2005 it was. The nervous Indian team made it to the World Cup final for the first time. They were no big poster, announcement or telecast. Nobody really knew or watched. So did Harmanpreet Kaur.
Just like all us, a girl in class X who followed Sehwag’s ‘see and hit’ strategy was just years old when she came to know that Women cricket actually exists. Years later, she changed the face of the game.
Born to a lower-middle-class family in Punjab, Harmanpreet Kaur was the eldest of three siblings, and her father wanted her to become an athlete no matter what sport. He even bought her a tiny t-shirt that had a design related to cricket when she was born. The young girl would grow up with a dream of becoming a cricketer but had no idea for which team. Such was the popularity of the game. Her brother would tease her, so did the entire family except for their parents. The talent was spotted when she was very young by her school coach whom she considers her God Father, and he took care of the basic expenses, offered free training for her, which Harmanpreet Kaur couldn’t have afford for sure.
She practised with the cheapest bat possible, wore shoes whatever her coach gave her. Coming from a family where her father was a sole breadwinner, who worked as a clerk in the court and sold milk for additional income, paying for cricket was not easy as Harmanpreet would have thought. Somehow she was able to pursue her dreams.
Her domestic knocks which came with a hefty strike rate was too tough to be ignored. So, in March 2009, she made it to the international team.
Years later, being the eldest of all, she knew the pay she got by playing cricket wasn’t going to be enough to run her family. So, she realized she needed a job. After being a star of the game for like three years, Harmanpreet Kaur approached the Punjab police only to be turned down. “You are not Harbhajan Singh”, they said. With fewer hopes, she tried getting into Railways, the place that appointed a large number of female cricketers.
Diana Edulji, the current CoA member of BCCI was with the Western Railways those days and she followed Harmanpreet Kaur right from her young age and desperately wanted her to move from Punjab to Maharastra for better training. Once again, Harmanpreet Kaur applied for a job with Railway and was rejected initially. Edulji then requested Sachin Tendulkar to write a recommendation letter. It helped Harmanpreet Kaur to get to Mumbai. Unfortunately, the job was difficult as she had to practice for two hours, travel to reach her office, worked till 1 pm before heading to practice again. She ate her lunch on the train for most of the days. This wasn’t helping at all as she couldn’t get much practice to do well.
Then came the contract from the Board that if Railways emerged as champions, the Board would offer 300+ days leave for the players for practice. Though she was practising well, she knew there was something missing. That was when she met Pathak, a BCCI level B coach. He not only helped Harmanpreet to change her style but also he helped her to manage her anger. She soon took up fitness to become the fittest player of Indian Women team.
She went wicketless on debut match, her performance wasn’t great to guarantee her a place in the team but three matches later, her 8-ball 19 against Australia was the turning point. As India defeated the massive Australian team in the World Cup.
From there on it was like a hobby for her to stand up for the team. Then came the Australian series victory followed by a few more matches to her name.
Despite India’s lacklustre performance in the 2016 T20 World Cup, Harmanpreet Kaur earned her ticket to Sydney Thunder, became the first Indian to play in BBL, thanks to NoC certificate from BCCI. She averaged around 60 there. This was followed by the final ball sixer in the World Cup qualifiers.
Then came the World Cup 2017 which really changed the face of Women cricket. The game against New Zealand gave her the confidence she needed and against Australia, that really was the best innings we have ever seen.
Lesser did we know she had to battle finger injury that she picked up during the second match of the tournament, a brutal back injury. Still, she made sure that India crossed the finish line. During the match against Australia where Alex Blackwell was trying to take the game away, Harmanpreet Kaur who was resting after being exhausted completely, suffering from a hamstring injury, wanted to go out there and bowl for the team. Such was her dedication.
This World Cup gave India the much-needed reputation, something they were longing for years. If not for Harmanpreet Kaur, it wouldn’t be possible. India returned home to the crowd, people were actually caring about their story and finally, the players became household names.
Fast forward to Asia Cup 2018. Probably, we would have thought it could be an easy run. Then came the shocker of the year with the underdogs Bangladesh sneaking the victory from India. This did hurt her. Like very badly.
The difference of opinion ended Tushar Arothe’s stint as coach of India. That led to the appointment of Ramesh Powar. The coach who really did help the Indian players to grow in many ways. The spinners were dominating, the youngsters were turning into match-winners. The T20 World Cup once again saw Harmanpreet Kaur doing what she normally does the best- taking on the bowlers. She became the first Indian to score a ton in women T20I. It was just an extraordinary effort. Unfortunate that India couldn’t make it. Definitely, the controversy is just a bad phase in the Indian cricket. Again, you move on and she did because at the end of the day she is here to make her country proud and is doing that.
No matter what, no matter who comes, Harmanpreet Kaur deserves huge credit for helping the women cricket reach the popularity which it deserves. I cannot thank her with words for what she has done so far for the country. Next year on this same day, there will be the next T20 World Cup and a lot depends on her and her captaincy. I badly wish she keeps scoring as she does now and make us all proud by lifting the cup.
Happy Birthday, Harmanpreet Kaur. I love you more than you know.
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