give the team a lot of confidence, but hoped that Mithali and Jhulan Goswami were around for a few more years.

“Unfortunately, she [Mithali] did not play today because of the injury but I think it was a great experience for all our team members because when Jhulu di and Mithali di don’t play, everyone becomes so nervous. We are used to play with them,” she said. “It is a great experience for us as all our teammates will get a lot of confidence now that without them we can win. My team members and I pray that they will play for more two to three years for us. We will learn a lot.”