Harmanpreet Kaur, The ‘Next-gen’ Star Indian Cricket Needed
Indian women’s cricket has for long been about Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. The two senior pros had managed to breach the shackles and pitch in with such consistent showings that their longevity and fearlessness captured the headlines, even when the women’s cricket team found no takers.
With the two stalwarts expected to walk away into the sunset sooner than later, the sport in India was struggling. Struggling to find heroes. Struggling to stay afloat, and struggling to capture the eyeballs of a country where cricket ironically ruled the roost.
Even when the strong Indian side ventured into the maiden final of the World Cup in 2005, a hushed silence prevailed. They waltzed into the event sans eyeballs and emerged out of it just as silently, and despite the heroic efforts of the senior players, women’s cricket looked all set to walk the path towards oblivion.
However, as Raj’s team was scripting history, a young Harmanpreet Kaur from Moga around the same time was changing schools after her class X examination in a remote village in Punjab with the intention of playing more cricket.
Though she was aware of the lack of craze and opportunities for women cricketers, Harman’s love for the game was ever-increasing and only after she was shifted to SK Public School, 27 kilometres away from Moga, that her interest flourished.
With the added incentive of getting free cricket bats and boots, the youngster started pitching in with consistent showings for her unrecognized school team, that eventually saw her gain an entry into a camp organized by the Punjab Cricket Association. It just took two years for her to stand out as the most lethal player and soon, she was in the fray for a selection in Punjab’s senior team.
From a Promising Youngster to India Captain
Though Harman started off as a bowler, she quickly shifted her attention to batting upon realizing that just one skill was not enough to warrant a national selection. And needless to say, it has worked wonders.
Not only has the player established herself as a technically correct batter, she has also evolved her game, bringing in power and brute force in each shot. With delectable footwork in her arsenal and with an unperturbed flair in the face of adversity, Harman has already leapfrogged her way to superstardom - with the first-ever T20I hundred by an Indian in the Women’s World T20 Cup on Friday against New Zealand further displaying her rise and presence in international cricket.
However, it would be safe to suggest that the humdinger innings in the semifinals of the World Cup last year was the watershed moment - not only for her personally, but also for a side who was once again reeling in the shadows; sidelined this time for the unfathomable defeat that Virat Kohli’s men had suffered at the hands of Pakistan.
Her monstrous knock of 171 against Australia hence, not only snatched the game away from the rivals, but also shifted the focus to a realm of cricket that has long stood neglected.
As Harman huffed and puffed her way to a memorable innings, unleashing the beast that was contained within her, she failed to see how that one innings would change the way women’s cricket was viewed henceforth. Maybe, if not for the knock, India’s journey into the finals and the subsequent heart-wrenching defeat would not have made as big a news as it did. Maybe, it would have soon slipped away into the unknown once again, just like the progress in 2005 had been.
But as she rose to the occasion, she displayed how challenges should be thwarted. How even the mightiest of enemies should be brought down and how the fiercest situations should be overhauled. To the ones watching, she was a beast to be reckoned with, but to Raj, who was desperate to climb down from the leadership role to play more freely in her last few years, Harman was the perfect leader who could take over the reigns and not get bogged down by it. The player who would guide along an inexperienced bunch with calmness; and an individual who would show her side how not to be perturbed in tough moments.
A Record-breaking Knock
And on Friday, she lived up to all the expectations, as she walked in with the side in trouble - struggling at 40 for 3 within 6 overs - only to ensure that India had reached a competitive total by the time she was finished. Along with young star Jemimah Rodrigues, Harmanpreet took time to settle in but managed to hold her end up. Her guidance helped the teenager, who was playing her first match in an ICC event, to score a well-made 50, and only after the early jitters had been navigated that the skipper let herself loose.
Displaying immaculate footwork and technique, the senior pro ensured that she was around to take the team over the line, much like she has been doing ever since she got the captaincy across formats this year. Though Harman was not in the news for a knock that screamed dominance, she silently went about her work, and is the highest run-scorer for the side in T20Is in 2018.
On Friday, she was at it again. She has been forthright in admitting that the ploy to include younger legs for the World T20 was as much her doing as coach Ramesh Powar’s, and by standing tall to lead the way, she ensured that her young team could forever rely on the icon to steer them to safer shores.
(Sarah Waris is a postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words. She spends her hours gorging on food and blabbering nineteen to the dozen while awaiting the next Indian sporting triumph)