CWC 2022: How Harman-Thor wields her hammer?

Like any other cricketer, the Indian batter, too, has evolved over the years. A deep dive into some of the key aspects that makes her stand out.

Published: 26th March 2022 11:36 PM  |   Last Updated: 27th March 2022 05:22 AM   |  A+A-

Indian batter Harmanpreet Kaur celebrates after scoring a century against West Indies in the ICC Women's World Cup.

Harmanpreet Kaur is in great nick, having smashed a ton against West Indies (Photo | AFP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: It's hard to talk about Harmanpreet Kaur without mentioning the number 171. The Indian ODI vice-captain's monster knock against Australia in the semifinal of the 2017 World Cup has gone down in folklore. It was a knock for the ages: one that left viewers (and the mighty Australians) gasping for breath.

However, it is a knock that has, in many ways, weighed her down. After all, how does one repeat a feat like that?

While her overall ODI numbers do not reflect the kind of quality and ability she has, there’s something about World Cups that bring the best out of her. In four editions, Harmanpreet has scored 828 runs in 21 innings at an average of 51.75, a full 16 runs higher that her career average of 35.34, the highest for an Indian batter. Additionally, three of her four ODI hundreds have come on that stage.

Much like any other cricketer, Harmanpreet, too, has evolved over the years. With inputs from Harshal Pathak, current head coach of the Thailand women’s team, who has worked with Harmanpreet in the past, here's a look at understanding the key aspects of her batting, what makes her stand out as a one-of-a-kind performer.

The off-side game

In the lead up to the World Cup, one of the videos that kept making it to the ICC’s broadcasting package was a trip down the memory lane to her first ODI hundred  (England in Mumbai during the 2013 Cup). If you had watched her bat only after 2017, that inning would seem alien to you. For the better part of her innings against England, before she started using the long handle, Harmanpreet was standing on leg-stump, getting on the front foot to the pitch of the ball and caressing it through covers. Against spinners, she’d rock back and drive behind point with a vertical bat. She had a lunging stance with a perfectly horizontal backlift; a bit of a laid back approach. But, most of her lofted shots seemed to be hitting down the ground or across the line.

By 2016, Harmanpreet had changed a lot. With the introduction of T20s, the game had evolved too. She had to expand her arsenal. “We tried to work on different scenarios in open wicket practice on what to do if she comes in between overs 8-16 in a T20 or say, 25-40 in an ODI and how she would take the innings forward from there. One of the things we spent a lot of time working on was her lofted shot over extra cover,” he said.

A few months later, that shot was on display in the Women’s Big Bash League, getting down on her knee to hit Gemma Triscari through the line, over extra-cover for a six. It was so good that Triscari couldn’t help but stand in the middle of the pitch and laugh in disbelief.

 The other significant difference from the past is the way she leans into a shot and follows through, which has become more precise over the years. If one watched the hundred against England in 2013, most of her cut shots and drives were on the rise with free-flowing hands.

Cut to 2021, her batting had become a lot more tight, she largely relied on timing than muscling the ball over the boundary. The way her hands, elbow and foot came down for a shot has become compact, and that has served her well.
The Visualisation

Over the years, Harmanpreet has spoken in detail about how visualisation is an important part of her preparation. In one of those videos shared by the ICC during the last World Cup, Harmanpreet said that she loves watching cricket, imagining herself in the middle and looking for the bowler who looks the most nervous and then try taking them down.

In 2016, when she used to work with Pathak, both of them would watch the men’s Test matches and T20s that were on TV, and try to anticipate what the bowler was going to do before every delivery. “More often than not, she always got it right. It’s not just about anticipation. She is one of those players who makes sense when she talks about cricket. We used to discuss the tactics that were on display, and Harman would talk about what she would do differently, and some of the times, the teams used to do that after a while, and it used to work,” he recalls.

It is also how she prepares in nets, too. During the ongoing World Cup, Harmanpreet spoke about how she was working on her lofted shots.The batter was the first to get into the nets, and only when she was happy with her lofted shots did she leave the nets.

It’s a long-standing trait of hers. Once she sets a goal before a training session, she doesn’t leave until she’s achieved it. Pathak remembers a time when they were working on trying to hit the in-swinging deliveries more towards midwicket rather than square-leg. “We had decided that she had to hit a certain number of balls through the area. I’d roughed up one side of the ball to make sure the ball swung in, and initially, she was struggling. It took two hours to start hitting in the intended areas. But, she didn’t give up. She persisted until she achieved the target before leaving the nets,” he said.

The front-foot watch

Much like any batter across the globe, Harmanpreet does have her areas of susceptibility which has caught her off-guard over the years. One of the key trigger movements and aspects of her batting is her shuffle across and planting the front foot forward: devastating when she gets it right, but hugely problematic when the timing is off. Sometimes she plants down her front foot so early, that she is forced to play around her pad, leading to lbw or caught dismissals.

Her dismissal against England in the third T20I in 2021, where she fell over while playing Natalie Sciver across the line only springs to mind. In the Australia tour later that year, Jess Jonassen got her out the same way in the first T20I. In the World Cup, too, against Pakistan, she did the same against Nida Dar, only to be hit on the back-leg and walk back to the pavilion.

This technical flaw is no secret. Most top teams that have done their homework generally try and attack Harmanpreet's front pad early in the innings. When they miss the trick, and she gets her eye in, often, she scores big enough to make them pay. And it’s not like Harmanpreet isn’t aware of it either. Pathak remembers the time they worked on this aspect of her batting.

“She has improved a lot in recent years. She has played a lot of straight drives, and on the front foot, she is able to hit the bowlers from the right side of mid-on to the left side of midwicket. When you can hit the ball over there, all the mechanics have to come right."

"I don’t look into mechanics, but no batter is perfect. As long as you get maximum runs in your strong areas and manage your limitations, you are going to be more than a good batter. And, I’m sure she keeps on working on it. She also knows that the teams try to exploit that, so she doesn’t worry too much about it. She knows when to hit the ball and where,” said the current Thailand coach.

The competitive edge

Everybody knows Harmanpreet is an aggressive batter and a highly competitive athlete. It shows when she is on the field, whether while batting or marshalling the players. Her commitment on the field is never short of 100 percent, irrespective of her physical injuries.

In 2021, she had multiple injuries and came back every time during the middle of a series. But, when on the ground during her comebacks, she could be seen throwing herself across the ground while fielding. There’s no hanging in there or doing the minimum required with Harmanpreet. It's either all in or out.

Former team manager Trupti Bhattacharya recalls the few hours leading up to that epic knock in the 2017 semifinal. The toss had been delayed due to rain. There was a sense of uncertainty over if and when the match would begin and how many overs the contest would be.

“There were discussions about the reduced overs and DLS complications kicking in, I was like we should play full 50 overs, so let it go for the next day. But, Harman would have none of it,” she remembers. “She was like ‘No matter what, the match should happen today and I want to play today.’ I asked why today, with the extra tension of reduced overs, it was just a conversation between me and her.

She said, No, ma'am, we have to play today and whatever happens, let it happen today.

"I remember thinking why does she want the match to happen today only. And then the match started. I guess she had some kind of intuitive feeling because she kept saying she wanted to play that day, and then the 171 said it all.”

And this competitive edge of hers doesn’t need an international stage. She’s the same everywhere. In 2016, when she was training in the 22 yards academy with Pathak in Pune, a 17-year-old boy hit her on the helmet with a sharp bouncer the day before a practice match.

Not wanting to take a risk, Pathak had kept the particular bowler in her team. “She came to me before the match and asked which team the player was and asked me to put him on the opposite side. She said, ‘Mein unko rakh rakh ke maroongi’ and that is exactly what she did. She’s a very competitive individual who doesn’t back away from a fight and that’s what makes her stand out,” he said.

The Harman Batswing

It’s no secret now that there’s a sense of trademark around Harmanpreet’s batswing. Whether it's jumping out of the crease and hitting the bowlers downtown between mid-off and deep-midwicket with a full long-handled swing of the bat, or shuffling across and getting down on her knee to smack any type of bowler between deep-midwicket and behind square, her batswing is a treat to watch.

Pathak said that Harmanpreet has always had a good downswing. “We worked on it a lot. But it's also about the game plan and when she comes into bat and against what bowlers in what stage of the game to use it. She’s evolved over the years but has kept her batswing the same. It's key to her batting. When she starts hitting, there’s a nice flow to it.”

It’s been one of the constants in her batting over the years — whether it’s sweeping England’s Arran Brindle over midwicket in 2013, smashing every Australian bowler across the ground in 2017 or tonking Hannah Rowe on one knee over cow corner in the World Cup match against New Zealand this year. But, she doesn’t play those shots early in her innings. When she brings it out, it’s almost as an announcement that she is in her zone. And there is very little the opponents can do from there.

Harmanpreet has grown over the years. From this batter who took the world by storm, she progressed to a swashbuckling skipper and a passionate leader. Now, Harmanpreet is at the stage where she has made peace with where she is in her career. It seems like it is all about enjoying the time in the middle and trying to win matches and trophies for India.

If all goes well, she still has three more chances to do so in this World Cup.


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