Harmanpreet Kaur was India’s find in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2009 in Australia, but no one noticed her. She played one of the finest innings by an Indian in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2013, but very few were aware. She then hit an unbeaten 171 off 115 balls to help India beat Australia by 36 runs in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 semifinal in Derby on Thursday (July 20), and this time everyone knew.
An almost full house noticed it. Social media noticed it. People watching the match on television back in India at prime time also noticed it.
Rain delayed the start of the match by 195 minutes, and Harmanpreet came in at the fall of the second wicket in the tenth over with the floodlights on, and remained unconquered for 128 minutes. She made 69.51% of the 246 runs scored with her at the crease as India posted 281 for 4 – their highest-ever total against the defending champions – in 42 overs.
Australia’s chase revolved around the 105-run stand between Ellyse Perry and Elyse Villani after they were 21 for 3. Once both fell in a space of three overs, the chase lost momentum. Alex Blackwell, who played in the 2005 World Cup final which India lost, scored an unbeaten 90 in 56 balls in a game that made her Australia’s joint-most capped cricketer. But even her counter-attacking stand of 76 off 46 balls for the tenth wicket with Kristen Beams could not overshadow the heroics of Harmanpreet, her Sydney Thunder teammate.
Australia were bowled out for 245 in 40.1 overs to lose by 36 runs, as India booked a date with England at an already sold out Lord’s stadium on July 23 for their second-ever World Cup final.
Harmanpreet’s innings consisted of three parts. When she joined Mithali Raj, the situation was quite similar to that in India’s must-win league match against New Zealand. Like in that game, the duo consciously worked towards negating the spinners. While a high percentage of dot balls in the middle overs had bogged India down in their previous loss against Australia, this time the scoreboard moved at a fair pace.
Raj and Harmanpreet were denied boundaries, but Australia were defensive from the onset, bringing in a slip for the first time only after Kristen Beams bowled Raj with a straight ball in the 25th over. The turning point of the game came when Harmanpreet was on 35 off 48 balls. Standing up to Megan Scutt, Alyssa Healy missed a legside stumping after Harmanpreet lost control while playing a flick shot.
Harmanpreet hardly put a step wrong after that. Once her steady 66-run stand with Raj ended, she needed a release shot. She duly stepped out to Beams to dispatch a free-hit over the midwicket fence, and that triggered a switch.
Even though Deepti Sharma took time to get her eye in and Meg Lanning attacked her with eight fielders inside the ring, Harmanpreet had few problem at her end.
Australia made a total of 19 bowling changes, which showed how clueless they were against Harmanpreet. Deepti found her groove quickly, and it allowed Harmanpreet to open up even more. So focussed was she on her innings that she did not raise her bat on reaching her first ODI century outside India. She was furious at Deepti for not responding to her call for a double, and it took a few minutes for the youngster to gather her composure.
There was an 11-minute break as one of the stump cameras needed to be replaced, and it gave Harmanpreet some breathing space as she was struggling with cramps and pain in her wrist. She shifted gears seamlessly as India hit 50 in the first three overs of the four-over batting Power Play. Her stand with Deepti was worth 137 runs in 87 balls, of which Harmanpreet made 106 in 48 balls.
With the Public Announcement System blaring out Chak de India at full volume, she kept upping the tempo with each of her seven sixes. Between those hits over the fence, she hit 20 fours to all parts of the ground. She took a particular liking to Jess Jonassen, the left-arm spinner, who she hit for 45 runs off 20 balls.
Not that she wasn’t comfortable against the seamers. Her strike-rate against the pace bowlers was 141.86, while the corresponding figure against the spinners was 152.78.
Harmanpreet’s unbroken fifth-wicket stand with Veda Krishnamurthy of 43 involved some brisk hitting and canny running, helping India score 119 runs in the last ten overs – easily their best death overs finish in the tournament.
In Australia’s chase, Shikha Pandey and Jhulan Goswami started well, denying the batters a boundary for the first 32 balls while picking up Beth Mooney and Meg Lanning respectively.
Goswami’s delivery to Lanning moved away late from back of a length to disturb the stumps, as the Australian captain was dismissed for her first duck in close to three years, still a run short of touching the 3,000 mark. That was a defining moment in the game because Australia’s chase of 258 against Sri Lanka in Taunton – the most successful in World Cups – had been on the back of Lanning’s 152 not out.
Villani, dropped by Pandey at mid-off when on 10, used her feet well against the spinners to hit some lusty blows during her 58-ball 75. Perry too took on the attack as their partnership consisted of 15 boundaries. With runs coming easily, Raj could not attack. It was against the run of play that Rajeshwari Gayakwad had Villani caught by Smriti Mandhana at mid-on off the first ball of the 24th over. Pandey, coming on for her second spell in the 27th over, then had Perry caught behind with her first ball.
Deepti finally bowled Blackwell for her third wicket. On a day where 526 runs were scored in 82.1 overs, it was Harmanpreet’s strike-rate of 148.69 that gave India the breathing space to confirm their trip for the title clash round.