India’s Harmanpreet Kaur. (Reuters) Exclusive
India’s Harmanpreet Kaur. (Reuters)

Harmanpreet Kaur, whose 171* transformed women’s cricket, battles form slump

That 2017 knock stunned Australia in the ODI World Cup semi-finals. With the next edition fast approaching, India hope their star quickly regains her best
By Shalini Gupta, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON JUL 07, 2021 04:19 PM IST

Known as India’s batting powerhouse, Harmanpreet Kaur had not really fired with the bat in the 2017 Women’s World Cup till the semi-final against Australia in Derby. She injured her finger in the second league match against West Indies and physio Tracy Fernandes suggested 10 days’ rest. Harmanpreet was gutted, but told coach Tushar Arothe that she wanted to continue playing in all the matches as she had waited four years for the World Cup.

Batting first, India were 101/3 when Harmanpreet came to the crease. What followed was absolute delight for Indian fans. Harmanpreet blasted a 115-ball 171* to help India beat the fancied Australia in the semi-finals. Though she could not repeat the show and England won the final, her innings caught the imagination of a nation that until then tuned in only when the men’s team played.

The Moga-born batter, then 28, helped change the way women’s cricket was perceived globally. The story of how a young girl fought the odds in Punjab to don the Indian jersey and made India proud inspired everyone. Media glare, events, sponsorships and advertisement offers followed. Harmanpreet became a star overnight.

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Four years have passed since her record-breaking innings in Derby. Back in England, the ODI team vice-captain and T20 skipper is struggling with poor form, unable to live up to her reputation especially in ODIs. With just two ODI fifties since that 171* from her has also dented India’s middle-order solidity. In England recently, she did not click in the one-off Test and the preceding three ODIs.

This dip hasn’t eroded Harmanpreet’s stature though.

“This can happen with anyone. The pandemic has also affected a lot of cricketers. There was no cricket for months. England women had been playing for many months but since the T20 World Cup in 2020, India played just one ODI and T20 series, against South Africa at home. Harman is a class cricketer who will be dying to score runs and win matches for India. We should not underestimate her match-winning skills. That 171 sent shivers among the Australians. They could not believe the way Harman played, that too with an injured finger,” said Arothe.

Australia’s Alex Blackwell, who scored a 56-ball 90 in that match, was in awe of Harmanpreet’s knock that day and presented her jersey after the game.

Confidence the key

Arothe recalled how coming into the 2017 World Cup, Kaur was not in form and needed extra practice to regain confidence.

“She played in that World Cup in pain. She just wanted to go and express herself in the semis. And look at the way she batted! We must be patient. Before travelling to Australia, Harman should play local matches and get her confidence back. When a batter is struggling with form and usually bats at No. 4, she can be sent at No. 3 also so she can face more deliveries. In the T20 series, she should bat at No. 3,” said Arothe, who backs Harmanpreet for the 2022 World Cup.

One reason for Harmanpreet’s poor returns could be due to not playing domestic cricket for over four seasons. After her 2017 World Cup success, she quit her job with Railways to join Punjab Police as Deputy Superintendent of Police. Her stature took a blow as she was involved in a fake certificate controversy. It turned out that her graduation certificate submitted for the police post was fake. She was removed from the post and told to complete her graduation first.

“It was a horrible time for Harman. She was facing scrutiny from all corners regarding her certificate. It was her dream to become a DSP. It dented her reputation. But all that matters to her is playing for India and winning matches. She is a champion,” said a Punjab women’s team player, who did not wish to be named.

Harmanpreet, who made her ODI debut against Pakistan in 2009, also has not enjoyed a rapport with Test and ODI skipper Mithali Raj. At the 2018 T20 World Cup, dropping Raj for the semi-final—India lost to England—led to a scrutiny of skipper Harmanpreet and coach Ramesh Powar.

Powar was removed as coach (he is back at the helm) despite Harmanpreet writing a letter to BCCI backing him. Her last impressive knock was against New Zealand in that World Cup, a 51-ball 103 runs.

“Whatever has happened is gone now. Harmanpreet is India’s trump card for the 2022 ODI World Cup. Cricketers do struggle with form. Moreover, India have not played much cricket in the last one year due to the pandemic. Harman is the best bet for India going into the World Cup. She should go to Punjab, play matches and score runs. This way she will also inspire her team mates,” said Nooshin-Al-Khadeer, former India cricketer who is the Railways coach. She wanted coach Powar and batting coach Shiv Sundar Das to work on Harmanpreet’s game.

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Harmanpreet has played in the Women’s Big Bash League and England’s Kia Super League and will now play in the The Hundred in England before India travel to Australia for a pink-ball Test followed by an ODI and T20 series. As she struggles, young batters like Priya Punia, Harleen Deol, Radha Yadav and Richa Ghosh wait to find a place in the ODI playing eleven.

Former Indian player and chief selector Gargi Bannerjee said: “I am really unhappy people are questioning Harman’s form. Many others in the team have not performed that well in the last three years. A player like Harman can turn a match around any time; without her one can’t think of playing ODIs. Remember her 171 brought glory to Indian women’s cricket. She will surely prove she is the best ODI and T20 player.”

Nooshin added: “Richa, Priya, Harleen are all top-order batters. You cannot fit them in the middle-order. Mithali and Harman are the main middle-order batters India have. So, there is no question of leaving out Harman. The T20 series is starting, the format suits her style of cricket. She will do well for India.”

With 107 ODIs and 114 T20s to her credit, and loads of expectations, Harmanpreet will surely be in the spotlight during the T20 series in England starting on Friday.

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