Mithali Raj, Indian women’s cricket team captain, was a worried lady couple of days ago. She was fretting a bit about how her team would fare without much match practice, especially after their Sydney game was washed out. She needn’t have worried as India stunned World Cup winners Australia in the first T20 international game at Adelaide Oval by pulling off their highest ever chase in this format.
Powered by Harmanpreet Kaur’s 31-ball 46, they chased down Australia’s 140 for 5 — India’s previous best chase was 128 for 7 against New Zealand last July — with eight balls to spare. Kaur, who is fondly known as Virender Sehwag of this women’s team, hit six fours and a six, and Veda Krishnamurthy, the No. 3 batter, chipped in with a 32-ball 35 to contribute to the victory.
India lost captain Mithali in the second over but Veda added 55 runs with Smriti Mandhana to stabilise the chase. India needed 64 from the last five overs but Harmanpreet’s terrific knock ensured they got there with more than an over to spare. Harmanpreet wouldn’t have got the opportunity to showcase her talents if Alyssa Healy, niece of the former Australia wicket-keeper Ian, hadn’t smashed 41 runs off just 15 balls.
Harmanpreet hails from Dara Pur village in Punjab’s Moga district and had to hurdle over several obstacles in her career — disapproving neighbours in the village, scarcity of cricket pitches as men usually hogged them all, and school located 25 kilometres away from home. She had to walk 4 km to reach a bus stop.
Cricket was her passport out of anonymity. Her school principal Kamal Singh Sodhi invited her to study at the school after watching her smack a few balls in her village. Sodhi thought she could help the school build a good team and roped her in. Harmanpreet has taken after her father, who was a gully cricketer but was very interested in the sport. She encouraged other girls in the village to join the team.
Harmanpreet spoke about some of the hardships she had to face to reach this level. “At Jalandhar, we would often have to play on the corner pitches (because the boys got the main pitches). Often I had to roll the wickets myself, and we used to get them only 10 days prior to a tournament.”
Her father, a law department clerk, has stood by his daughter even when others in the village weren’t supportive. “My mother used to get a lot of complaints, and I was even accused of spoiling the other girls by playing cricket. But my father insisted that I continue,” she said.
From an obscure village in Punjab to Adelaide, this has been one memorable journey.
Brief scores: Australia women 140/5 in 20 overs (Healy 41 not out, Mooney 36) lost to India women 141/5 in 18.4 overs (H Kaur 46, Krishnamuthy 35) by 5 wickets.