8th March 1989. Moga, Punjab.
Harmandar Singh Bhullar became the father of a baby girl that day. His natural inclination towards sports led him to buy an oversized shirt for his newborn (never trust fathers with a garment choice), with the words "Good Batting" inscribed on it. Little did he know that his newborn girl would do much more than just “good batting” in a career that would propel not only her but Indian women's cricket into the limelight.
20th July 2017
Women's 50 Over WC Semifinal, Derby - UK
This was the second most important day in Harmanpreet Kaur’s life so far. It was so huge, that Harman’s cricket career can be divided into two halves - one before this semi-final, and the one after.
India were tottering at 35-2 after 9.2 overs in a 42 overs match (shortened due to rain) against Australia. Then arrived Harmanpreet, who had had a very mediocre WC so far with 137 runs in six innings. She started off cautiously with Mithali Raj at the other end, and both batted the next 15 overs in which India scored 65 runs before Mithali perished after scoring 36 off 61 balls. Scorecard read 101- 3, 25 overs.
Harmanpreet hadn't eaten breakfast in the morning and was badly cramping up. But she kept going, just like she did in the 2023 T20 WC Semifinals against the same opponents. She had to because it was the WC Semifinals against Australia and she knew that just a par total won’t be enough.
What happened next defied physicality and cricketing notions. It all started after a six off the free hit from Kristen Beams. Beams followed with a half-tracker, and Kaur duly sent it away. The beast had awaken.
Ashleigh Gardner had 1 for 9 after 5 overs. Harmanpreet ripped her apart for 23 runs in a single over. No one else was spared. Jonassen, Megan Schutt, Perry, Villani - each one of them deposited over midwicket or the long-on boundary. Slog sweeps, sweeps, hoicks, lofted drives - the shots kept changing but the ball kept reaching the boundaries cushions at Derby. It was a level of hitting which was unseen in women’s cricket World Cups until then. The Aussies weren’t expecting it. The Indians weren’t expecting it. The world wasn’t expecting it. But Harman was.
Harmanpreet ended up making 121 off her last 50 balls, all this while cramping and not being able to run. In fact, she was almost run out on 98*, with Deepti Sharma at the other end.
At the end of 42 overs, India was 281-4. Harmanpreet had scored over 60% of that, 4.75 times the score of the next Indian batter- 171 off 115 balls. She had done her job, and it was way more than just "good batting", as written on the shirt she received on her first day in this world. It was era-defining and made sure everyone looked at a certain Indian cricket team that day - the one, which was hardly ever looked at. That day it all changed.
Sporting achievements are fleeting. There’s always a new match somewhere around the corner, with new heroes and villains being created every day. But once you let time do its thing, and use the nostalgia goggles to look into those sporting laurels of the past, they attain mythical proportions. India anyway is a country as besotted with mythology as it is with cricket. We love to create heroes and then worship them.
Kapil Dev's 175* in the 1983 World Cup Semifinal is one such knock which lifted him from the realm of mortals. Add to it the fact that it wasn't shown on live TV, and you have an inning that could well have been played in the heavens by gods against demons.
However, Harman’s knock that day was different. Maybe because it's women's cricket. Maybe because it was shown on live TV. Maybe because unlike in 1983, India didn't win that World Cup. It was different because it was more than just great innings. It was a proclamation that Indian ladies can play cricket at a level where they’ll thrust your eyeballs in front of your TV screens. It was a manifesto of what Indian women can do on a cricket field. It was a testament to the fact that Harmanpreet Kaur is no ordinary cricketer.
Those 171 runs off 115 balls that day made sure that whenever a girl in India will pick up a bat or a ball, she'll not be told that cricket is only for men. She'll know that there was a certain Harmanpreet Kaur from Moga, Punjab who started batting in her salwar kameez and ended up playing the best knock in the history of Women's Cricket WC.
Harmanpreet Kaur, the megastar from Moga, was born on this day 34 years ago.
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