Three years ago on a grand stage of a World Cup semifinal against the toughest of opponents, Harmanpreet Kaur produced a knock for the ages when she plundered an unbeaten 171 off just 115 balls against Australia at Derby. It was an innings that tugged at the collective consciousness of a country, much like what Kapil Dev’s 175 in 1983 had done for the men’s game in India.
Harmanpreet sensed ‘something was different’ that morning in Derby, something she wishes she could carry to every game.
“That day my mindset was very different,” she recalls to Cricbuzz In Coversation. “I’ve played many internationals but that mindset I walked in with… I wish I could go that way for every game. That would be difficult. To be honest, before the match we’re always thinking about the match situation. That day I was only recalling my whole cricketing journey, how I started… it was a different kind of feeling. I just wanted to play freely.”
Harmanpreet joined skipper Mithali Raj in the 10th over of the game and the two batters steadied the ship over the next 15 overs ensuring India did not crumble. But the run rate was a massive concern since it went past ‘4 RPO’ only in the 23rd over. While Mithali wanted the two senior pros to continue in their steady vein for a little while longer, Harmanpreet was itching for a free reign.
“I was batting with Mithali and we’d put on 50 and were only looking at the scoreboard and thinking we don’t have enough runs,” she recalled. “That Australia team has batters till No. 9. Even No.9 can come and score a 100. I was telling her [Mithali] if we make 200-250, we can at best take the game to the last over but not win.
“I wanted to bat freely. She just smiled at me and said ‘Look it’s risky now, it’s only the 16th over. Lots of time to go.’ [But] I told her just let me play, we’ll see. Once I got that, I didn’t look back.
With Mithali also getting dismissed exactly at the halfway mark, the onus was on Harmanpreet to guide India to a fighting total. She remembers how the team management constantly sent her messages during intervals asking her to target 250. But she knew at the back of her mind that 250 wasn’t going to be enough against a side that bats deep.
“The messages I was getting from outside… target 250. I didn’t think so. I had played WBBL before… We study and learn a lot. I knew players from that team…. They have batters till 9. Other teams maybe you can get 3-4 players and you’re in. Not the same with Australia. I told them please don’t give me any messages. If we were targeting 250, then my partner was going slow. We had batting left. Jhulan [Goswami] di was also to come, she is also a power hitter. Let’s go all-out. 250 is not going to be enough.”
Eventually, Harmanpreet switched gears and went into a boundary-on-demand phase. She slammed 20 fours and seven sixes. Her first fifty came off 64 deliveries but the next came off just 26. To go from 100 to 171, all she needed was 25 more deliveries as India posted a massive 281 on the board. In reply, Australia fell short by 36 runs and crashed out of the tournament.
With India playing the final just two days later, Harmanpreet pointed out she hardly had time to reflect on the the magnitude of the performance.
“To be honest, once the match was over… we went to London, we had just 1 day gap to the final,” she said. “I was getting calls and WhatsApp messages. I usually avoid WhatsApp during a tournament. Just speak to family that’s it. So I didn’t see those messages and calls. I don’t have Facebook or Instagram either. I think I waste too much energy. I don’t want them on my phone.
“So I didn’t see any of those messages. Even with the team, we were talking about the final only. I spoke to mom and dad for 2-3 minutes. They didn’t say much. When we came back to India, we were depressed about losing a final we should have won. When I got home… only then I opened my messages. It was then that I started feeling that I did something. For 15-16 days, the messages were unrelenting.”