Harmanpreet Kaur heroics give Indian women’s cricket unique identity
Harmanpreet Kaur hit a career best ODI knock of 171 not out, placing her joint-fifth in the all-time ODI scorers list having notched just 137 runs in the Women’s Cricket World Cup prior to Thursday’s clash in Derby.cricket Updated: Jul 21, 2017 22:50 IST
One should not have to use men’s sport as a reference point for Harmanpreet Kaur’s astonishing innings, but for its sheer impact it is next to impossible not to place her 171 not out at Derby next to another hurricane knock played at Tunbridge Wells 34 years ago.
Kapil Dev’s 175 not out against Zimbabwe turned defeat to victory and set the tone for India achieving the Mission Impossible at the 1983 World Cup. Harmanpreet’s stunning show will have the same effect Kapil’s special had. Indian women’s cricket will no longer be stuck in the shadows of the men’s game.
Mithali Raj’s side had already made a statement in the ICC Women’s World Cup, finding a new performer every game. And the stage on which Harmanpreet Kaur chose to explode – under pressure in the semifinals against odds-on favourites Australia – puts her effort up there in Indian cricket.
India still have a small matter of the final against hosts England to take care of – Lord’s will see a sell-out crowd on Sunday – but the women cricketers, with Harmanpreet capturing the imagination of the country, have showcased women power in Indian sport.
Goodwill and consistency
The win over England in the opening game brought a rush of goodwill, women’s cricket was already taking big strides. It did help the matches were telecast live, but India were a picture of consistency in the build-up, winning 17 of their 18 matches.
There was the first-ever triple century opening stand, between Deepti Sharma and Punam Raut, and Jhulan Goswami emerged the highest ODI wicket-taker along the way.
But Harmanpreet’s power-hitting was something those who switched on their TV sets or followed on internet had ever thought women cricketers, leave alone Indian players, could even come close to.
The all-rounder had been the breakthrough player for India, after she was roped in by Sydney Thunder in the women’s Big Bash League last season. She will also play for Surrey Stars in the women’s T20 league next month.
Women make a mark
Indian women have taken big steps in sports in the last decade.
Sania Mirza provided a breakthrough first WTA title by an Indian woman in 2005 while Saina Nehwal added a fresh chapter to the country’s badminton story by winning bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.
PV Sindhu, post her silver at the Rio Olympics, is the biggest women sports icon in India while wrestler Sakshi Malik’s comeback to win bronze in Brazil made some amends for all the controversies the men’s sport saw in the lead up to the Games.
Experts were confident upstaging the Aussies would see interest in women’s cricket surge in India, like India’s 1983 triumph has done for the men’s game globally.
There is already a spurt in the twitter followers for the players.
Skipper Mithali Raj’s Twitter bio now informs whom to contact for commercial and media requests. After this campaign, she won’t need to advertise.
Harmanpreet Kaur though will be the big endorsement target. Her angry-young-woman take at batting partner Deepti Sharma is sure to add to her image. And a collage of her sixes, hit well beyond the boundary, can be a great promo for a women’s IPL.
Few would have foreseen the popularity boost for women’s cricket and India lifting the Cup would be a perfect finale. And anyone even thinking of making comments like John McEnroe did about Serena Williams, they have been warned.