This article first appeared in the Economic Times
In India’s second game against the West Indies, Harmanpreet Kaur dived to her left while fielding and dislocated a joint in her left ring finger. She went down in pain and later said that she thought that was the end of the tournament. On Thursday (July 20), she threatened to end Australia’s. Her unbeaten 171 off just 115 balls was the joint fifth-highest ODI score of all time. But it was easily one of the best ODI innings in the world.
Australia have played a bowler short all tournament, insisting on packing their side with batters and backing themselves to chase down anything. That weakness was ruthlessly exposed by Harmanpreet in a rain delayed game. The weather at Derby, where India are undefeated, was bleak in the morning, eating eight overs out of both team’s innings. But the weather changed so quickly that the umpires had to advance the pitch inspection by half an hour. Harmanpreet’s innings accelerated just as dramatically. Her first 19 runs came at a strike rate of 50. Her half century came off a positively laid back 64 balls. By then she had lost Mithali Raj, and needed to play a long hand. So she went under a run a ball for 84 of her 115 balls. From then on, she went beserk.
Australia weren’t the only ones who felt the full force of her fury. Her partner Deepti Sharma almost ran her out when she was on 99, hesitating for a second run that was always there. Both batters had to dive, but make their ground she did. Deepti did not escape unscathed though, as Harmanpreet gave her a verbal lashing that unsettled the 19-year old. It was perhaps the most unsavoury celebration of a century, which was forgotten in the melee, her second 50 off just 26 balls. She called it a “heat of the moment” slip in the mid innings break, and said that she apologized to Deepti.
The apology must have been sincere, as the two put on the best partnership of the game: 137 off just 87 balls, of which Harmanpreet had scored 106 off 48. By then, Harmanpreet had made a mockery of statistics and field settings. Meg Lanning had fielders in her strong zones: deep mid-wicket, long on, and deep square-leg. They didn’t matter; Kaur found gaps with power. She may not have the cannon barrel physique of Sophie Devine, but was just two short of Devine’s record of nine sixes in an innings. The boundary fielders were rendered as irrelevant as the floodlights that went off once the sun came out.
Against the spinners , she had two plans: stay in her crease and slog sweep (don’t look down on that shot; even her slog sweeps were things of beauty), or step out and hit them wherever she wanted. Australia operated with no deep cover for most of the innings, and she let them. But towards the end, she found that area when Australia tried to deny her access to the leg side. Battling cramps, she showed what she had proved in the final of the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers with a match winning 41*: she is a big match player.She singlehandedly took India to the kind of total that was needed to challenge the Australian batting. If that’s too much of a general statement for you, here are the specifics: her 60.85% of the teams runs is the third highest contribution in all ODIs. It was also India’s highest score against Australia.
Mithali Raj had called on the team to find a level higher than they had in the tournament to beat the defending champions, and Harmanpreet did exactly that. Irrespective of the result, that knock, televised primetime in India, will be the marker of the direction India shoud progress till the next World Cup.