By Hardik Rajgor Nov. 23, 2018
If there’s one word to describe a captain who leaves out a veteran from her squad in a crucial game, it’s bold. That’s Harmanpreet Kaur, India Women’s T20 skipper for you.
Bold: That’s the word you would use to describe a captain who left out Mithali Raj from her squad for a knockout game in a World Cup. Fittingly, it’s also an apt word to describe the current India Women’s T20 captain, Harmanpreet Kaur. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, no regrets,” said Kaur, post-match. The jury is still out on the decision to drop veteran Raj, but before being sent home by England, Kaur’s team had an impressive run in the tournament, with the captain leaving her mark with 183 runs that included 13 massive sixes.
Harmanpreet Kaur is a household name today, but not many had heard of her when she was sent out to bat in the 49th over of a 2009 World Cup game against Australia in Sydney. She was 19 then. Given the licence to swing, she danced down the tracks and hit a boundary as well as a six. Kaur’s humongous hit across the boundary still holds the record for the biggest hit in women’s cricket history. After the game, she was made to undergo a doping test and her bat was sent to the laboratory for a test. Nothing untoward was found, either in her body or her bat. And India had just discovered a special talent.
The first time that India made it to the finals of the Women’s ODI World Cup was in 2005. It was a different era; live telecast for the games was absent, as was a contract system that exists for national players today. Despite the exploits of stalwarts like Anjum Chopra, Jhulan Goswami, and Mithali Raj against these unfair odds, women’s cricket remained a gold mine of untapped potential, struggling to catch the public eye.
But this changed in 2017 once the women’s team progressed to the semi-final of the ODI World Cup in England and Indian cricket fans began to take note once again. Live TV was about to have a massive impact on women’s cricket in the country, as India faced its arch nemesis Australia with a billion people tuned in. Harmanpreet Kaur walked out to bat, and we watched in awe. An innings of 115 balls, 171 runs, 20 fours, and seven humongous sixes made her the first Indian player, male or female, to score 150 plus in a knockout ODI game.
Much like the demands of the popular and shorter formats of the game, Kaur is aggressive and fearless.
Anyone who saw that match will never forget Kaur’s innings in their lifetime – a defining moment in a sport, like Ali vs Foreman in Zaire, Yelena Isinbayeva’s 5.06m jump in Zurich, or Germany’s 7-1 humiliation of Brazil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. From the grand backlift and elegant drives, to the incredible power play at the death, every ball was middled and timed to perfection. The editorials next day used forceful adjectives like “demolition”, “destruction”, and “dynamite” to describe the knock, which while justified, overlook Kaur’s poetic beauty.
There is a signature Punjabi flair to her stance and style, something that has characterised various batsmen from the region, from Yuvraj Singh to Navjot Singh Sidhu. Cricket lovers witnessed a spectacle heretofore unseen in women’s cricket, as Kaur walked down to the pacers and clobbered them into the fifth tier. And the fact that it had come in a crunch knockout game that steered India to the final, made Kaur a household name.
Much like the demands of the popular and shorter formats of the game, Kaur is aggressive and fearless. With her athletic physique and sparkling smile, she is the perfect embodiment of the T20 cricketer – young, fit, and strong, a combination we don’t always associate with our women cricketers of the past. As captain, she is always on the attack and as a fielder, always willing to put her body on the line. Best of all, she is more than capable to tear apart any bowling line-up with the willow.
She inspires boundless confidence everytime she comes out to bat, the irrational expectation that something special, extraordinary, or even magical could happen. It is a burden that is placed on the shoulders of very few elite men and women across all sport, and the queen of Moga is certainly one of them. Her style of play promises blockbuster entertainment and we are all innately aware that there is a certain special quality about her, that can turn around any game on its head at any point of time.
This Women’s T20 World Cup has been a learning experience for Harmanpreet Kaur, both as player and captain. India went in with a young team (average age of 24) and put on an impressive show. With a developing fan base, annual contract system, and endorsements bringing in money, it is inevitable that India is soon going to taste success. The talent and fireworks are there for everyone to see, with few players even making it to the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia.
Harmanpreet Kaur is the new face of the women’s game, and as the story of her ascendance will go down in history as a triumph for Indian women’s cricket.