July 20, 2017.
An unforgettable day in Indian cricket. From being an underdog, India knocked the then defending champions Australia out of the tournament. Before this match, India lost to Australia and South Africa but went on to win against one of the strongest title contenders- New Zealand.
Australia, on the other hand, looked like a formidable force and was all set to defend their title comfortably. Their only defeat came against England, and even there it had come down to the last ball.
For India, running into the semi-final is itself an achievement after being brutally thrashed in the practice matches. In the Semi-final, though India had nothing to lose, the team needed something special or more than that to stop Australia.
The match was reduced to 42 overs each side due to the conditions. Meg Lanning came in for Rachel Haynes, and Mithali Raj opted to bat first. Smriti Mandhana’s form slump continued after two 50+ scores in the first two matches of the World Cup.
The tension was less though. Poonam Raut, who smashed a ton in the league match against the same opponent was still out there. The Indian captain joined Raut. Both the players took their time but couldn’t find the timing as expected. Raut walked out after making just 14. Harmanpreet Kaur, battling a finger injury, replaced Raut.
When Mithali was struggling at one end, Kaur left Lanning thinking with her beautiful shots. At one point, Lanning went back to Schutt. Kaur played a sweep shot for four. Schutt plotted a dismissal for Kaur- an outside off delivery- went past Healy. A disappointment all over. Soon, Mithali Raj got out after making a slow 36. India soon was reduced to 101/3 in 26 overs. Deepti Sharma, a teenager back then, walked in to join Harmanpreet Kaur who just started to look good. With only 16 more overs to go, India was looking no way near a challenging total.
A whole lot of credits should be given to the Australian bowlers for keeping India quiet for more than half of their innings.
When Deepti was treating the bowlers with some respect, Kaur decided to cut loose.
She dispatched Beams for a straight six, then pulled past mid-wicket for four. Kaur brought up her fifty in 64 balls, her last 32 had come in 25 balls. In the next 10 overs, what we witnessed was phenomenal. Storm.
Perry was given the same treatment, so was the other bowlers. Kaur showed no mercy. Lanning had no options, kept changing bowlers. The result was the same. Kaur played almost every single shot in every possible direction.
Kaur scored her ton in 90 deliveries. What followed was an emotional outburst. She pushed one to mid-wicket and sprinted for one, and then for a second. She made it, but young Sharma was late to respond for the second. The throw came to Healy, who broke the wicket at the non-striker’s end with a direct throw — but Sharma made it with a dive. Kaur didn’t celebrate her ton. She was furious.
Ah. Poor Deepti.
She wasn’t done. Kaur, who was tired at that stage didn’t stop. The shots kept coming. After Deepti, she was joined by Veda.
India finished on 281 for 4 in 42 overs. The last 17 overs had got them 180. The last 6 had yielded 89.
Harmanpreet Kaur finished with an unbeaten 171, from 115 balls. She hit 20 fours and 7 sixes. This was the highest score by an Indian woman in the World Cup.
After witnessing an extraordinary knock, the momentum was clearly with India. Still, it was defending champions. It was Mighty Australia.
India desperately wanted an early breakthrough. Mithali turned to her go-to bowler, Jhulan Goswami and from nowhere, the veteran produced the ball of the tournament to dismiss Meg Lanning.
Australia was reduced to 21 for 3. Villani and Perry rebuilt Australian innings with 105 runs stand. Alex Blackwell gave India serious scare, smashing 90 in 56 balls and taking Australia to within 37 of the target, but in the end, it turned out to be too much.
The underdogs came on top, knocked the defending champions out of the tournament to reach the final. This day will always be remembered for the heroics of Harmanpreet Kaur. This probably is one of the greatest if not the greatest knock I ever witnessed in the World Cup. The best moment was when Alex Blackwell gifted her jersey to Harmanpreet Kaur.
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