(Photo Credits: Crictracker)
Before the India Women’s contingent set one foot in the Caribbean, the verdict, according to fans, was out.
They named the player all eyeballs would be focused on. And they couldn’t be blamed for it.
After all, Smriti Madhana has been arguably the best talent in the women’s game in the past year or so. She often doesn’t bat, she crushes bowlers akin to a road roller mowing down a hapless blade of grass.
When she gets going, there’s no ground to contain her wide range of strokes. When on form, she does make the white cricket ball resemble the yellow tennis ball that is the apple of everyone’s eye in backyard cricket.
But on November 9, 2018, when she pulled a shorter one from Tahuhu and managed to find the fielder at deep mid-wicket, an absolute silence engulfed the Indian dugout.
It was a moment where much like Tendulkar’s dismissal induced a self-generated pause, maybe even of breath, among fans, the supporters of India’s Women sat unmoved.
The team was in trouble. The scoreboard wasn’t moving.
And of course, what happened thereafter was like a simple mathematical equation.
Team India minus Smriti Mandhana equals Harmanpreet taking the charge.
And so it was.
Exit Mandhana; enter Harmanpreet
Just that the White Ferns didn’t probably expect what was to follow.
What ensued from the start of the sixth over well onto the start of the final one was mayhem, absolute mayhem.
In a game where it seemed Harmanpreet did a Rahul Dravid-style repeat of the India’s ill-fated tour of England in 2011, taking on the side alone, New Zealand Women’s bowling prompted the viewers to imagine the following placard:
“Harmanpreet vs White Ferns.”
Taniya Bhatia was out early on. Mandhana’s exit stirred India’s doubts a fair deal. Harmanpreet entered just when Hemlatha departed.
What was going right for India, anyway?
But here’s what made the T20 captain’s knock an outstanding effort.
It wasn’t always that Harmanpreet seemed in it for a big one. That, in the end, she struck a 51-ball-103 was definitely one of the most rewarding sights in women’s cricket, not only because it was a century in the pinnacle of the game; the World Cup stage.
But actually because when Harmanpreet was going at a rate that seemed a turtle was beginning to implode from within- initially managing 5 off 13- it didn’t seem she’d even reach a fifty, forget a hundred.
Before Harmanpreet arrived at the crease, what India women were desperately seeking was someone to resuscitate a fledgling inning.
When Harmanpreet departed, what the Women’s Cricket got was a knock worthy of being given a repetitive Youtube-re run, one that shall stay that way probably for a few years down the line.
What followed between her arrival and departure from a lush-green, picturesque Guyanese ground was some explosive stroke making of the kinds that would draw praise from Harman’s own idol, Virendra Sehwag and probably even from Yuvraj for the sheer audaciousness of it.
You regard Rohit Sharma and Mark Waugh for their lazy elegance. You draw comparisons with flawless ballerinas revisiting a Lara-special.
You’d much rather reminisce Bruce Willis’ Die-Hard series given the havoc Harmanpreet wrecked at Guyana, a cricketing pilgrimage that reminds the fan of the various occasions where Shivnarine Chanderpaul played solo hero for the West Indies akin to Harmanpreet , albeit with much less demolition.
As a fan tempted to see big-hitting but stirred into an endless conversation whenever the discussion of “whether the women’s game has come of age” arrives, Harman’s batting delighted you for its free-spirited nature as much as it reminded you of doing the basics right; rotate the strike when the big strokes do not happen.
She was both a cautious adversary to New Zealand as much as she was a firm believer in the power of her own strokes.
Each time as Harmanpreet danced down the track to the inexperienced Amelia Kerr, she showed a newbie about the perils of giving the ball too much flight just as well she showed her own befallen teammates that the key to play an experienced Tahuhu was to use the pace of the ball to explore the gaps on the off side.
That not every ball is meant to be hit or clobbered is the key that most T20 shot-makers fail to bring to the 22 yards; and yet again, it was the key lesson one would think about when encountered with Harman’s batting.
Having risen to the occasion when much of the focus was on her vice-captain, the irrepressible Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet reminded some astonishing batswomen who may or may not have watched her knock in sheer awe- Meg Lanning, Stafanie Taylor, Bismah Maroof, Chloe Tryon- that India are, once again, the team to watch out for, even if the chances of top honours rest largely with England and Australia.
And yet, what was exquisite about Kaur’s innings, an exhibition of belligerent hitting as Mr Alan Wilkins called it, was that cricket still very much is an uncomplicated sport where you can live by the philosophy that greats like Sir Viv and Sehwag have followed; something that Harman herself believes in- see the ball and hit the ball, if it’s there to be it.