CHENNAI: Since the 2017 World Cup final, Harmanpreet Kaur has scored 639 runs in 27 innings, with just three half-centuries, the last of those coming in the fifth ODI against New Zealand last week. They are certainly not the kind of numbers that inspire confidence; least of all from the team's vice-captain.
However, despite poor international returns in 2021 — 196 runs in 7 ODI innings — Harmanpreet looked at her best for a considerable period during this time, most notably in the home series against South Africa at the start of the year and the Women's Big Bash League at the back end. What held her back in between those phases was a series of unfortunate injuries.
First, she suffered a groin injury while batting on 31 in the fifth ODI against the Proteas, forcing her to miss the T20Is. Then, she contracted Covid in March, and in the hundred after three games, she strained her quadriceps. In Australia, it was a thumb injury that kept her out of the ODIs and pink-ball Test.
Through this time, she showed glimpses of her fluent self, but the stop-start nature of her international outings meant she struggled to settle into any kind of rhythm. In the WBBL, however, she was having fun, smashing bowlers and picking up wickets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, even finishing as the player of the tournament. Her spectacular form came with a heightened sense of expectation going into the New Zealand tour. But, it was the same story as scores of 12, 10, 10 and 13 followed.
While Harmanpreet did not play the fourth ODI, and no official reasons were given for it, when she came back for the fifth, the wait finally ended. A 66-ball 63 tells very little in a scorecard but batting along with Smriti Mandhana, the 32-year-old was once again in her groove. If the slog sweeps weren’t telling, the hoick over long-on off Fran Jonas was a clear indication that she was in a zone.
In fact, she said the same after the match. “I, myself, was waiting for that innings for a long time now,” Harmanpreet said in a chat with Mandhana on BCCI.tv. “I really enjoy I’m batting. When that six came off, it gave me the confidence back that I was looking for.”
And it seems like that knock was all she needed to fire her up to do well in the World Cup as the all-rounder went on to smash a century (104) in the warm-up fixture against South Africa on Sunday. Because, Harmanpreet had first-hand experience of what India missed in 2017, especially after the kind of tournament she had despite suffering multiple injuries: 359 runs at 59.83, including a fifty in the final.
Tushar Arothe, the then India head coach, recalled the moment when Harmanpreet had to walk off the field in their second match after a hairline fracture in her little finger. "She was in tears.'Sir, all wanted was to play in the World Cup and win it for India. What will I do now?' she asked me. We spoke with the selectors and decided to keep her in the squad as we know what she is capable of when she gets fit. We managed her workload through the World Cup and what happened in the semifinal is history," he said.
It wasn't the only time Kaur stepped up on the big stage. In the 2018 T20 World Cup, she was India's leading run-scorer. Four years down the line, another big event is here. And despite the calls to leave Kaur out of the playing eleven during the New Zealand series, the Indian team is sticking with her as Mithali's deputy for the World Cup, and they have enough good reasons to do so. Now, it's over to Harampreet to deliver on the big stage as she did five years ago.