India were not equipped to handle big occasions, so said Mithali Raj, the captain. Those comments came from a place of disappointment after her team had lost to Australia in the group stage. But now, a week after that thrashing, on a stage as massive as the semi-final of the World Cup, one of her team-mates produced an innings for the ages against the same opposition. Harmanpreet Kaur mauled 171 off 115 balls – she was 41 off 60 before going on a brutal onslaught that would yield 131 off 55.
The 28-year old hard-hitting batsman had earned acclaim in the T20 circuit, becoming the first Indian to be picked for the Big Bash League and the Kia Super League. But at the World Cup, Harmanpreet found herself coming in towards the slog overs and so struggled to get time in the middle. Before the semi-final, she had faced only 91 balls in five innings. “I didn’t get a chance to bat in the whole tournament,” she told the host broadcasters after her unbeaten innings, “Today when I got the chance I just wanted to utilise it, this opportunity, because today was the day where I wanted to prove myself, and thanks to God, whatever I was thinking, [worked]. Mithali and Deepti [Sharma] scored really well and Veda [Krishnamurthy] scored really well.”
In much the way her idol, Virender Sehwag, used to play, Harmanpreet’s thought process at the crease was very simple. “Today’s plan was just watch the ball, hit it hard and this is what I was doing.” But she had to be careful early on. After all, Australia had India at 35 for 2 in the 10th over. “Some areas they were bowling well but I just wanted to hit and rotate the strike.”
Harmanpreet’s partner for much of the day was Deepti Sharma, the only Indian woman with a higher score in ODIs. “I just told her to rotate the strike, you don’t have to take the pressure, I was hitting the ball well and I told her to give me the strike and I will take the responsibility and she did a great job.”
But there was one moment of miscommunication during theit 137-run stand. On 98, Harmanpreet knocked a ball into the leg side and immediately called for a second run. But Deepti did not seem so keen. Harmanpreet berated Deepti to complete the double, and after a relay throw via the wicketkeeper ended at the non-strikers’ end brought the third umpire into play, she flung her helmet onto the turf and sent another angry volley of words at Deepti. Eventually, the green light came on and Harmanpreet put an arm around her partner to make up for the momentary slip up.
“Of course, it was heat of the moment and I said sorry to her because I don’t want to lose my wicket at the that moment and I don’t want to lose her wicket too, I got a little bit angry but we are fine now.”