has20th July 2017 at Derbyshire, India vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur did an unthinkable. It was one of those gloomy days of English Summer. India was ready to lock horns against Australia for the 2nd Semi-final of the World Cup. Derby has been the favourite hunting ground for India in that tournament. Out of India’s 5 victories of the group stage, 4 came in Derby in as many matches.
But the chances of perpetual rain was making India’s slim chance more problematic. Despite the availability of a reserve day, Indian management was panic-stricken. If the match gets abandoned for the weather, Australia with the virtue of their Group Standing will qualify for the final. And Derby had the precedence of that. In the group stage, the match between South African and New Zealand has to be called off due to rain in Derby.
After hours of delay, the officials decided to cut 8 overs from each innings. Out of the 6 matches that happened at Derby in WWC, the team batted first had won the matches all the time. So, Mithali Raj had no hesitation to ask Australia field first, once she had won the toss.
Smriti Mandhana (6) continued her poor show for the 6th consecutive matches and once again Mithali was forced to come out to bat earlier than she would have expected.
Punam Raut and she added 29 runs in 50 balls before off-spinner Ashleigh Gardner got rid of Raut, who made a century against their previous encounter in the group matches. Kaur who was shuffled in the batting order, came out to bat at number 4. After a couple of low scores in the tournament, she started to found herself in the grove and scored a 60 against New Zealand in the last group match which was a must-win game for them.
The then Head Coach Tushar Arthore even was thinking to sent her to open the batting if the match had turned out to be a twenty over encounter due to rain. One who made her debut for India in 2009 as a bowling all-rounder has turned out to be the dependable batter of the team.
She had rescued India many times, the most recent was against South Africa in the final of ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier in Colombo. Her unbeaten 41 and a 6 in the penultimate ball helped India win the match by 1 wicket.
Harmanpreet has established herself as a prominent T20 batter with the passing days and became the first Indian to play in WBBL, an overseas T20 league. But one day cricket is a different ball game and people were still skeptical about her capabilities in longer formats of the game and her average before this game (34.88) didn’t speak much about her capabilities. Though her average against Australia was better than her carrier average, she at the same time was struggling with her injury occurred in the previous match, facing Hannah Rowe.
But back of her mind, she felt that it was her day. A brisk partnership of 66 with skipper Mithali Raj had stabled Indian batting but the run-rate was around 4 at the end of the 25 overs. Kaur sensibly saw off the new ball under overcast conditions before unleashing her wrath. Harmanpreet though completed her half-century in 68 balls.
Earlier in the innings, Megan Schutt had faced the wrath of Harman when she was sent to boundary twice in the same over. She reached her half-century by hitting Beams for a four through mid-wicket. Healy missed a stumping down the leg side off Schutt and that turned out be a chance that cost Australia the semi-final.
After the fall of Mithali Raj, Deepti Sharma came out to bat but it was Harman’s day. The six she hit against Kirsten Beams of a free hit opened the flood gate. A couple of fours against Beams and left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen took her to 90s in no time. Jonassen who has been the main strike spinner in the tournament didn’t get any kind of assistance from the pitch.
She faced special treatment from Kaur who used her feet well against the spinners to dispatch them all over the ground. It was the last ball of the 35th over and she was batting at 98 and pushed the ball of Beams in the vacant mid-wicket region. Her partner Deepti Sharma, playing her first World Tournament completed the first run and was hesitated for the 2nd one. It was Harman who believed that it was an easy two forced her to go for the 2nd as the fielder was slow to react.
The fielder threw the ball to the wrong end and both the batters to dive to save their wickets. But Harman was furious. She jerked opened her helmet and then flung it away while shouting at her younger partner. Sharma stood in disbelief as tears filled her eyes. The green light from the third umpire ensured that she got her first overseas hundred, her 2nd in the World Cup.
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India was 185/3 at the end of the 35th over and she got her 2nd fifty in just 26 balls. Australia threw everything at Kaur and she dealt those with disdain. Ash Gardner who was economical in her 7 overs came to bowl the 36th over. Deepti gave the strike back to Harman after the first ball. And in next 5 balls, Gardner conceded more runs (22) than she had conceded in her previous 7 overs (20). Two sixes followed by two fours.
While the sixes were hit through the mid-wicket regions, the fours bisected the offside filed. The devastated look at Gardner’s face depicted the whole story. Schutt, Villani, Jonassen all were torn apart. Kaur took 17 more balls after her century (0,0,4,6,6,4,4,2,0,4,4,0,6,4,1,4,1) to reach her 150-run mark. India added 96 runs in last 7 overs out of which 71 came off 25 balls from the blades of Harmanpreet Kaur.
She ended her innings with unbeaten 171 in 115 balls with a strike-rate of close to 150. She became the highest individual scorer for India in World Cup and highest Individual scorer in knockouts. India finished with a mammoth total of 281, their highest total against Australia where Kaur scored 60% of the runs of her team and 71% of her runs came in boundaries.
7 sixes against the World champions not only projected the muscular power of a women cricketer even with a broken finger but at the same time broke the prejudices and glass ceiling of gender biases. As Harman Walked off the field, head, held high, acknowledging the crowd, despite the cramps, all physical and mental pains were forgotten for a moment.
Chasing a mammoth total of 282, Australia were reduced to 21/3 inside the mandatory power play. They suffered a major set back when skipper Meg Lanning was bowled by Jhulan Goswami by a peach of a delivery that pitched on middle and off and moved away from Lanning to knock of her stamp. Though Perry and Villani tried their best, Australia lost 6 wickets in 43 runs after Villani’s 75 from 58 balls came to an end. But their seasoned campaigner Alex Blackwell was still there and started to fight back with Kirsten Beams.
Duo added 71 runs in 46 balls for the last wicket, Blackwell scoring 64 from 28 balls. Australia needed 37 runs from last two overs and Mithali Raj brought Deepti Sharma in for the penultimate over. In the very first ball, Blackwell went to hoick the ball towards mid-wicket and missed the ball completely. As the ball hit the stump, the joy was visible in the Indian team. Mithali Raj who is known for showing less emotion in the field ran in and hugged the 19 years old all-rounder with a big smile in her face. India had qualified for the final after 12 years.
Philippa Velijja in her book ‘Women Cricket and Global Process’ which came out in 2015 stated that Women cricket and the success of their don’t always evoke the feeling of national identities, in the same way, that a men sport does. But that day at Derby Mithali and Co. led by Harmanpreet Kaur turned the tide for their favour. They made their presence felt at the ground of their former coloniser. It seemed like the nation got their new heroes, it seemed that the process of inclusion has initiated. They were no more deprived legends.
India 281/4 (Harmanpreet Kaur 171*, Mithali Raj 36, Ellyse Villani 1/19) beat Australia 245/10 (Alex Blackwell 90, Elyse Villani 75, Deepti Sharma 3/59) by 36 runs.