Harmanpreet Kaur’s seemingly effortless ability to clear the fence has astounded everyone, from the cameo at the 2009 World Cup in relative obscurity to the game-changing century at the 2017 World Cup on prime-time television.
In the two years since that scintillating hundred in the semi-finals, she has become a household name and her style of batting has become the template for success. India now has an emerging bunch of players who can free their arms and consistently go for boundaries and big runs when the match situation demands it; a rarity in the past.
Her batting is a curious mix of ‘see ball-hit ball’ and pinching boundaries through the gaps. International stars like Australia’s Alex Blackwell, New Zealand’s Sophie Devine, and England’s Nat Sciver have singled her out for the power she possesses, which can single-handedly change a match in both formats.
The last year may have seen a dip in form and an injury spell but the moments of magic are still there: a century at the World T20, a match-winning knock in the Women’s T20 Challenge – all that with a trademark bat swing that can be watched on loop.
What exactly goes on in the mind of one of the most dangerous batters in the women’s game when she sees the bowler run in?
“Batting is all about calculation. If you are calculating then only you can win the game, especially while chasing. While doing his calculation, you have to keep two three things in mind, which bowler to attack, which bowler to play safe,” she told Scroll.in. “These things become very important. The day your calculation works, nobody can stop you.”
The 30-year-old is constantly trying to hone this intangible aspect of her batting. “When I do my training, I make it a point to work on this calculation as well. In fact, while watching matches also I look at it. You can learn from other players how they are doing it and it’s very important to me,” she said on the sidelines of the CEAT Cricket Awards 2019.
Adapt your game
The big-hitting style is now almost a necessity in women’s cricket, unlike a few years ago where touch-batting and timing was the more common style in relatively low-scoring games. But that is rapidly changing, with even the traditionally textbook Indian batting line-up amassing runs consistently with a strike rate well over 100. A classic left-handed stroke-maker in style, Smriti Mandhana also asserted how the increasing scores in T20 internationals means batters have no choice but to adapt to the brand of cricket.
While not everyone can match up to Kaur, youngsters like Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, and more recently Harleen Deol, are trying to emulate their big-hitting T20 captain. Till a few years back, India could only turn to the 30-year-old in a big chase but slowly, they are developing a pool of solid ball-strikers.
“It has improved a lot now. The main reason is that the matches are telecast now and the leagues world over are also followed,” Kaur said.
“If you can’t improve then it is difficult for you to get that space in the team. So everyone knows that we have to go beyond what is our strength and only then will we make the place for ourselves. That is really good because it is important to understand the game and adapt yourself to the current situation of cricket. I am really happy that the girls have analysed this and are improving themselves.”
The recently-concluded women’s T20 league in India was one such occasion for Indian players and tournament saw big crowds. It was also Kaur’s chance to make a successful comeback from injury and she did do it in style. In a thrilling chase, Kaur smashed veteran pacer Jhulan Goswami for four fours in the final over to almost win the first match and then ended the tournament lifting the trophy as Supernovas captain and player of the match.
The first Indian player to take part in an overseas T20 league thanked her stars that India finally got a platform like that.
“We have played leagues in other countries and we always wanted to play a league in India, where our domestic players also get a chance because they are improving a lot. We always thought that we wanted a league at home as well where we can improve our cricket. I am really thankful to God that this league went off so well,” she said.
She added: “To be honest, we didn’t think that there will be so many people in the crowd to watch the matches and it will be a full house for the final. It was great to see the support, it felt good to see them support the women’s cricketers.”
The T20 captain had a special word of praise for the youngsters who were fearless in the spotlight.
“When we see men’s cricket, the younger players there have a craze for IPL and for other tournaments. Similarly the girls also have the same feeling, but unfortunately, we [the women’s team] didn’t have that. But now have, and these players have waited for this moment, when they get to step forward, in the league and in the Indian team.
“I think the youngsters who played so well and showed their fearless cricket, these are the kind of players we are looking for. There should be players like this coming into the team and take more responsibility. Really happy to see these three four girls perform like this,” she explained.
Survival of the fittest
One of the reasons why India took its time to open up to power-hitting is fitness. Pakistan’s Bismah Maroof has said it was a problem that affected all Asian nations.
“Strength and fitness is very important. Whatever strength training you do in the off-season, you use it during the season and again you have to come back to your fitness. Only then can you survive there. There are injury concerns and you mentally don’t feel that strong. When you have trained well, you always have that at the back of your mind that you have worked hard and going to get results.”
“Team is understanding that and they are working a lot on their fitness and fielding. I think that is the reason we are getting the results now,” she added on the aspects India need to improve on.
In that regard, her message to the younger lot is simple: Work on fitness, be calm and value your wicket.
“Don’t take any pressure. When you take pressure, the other team won’t give you a chance to come back. When you start your innings only, keep your body calm and relaxed and show them that you don’t have any fear and that you are fearless. Don’t give away your wicket easily. When we are fielding, we struggle a lot to get others’ wickets so you should also value your wicket similarly. If you trust yourself then you can always achieve whatever you want,” said the India T20I captain on her advice to her team.
But Kaur admits that a huge part of the work to be put in before theT20 World Cup in 2020 is mental.
“The main thing we have to work on is how to handle the pressure. Skill-wise there is no doubt we are a good side in both batting and bowling department. But the only thing I personally feel we were lacking is mental strength. We are working on that and day-by-day we are getting the experience. Like in the IPL games, all the matches had pressure situations and everyone learned something from that,” she explained.
But till that happens, India will always look to Kaur for big runs in crunch situations. Who are the emerging players who can shoulder the burden of strike rate when she is not around?
“In T20s, there are many young players coming through who have such an approach. Shafali [Verma] for example, she can take that because she has that intrinsic strength. Then there is Pooja Vastrakar, unfortunately, she is not fit. Her batting style is like that, she plays fast and has a good strike rate.
“We do have the players but the only thing is we need some more exposure, a platform where they can go and show their game and gain the experience,” she responded.
The Women’s T20 Challenge was a start and a positive one. The onus is on Kaur and the team management to ensure India doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the last World T20 with less than a year to go for the next one. And if her performance for Supernovas was any indication, the captain is leading by example.