The note of incongruity in the greatest innings by an Indian in women’s One-Day Internationals is that it was ‘celebrated’ with bat thrown in anger and helmet hurled on the ground as she gave her partner an earful.
When she reached her half-century in the 27th over against Australia in the Women’s World Cup 2017 semifinal in Derby on Thursday (July 20), Harmanpreet Kaur had just lost Mithali Raj and India were in a tricky position. She just thumped the insignia on her chest and got back to work. When she reached her first overseas century in the 35th over with a scampered brace, Harmanpreet was livid at Deepti Sharma for not trusting her call. She had just taken her strike rate past 100 and a run out was the last thing she wanted.
“There were two runs there, and I don’t know why she had a doubt about that,” said Harmanpreet afterwards.
Raj on Harmanpreet’s outburst
“She is an aggressive player. Sometimes emotions run on the field being at this level at this stage. Now she is not a young cricketer. She realised (what she did) and went back to speak to Deepti. It was important for a senior player like her to reach out to Deepti, who is also a bowler. It was important to have a good frame of mind when she is bowling. So, I am sure she sorted it out on the field itself. We didn’t really have to say much.”
An 11-minute break to replace stump microphones worked in Harmanpreet’s favour, as she was suffering from cramps. She produced nine fours and three sixes over the next 17 balls. When she became only the second Indian to make 150, Harmanpreet raised her bat in the direction of the dressing room and received a hug from Veda Krishnamurthy. But a smile remained absent.
An unbeaten 171 off just 115 balls is not an everyday affair. To visualise such a performance and finally achieve the goal after 1563 days – the gap between Harmanpreet’s second and third centuries – and to refrain from an outburst is a show of maturity. For Harmanpreet, the day was about channelling her aggression towards setting an improbable target for the opponent. The attitude was the difference between an average total and the eventual 281 for 4 in a 36-run win.
With Raj gone and Deepti struggling to find the gaps, it could have been easy to get into a defensive mode. That Harmanpreet attacked and scored the last 121 runs in 51 balls pushed Australia back. Once the mental advantage was gained, batting looked much easier than it had when she took guard at 36 for 2.
“Yes, of course (this is my best innings),” she said. “I hadn’t planned for it. I had thought that whatever happens, even if we are one wicket down, or two, or three, I wouldn’t let it interrupt my batting flow, I wouldn’t get tensed, because we too can bat deep.
“Against Australia, 200-250 isn’t enough. We learnt that in the last match itself. And if there’s 280 on the board, it’s easy for bowlers. I was enjoying it. I like taking singles and doubles, but boundaries give me confidence. So when I got the fours and sixes, it was building my confidence and I was feeling good.”
To dismantle the bowling attack of the defending champions needed this kind of an approach. Chamari Athapaththu had fought a lone battle for Sri Lanka, but Harmanpreet got support from Raj, Deepti and Veda.
Having lost her temper, Harmanpreet urged Deepti on as well. “I told her, ‘just play your innings’ because she is a good bat,” she said. “I hoped from her that she too would hit a few boundaries because Australia have a long batting order. So I hoped from her that where there was one run, we would take two, and grab the boundaries.”
It was only fitting that Harmanpreet played the innings that would be remembered for ages by those who saw it on prime time television in India. Easily the first female Indian cricketer who is a brand, Harmanpreet is the link between the old school and the new in the dressing room. Her conversion rate in this innings is unheard of in Indian cricket, but is also the tonic that would fuel youthful aspirations. It can be a game-changer.
Harmanpreet has a penchant for pressure games. Her unbeaten, run-a-ball 40 in a last-ball win against South Africa in the final of the Qualifier despite an injured wrist is now a YouTube classic. But it was a only teaser. Having made a splash in the 2009 World Cup and then hit a valiant century in a losing cause against England in the next edition, Harmanpreet had not really lived up to her potential. That her big one came eight years after her debut, and within months of becoming the first Indian – male or female – to play in an overseas Twenty20 league is more than just a coincidence.
Harmanpreet played this innings through cramps, receiving treatment on the field multiple times. Even the Qualifier final, the league game against New Zealand and the knock against Australia had a similar pattern. Like her batting, what defines Harmanpreet is how she came back to the field and bowled against Windies in the second game after dislocating a finger on the left hand. Tracy Fernandes, the physiotherapist, says that she has a “lion’s heart”.
“Pain is temporary, but glory is forever,” and all that.