CWC 2022: Back against the wall, Harmanpreet Kaur delivers yet again on the big stage
With opener Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur stitched a 184-run partnership to put India in a winning position.
Just before India’s clash against New Zealand, ICC digital did a segment on their training where former skipper Anjum Chopra spoke to the players and the coach, to understand what they were trying to gain from the session. Among other things, what stood out was the chat with Harmanpreet Kaur.
Chopra said that the Indian vice-captain was the first to get into the nets and that she had to wait for a long time even after everyone else left to catch up with Kaur. When she eventually did, Kaur said that she was trying to hit some lofted shots. “I’m really happy that in the end, I got what I was looking for,” Kaur added.
In the short snippet of her session, there were pulls, shots down the ground, lofts over covers, flicks through mid-wicket, sweeps, backfoot punches, glimpses of which we were able to see against New Zealand after she settled in. Though Kaur scored a 63-ball 71, the target seemed a bridge too far, even for her, after the kind of start they had. On Saturday against the West Indies, however, things were different.
India were batting first, and their intent was clear from the first ball. Yastika Bhatia got them off to a flier, Mithali Raj and Deepti Sharma got out trying to follow suit. By the time Kaur had joined Smriti Mandhana in the middle, the platform was set for India to build on. With Shamilia Connell and Anisa Mohammed bowling from either end, Kaur took most of the strike against the veteran off-spinner, letting Mandhana handle the pacers.
Mohammed, much similar to the plan of most teams, was bowling straight and attacked the stumps, trying to trap Kaur on the pads. But, Kaur was in her zone. Against spinners, she was batting on a middle-and-leg guard while for the pacers, she stood way outside the leg stump. Her mandatory shuffle across from the respective guards meant that despite her front foot plant, Kaur was covering the line well enough to not fall over and get hit on the pads.
Just like any of her other innings, she took her time to settle, managing only eight from 16 balls at one point. After that, it did not take long for her to settle into a groove, securing at least one boundary every over or even otherwise scoring over run-a-ball with just singles and doubles. That she was batting with one of her favourite batting partners in Mandhana surely helped.
Despite playing together for eight years in 60 innings, the duo has batted together only nine times. And among those Kaur has batted with more than once, her partnership average with Mandhana is the best: 58.22 with two hundred and two fifty-plus stands. And as the opener said after the match, they complemented each other well, successfully countering West Indies' plans in the middle overs. "Our strengths are really different because she's really good with spin, and I like pace on the ball. We know that so when the spinner comes on, I give her the strike, and when the pacers come on, she gives me the strike," she said.
From 78 for three, they took the tally to 169 for three after 32 overs, registering their respective fifties, after which the carnage began. In the next ten overs, all the shots from the snippets shared by ICC were put on display by Kaur. With the Indian vice-captain on song, the West Indies ran out of plans and bowlers, using as many as eight options through the innings.
Often known for her seriousness in the middle, Kaur has spoken about how Mandhana tries to make her relax, asking her to smile while batting together. But, today, in the southpaw's own words, it was not required. "I think when Harry di walked in, the situation was quite tricky. So, I didn't want her to lose her focus. I didn't really joke around at that time, but I think once she got set - once she was in 30s and 40s - we both were actually having a lot of fun... And, I don't think that I needed to tell her because she was smiling a lot more than she generally does," she said.
Mandhana was the first to get to her century, and she went on an attacking spree before getting out for 123 runs from 119 balls. Kaur was batting on 80 when the southpaw got out. She kept the momentum going, smacking Deandra Dottin over square-leg for a six and a four off consecutive deliveries, entering the nineties. It just took her six deliveries to knock it around and get to her hundred with a single of Aaliyah Alleyne.
Though it was her fourth ODI century, it was a day of many firsts for Kaur. It was the first time she registered two consecutive 50-plus scores since the 2017 World Cup; also her first century since that epic 171 n.o against Australia in the semifinal. The celebration that followed was in contrast with her previous one, and that said it all.
It was more relief than ecstasy as Kaur jumped in the air, pumped her fist and raised her bat to the dugout where everyone was on their feet. The five-year-long wait had finally come to an end. The onslaught continued for just a little while, but by the time she got out, India were in a position from where it would be hard to lose.
Kaur's love for World Cups is well known; she averages 53.07 in global events compared to a career average of 35.17. After the kind of year she had in 2021 and the scrutiny on her place in the XI, the 33-year-old and the team management could not have asked for anything better. As Mandhana said, the innings was nothing but incredible.
"I think she's a very crucial part of our batting order, especially in the middle order. Most importantly, I think today's century will give her a lot of confidence and the whole team as well, because we were not in a great place to start with and from there, for her to come in and bat and get us out of that situation, it was an incredible innings," said Mandhana who shared her player of the match award with Kaur.
“I think when her back is towards the wall, that's when she comes the best out and that's something which I have seen - like her work ethics are really like up there. I think, in the whole team, she has one of the best work ethics and she keeps going even if she doesn't get the result, that's something which really gets her going.”
After the loss against New Zealand, there were more questions than answers for the Indian team management. On Saturday, in a crucial encounter against West Indies, Kaur stepped up and delivered when the team needed her the most just like she has in the past.
Hopefully, this time, she can take India one step further from 2017.