Women's World T20: Give Harmanpreet Kaur a big stage and she will make it her own

“I know if I settle down, I can play my shots.”

There is something very matter-of-fact when Harmanpreet Kaur talks about her game. She knows her strengths. She is incredibly self-aware of her game. And she has the batting skills that can make jaws drop.

On Friday, in the first match of the ICC Women’s World T20, 2018, Kaur made jaws drop and then some.

And make no mistake, this was a massive game. It was the first time the Women’s World T20 was given a platform on its own. It was also a virtual quarter-final for India as a defeat to New Zealand in a group that also features Australia would have made finishing in the top two an improbable task.

In an interesting tactical move, India decided to use pinch-hitters in the powerplay to go after the White Ferns bowling. Taniya Bhatia came and went. D Hemalatha came and went. In between, Smriti Mandhana fell to a stunning catch at deep square leg. Jemimah Rodrigues would have been out for just two had New Zealand reviewed a close LBW shout in the second over. India’s World T20 campaign was off to an eventful start, alright. The real madness, though, was yet to begin.

When Kaur walked out to bat in the sixth over, she might have been forgiven for having second thoughts about her tactics as captain.

But she is at peace with herself when she has the bat in hand and her team expects her to deliver.

She went about getting her eye in like she always does. A forward defence here, a push to the point for a single there. First 13 balls she faced, she made five runs. And then came a full-toss. Like a kid let loose in a candy store, her eyes lit up. Down the track she came, and unleashed that bat-swing of hers for the first time and cleared the boundary ropes with ease.

First six of the tournament, and it was fittingly from the bat of the Indian captain.

The second six would come in that very over.

Read the length early, load up with a high backlift, bring it down in a perfect arc that would make a golfer green with envy and launch it straight down the ground. Trademark, Harmanpreet Kaur.

Just like that her strike rate went from 38.46 at the beginning of the 10th over from Jess Watkin, to 117.64 at the end of it. From there, but for a brief period when she was down with some stomach discomfort, Kaur was in complete command.

The standout aspect of her innings, as always, was that bat-swing — a thing of joy. She went on to clear the boundary eight times in the innings, the longest of them an 85-meter monster hit down the ground that landed over the sight-screen.

Short boundaries for the women’s game, you say? She doesn’t need that.

Kaur’s innings was reminiscent of the epic against Australia in more ways than one. Against one of the best teams in the world, high stakes, and long sixes. But the most striking similarity was her ability to accelerate.

Harmanpreet Kaur’s incredible acceleration

171* against Australia in World Cup 2017 103 against New Zealand in World T20 2018
First 50 runs: 64 balls  First 5 runs: 13 balls
Second 50 runs: 26 balls  Next 45 runs: 20 balls
Last 71 runs: 25 balls Last 53 runs: 18 balls

Thanks to Kaur, ably supported by Rodrigues — playing her first match at a global ICC event and displaying tremendous maturity — India managed to score a whopping 118 runs in the last 10 overs. That 10th over where Kaur started teeing off proved to be the turning point after all.

That 171* against Australia in Derby in the World Cup semi-final woke up a nation, and made them take notice of the women’s cricket team. It revolutionised the sport for her and her teammates. It laid the platform for heftier central contracts, ensured there was a market for the women’s game and more than anything, served as an inspiration to anyone who wanted to take the sport. India, as a team, needed that innings for a series of changes to kick into gear.

Fifteen months later, a World T20 is being hosted as a standalone event, without having to piggyback on the men’s event. This was a big day for women’s cricket. And the game itself needed someone to make a statement that this is a well-earned move.

And up stepped Kaur. This wasn’t just a knock that helped India clinch a much-needed win in a virtual quarter-final. This was a knock that told the world that women’s cricket has a star who can make you tune in and watch her clear the boundary ropes for fun without it being an appetiser for a main course to follow.

Harmanpreet Kaur, ladies and gentlemen, can hold any stage on her own.