India captain Harmanpreet Kaur walks back to the pavilion after scoring a 51-ball 103 against New Zealand at the Providence Stadium on Friday. (Source: ICC)
Back in Moga, the central Punjab village Harmanpreet Kaur hails from, her friends used to call her Moga ki Veeru. The moniker stuck not only because of her big-hitting prowess, she used to tear bowlers who were grown-up men apart, but also because of her penchant to mark her milestones with sixes. On Friday, against New Zealand at the Providence Stadium in India’s inaugural women’s T20 World Cup tie, a lung-bursting double sufficed for her to become the first Indian batswoman to score a T20I century, and only the eighth overall.
But the rest of her innings was a tribute to the man she was often compared to in her neighbourhood, the irrepressible Virender Sehwag. Her second fifty was a breeze, coming as it did from merely 16 deliveries, the last 26 off seven balls.
Three successive sixes took her from 79 to 97, also taking her tally of sixes to eight. You could argue the boundaries were smaller, but still it takes superlative hitting skills for someone to clear the ropes as many as eight times, and which none of her colleagues managed to and only one New Zealand did. Several of them were so clean and hefty that those would have cleared bigger boundaries.
Those that have seen Sehwag in his destructive peak would easily identify the pattern. No wonder then that she grew up idolizing Sehwag, trying to copy his strokes-and there’s a story that she even wanted to wear spectacles while playing because Sehwag, in the back-end of his career had resorted to glasses. A Sehwag-phile, if you can call her. While her strokes do have a Viruvian range and tenor-especially her predilection for the arc between long-on and mid-wicket, where she struck six of her eight sixes — it’s her temperament at the crease that’s most reminiscent of him.
She’s hardly ever flustered, barely lets the balls that had beaten her gnaw at her, has ample time to play the ball, has a great sense of the gaps on the field, and has the conviction that she can beat the boundary riders. On Friday, she didn’t even have anything to gnaw at — at no point of the game the Kiwi bowlers seemed to have a measure of her. She was business-like to start with- a nudge here, a tickle there, the first 13 balls fetched only five runs, and with India on resurrection mode after they’d lost two early wickets, New Zealand bowlers might not have sensed any imminent danger. “It’s the way I generally play, start slowly and then build the momentum. I was confident that I can pick up the scoring rate later,” she said after the match.
Then, from nowhere, Harmanpreet cut loose. Perhaps, Jess Watkins loopy off-breaks were too tanstalising (Sehwag utter disregard of offies was legendary) for her to resist. The second ball of the over, she hared down the surface and smeared her over mid-wicket. The last ball was almost a repeat, only that the ball went over the long-on fielder. It was a miscued stroke, but there was enough power behind the shot to carry it over the ropes.
Later, as if to prove she was not all brawn, she unfurled a couple of cheeky strokes, none so defter than the one that she brought her half-century with. When Sophie Devine gave her width outside the off-stump, she just ran it down the third man for a boundary, opening the bat face at the last possible moment, dinking the ball almost off the keeper’s gloves.
That, though, was her last bit of sympathy for the bowlers. What followed was violence, as she cut, pulled, drove and slog-swept with immaculate power. And at the end of the day, she achieved a landmark that has eluded even the great Sehwag, a T20I hundred.
Jemimah Rodrigues stitched 134-run partnership with her captain.
Jemimah, the perfect foil
In the heap of Harmanpreet’s boundaries, it’s easy to forget Jemimah Rodrigues. But the 18-year-old revelled in the anonymity. When the New Zealanders were splitting their hair and whacking their brains wondering how to stop Harmanpreet, Jemimah was stealing runs at a pace that, at least initially, matched Harmanpreet. She was all stealth, hardly looking to pillage the bowlers, but nonetheless threading the gaps with rapier-like precision-a couple of cover drives were sumptuously timed. There was a flick, off a ball pitched on off-stump, that was all wrists and placement.
Most importantly, she ensured that the run-rate didn’t drop, for she is considered a more conventional batter than Harmanpreet. Once the latter went berserk, Jemimah began to rotate the strike unless there was a ball that begged to be hit. Their 134-run alliance was the spine of India’s batting effort, and one that took them from a precarious 3/40 to a formidable 194/5. “It was difficult to bat at first and I could not time the ball first. It’s always difficult but we had to focus on the next ball. Harry played a great knock and we were just focusing on the partnership,” she explains, her eyes gleaming with the satisfaction of playing the perfect second fiddle.
Brief Scores: India Women 194/5 in 20 overs (Harmanpreet Kaur 103, Jemimah Rodrigues 59, L. Tahuhu 2/18) beat New Zealand Women 160/9 (Susie Bates 67, Katey Martin 39, Poonam Yadav 3/33, Dayalan Hemalatha 3/26) by 34 runs.