Everybody loves an underdog, especially in sports. However, the Indian women's cricket team, regardless of whether they face an Australia or a Bangladesh, have always been some sort of perpetual underdogs. Fighting an indifferent, apathetic system where the women's game has always been given step-fatherly treatment, compared to the men's, it is surely no mean feat for Indian women to reach and indeed shine at the big stage.
On Thursday, July 20, at one of the biggest stages — the semi-final of the World Cup — 28-year-old Indian batswoman Harmanpreet Kaur sparkled, and how. Facing the mighty Australians, after losing to them in the group stages earlier, India rode on the back of Harmanpreet's scintillating unbeaten 171 of 115 bowls, to reach the final of the ICC Women's World Cup against England.
What. A. Knock. ????171* off 115 balls - take a bow Player of the Match @ImHarmanpreet #WWC17 #AUSvIND pic.twitter.com/4bgeXcv0bo— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) July 20, 2017
Even though this has to be her most special innings, the hard-hitting Harmanpreet, from Punjab's Moga, has always been a breakout player.
In 2016, she became the first India woman cricketer to be signed by an overseas Twenty20 franchise after inking a deal with Australia's Big Bash League champions Sydney Thunder. After a splendid debut season down under, she also became the first Indian woman cricketer to play for Surrey Stars in Kia Super League in England.
Kaur was India's find in the ICC World Cup 2009 in Australia. However, she stamped her class in the World Cup in 2013 - scoring a century against England, albeit in a losing cause. On February 21, 2017, with India needing eight of the last two balls against South Africa in the final of the ICC World Cup Qualifier in Sri Lanka, Harmanpreet hit a six and then took two off the last ball to secure the title for India and record India's highest successful run-chase in ODIs. However, not many would have even known or seen these remarkable innings.
The cricketing equivalent of a mic drop.????????@ImHarmanpreet #WWC17 pic.twitter.com/thAz3d3Occ— ICC (@ICC) July 21, 2017
But on Thursday, everyone's eyes — a packed house in Derby, social media, TV, and so on — were fixed on the game. And the swashbuckling Harmanpreet, who believes in her cricketing idol Virender Sehwag's ideology of "see the ball, hit the ball", rose to the occasion. Despite her glorious stroke play, it wasn't all bang-bang, as was evident from the way she built her innings — patiently accumulating runs by rotating the strike.
Joining captain Mithali Raj with India in a spot of bother at 35 for 2 in only the 10th over, Kaur and Raj made sure India didn't lose any more wickets. In fact, Harmanpreet's 50 came off 64 balls. With skipper Raj back in the pavilion in the 25th over, Kaur shifted gears and started blasting the Australian bowlers all over the park. Her second 50 came in 26 balls, the third in just 17. Such was the cluelessness in the Australian ranks that they made a total of 19 bowling changes!
It was all Harmanpreet after that as she slammed an unbeaten 171 in just 115 deliveries.
With a 137-run stand between the two, Kaur's partner for much of the day was Deepti Sharma, the only Indian woman with a higher score in ODIs. There was a brief moment of panic and drama, when on 98, Kaur lost her temper against Sharma, due to a near run-out.
That moment when you're almost run out by your partner on 99 ???? #WWC17 pic.twitter.com/QuuOWaJKIu— ICC (@ICC) July 21, 2017
But this didn't derail the Harmanpreet train, as she completed her century and went on to score her next 50 runs in 26 balls. Her last 21 runs came in mere eight deliveries.
With 20 fours and seven sixes, Harmanpreet remained unconquered for two hours and 23 minutes, making more than 60 per cent of India's 281 for 4 – its highest-ever total against the defending champion – in 42 overs (reduced due to rain).
In the process, Harmanpreet Kaur became the first Indian player – male or female – to score over 150 runs in an ODI knockout contest. And many more records. More numbers. Many have compared Harmanpreet's heroics to Kapil Dev's iconic 175 not out in the 1983 World Cup, and rightly so.
But this goes beyond any numbers and stats and figures.
For a sport like women's cricket, which till quite recently, wasn't even broadcast on live TV, where media coverage borders on indifference and sexism (precisely why the media still couldn't come up with a term to describe Kaur other than calling her a batsman), where women have to face societal pressures before picking up a bat, a ball, or a racket — Harmanpreet Kaur's heroics will go a long way: she's not just taken India, the "perpetual underdog", into the World Cup Final, she's changed the way how we'll look at women's cricket in India.
Perhaps, her mother, Satinder Kaur, sums it up best: “I just want to tell other women that the way my daughter has made us proud, they should also give their daughters a chance to live their dream and shouldn’t kill them in the womb.”
Harmanpreet Kaur's family reacts after her fabulous knock against Australia in the Semifinals. #ITVideo https://t.co/NounxnP7mg pic.twitter.com/9lBHBuViSi— India Today (@IndiaToday) July 21, 2017
Also read: Mithali Raj will easily break many records in women's cricket, but sadly not gender prejudice