Harmanpreet Kaur has often come into global events searching for form. But this time, with history beckoning at the Commonwealth Games, she arrives in the best possible shape, writes Shashwat Kumar.
There’s no doubting that Harmanpreet is a world-class cricketer. On her day, she can take any bowling attack apart and has, over the years, showcased the ability to withstand great adversity. That has regularly materialized in global events, with the World Cup in New Zealand being the perfect example. A few years ago, that trait came to the fore in a clutch semi-final against Australia at Derby, where Harmanpreet blazed away to 171 and helped India trample the Southern Stars.
It was, in many ways, a performance that made India believe that they could compete against the most dangerous gunslingers in the sport, and come out on top. Harmanpreet also has a T20 World Cup ton to her name.
What makes these outings even more incredible is that she has rarely ever come into these events in a rich vein of form. Her form was questioned prior to this year’s Women’s World Cup. In 2017, too, she had only scored 348 runs in 12 innings at an average of 29 leading up to the global event.
This time, though, things seem a little different. Not just because she is now leading the side, but also because she has looked at her best lately. The World Cup, which many felt was the crescendo of her ODI career, has acted as the precursor to two Player of the Series awards – against Sri Lanka in June and July. In between, she was also the highest run-scorer in the Women’s T20 Challenge, illustrating that she is probably batting as well as she has ever done.
There could be a couple of factors to explain this change in trend. Harmanpreet is now the de-facto leader of the Indian women’s cricket team. While she has been leading the T20I side for the past few years, the extra responsibility seems to have propelled her recent performances.
There aren’t many batters in the women’s game that can rival the strokes she produces. And there are hardly any cricketers who can match her ability to absorb pressure. India will also be thrilled that their captain’s best preparation (at least in terms of runs) has come just before their date with cricketing history. The last time the sport (men’s cricket) was played at the Commonwealth Games was back in 1998, when South Africa won the gold medal. India, meanwhile, didn’t make it out of their group.
There are also murmurs that this is some sort of dress rehearsal to gauge if cricket can actually be a part of a mega multi-sport event. It’s still at a very nascent stage and there’s no guarantee cricket will be included at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. But from a purely Indian perspective, this is a novel opportunity to win a medal, and also tell millions of young girls that this is a venture that can be very fruitful.
Women’s cricket has, historically, been marginalised in India. The fact that India still doesn’t have a league to rival the Women’s Big Bash League and the women’s competition in The Hundred is testament to that point. So, if India were to achieve something substantial at the Commonwealth Games, it would not only be a slap in the face of those who questioned these cricketers, it would also open up countless different avenues.
Hence, every big event that India participates in has more riding on it than just the accolades on offer. It is, especially for the women cricketers, a chance to remind people how they’ve had the wrong end of the stick for far too long, and how that must change at the earliest. This edition of the Commonwealth Games isn’t any different. What’s different, though, is that they now have their skipper and superstar Harmanpreet purring and chomping at the bit to leave her mark. It’s happened regularly at global events, even when the perception around her fortunes hasn’t been very positive. But now, she is at the top of her game, so you can only imagine the heights she and India can scale over the next fortnight.
It might be too early to predict anything. India, lest we forget, have a tough group to negotiate and will have to outwit Australia and England at some stage to win the entire thing. They don’t have a great recent record in England, either. Yet, if Harmanpreet continues to play the way she has been for the past few months, you can’t help but drool over the endless possibilities – both for her and for her team.
India have arrived at history’s doorstep, and more importantly, Harmanpreet has arrived in the best possible shape. This hasn’t been said very often in the past. That alone should tell you how Harmanpreet and India could be on the brink of something special.