In the past year, Harmanpreet Kaur assured that his career will be remembered for more than just the semi-final innings of the 2017 World Cup.
“She was my favorite player, but you can’t survive that one inning.” Diana Edulji, India’s former captain and administrator, had been critical in early 2022, when Harmanpreet Kaur was having a particularly bad time for her country.
“That one innings” was, of course, Kaur’s groundbreaking 171 not out against Australia in the 2017 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup semi-final.
And what a blow it was. An innings of such ferocity and improbability that it dealt a major blow to women’s cricket whose reverberations are still being felt as the sport hits new highs today.
But that inning also defined Kaur ever since and set expectations for personal performance that his career up until then didn’t always justify.
It has only been in the last year or so that she has been able to shed her baggage. For someone who made her debut in 2009, she’s added more to her career highlight in the past year than in any previous year. A SportsNS honor, announced this week, is the latest accolade in this next phase.
With each telling of Harmanpreet’s story, the legend of 171 not out grows stronger and inspires more awe.
About how he was battling an injury that day. How her time at the physical therapist and a hectic rainy morning caused her to lose everything but energy bars and oily samosas brought in by some friends of the team, which translated into cramping in the innings.
The manager wanted him to be prepared to open the batting if the match was reduced to 20 overs, which he almost never did.
He wasn’t even playing with his bat that day. He had borrowed the one from Smriti Mandhana.
He was facing one of the most successful teams in the world. It was an innings that it couldn’t and shouldn’t have been, but it was, and it was glorious.
But here’s the rest of his story. Prior to that inning, his reputation as a great hitter didn’t always translate into consistent numbers. His ODI average was 33.38 in 76 matches, with only two hundred – mediocre figures for an aging batsman and waiting team captain. In the four years following that World Cup, while admitting the interruption of the pandemic, he has exceeded fifty only twice in the format. In T20Is, a glittering World Cup hundred was backed by 20s and 30s which gave her an average of 28.52 and established his inconsistency.
“I know people talk more about my 171-knock and that’s a standard I’ve set for myself,” he said in the face of criticism last year. “Maybe that’s why my small hits of 30-40 runs, which are vital to the team, are not given any importance.”
But 2022 changed everything. Incidentally, not long after Edulji’s statements.
Eventually, those 30s and 40s became the 50s, 70s and 100s. Since early last year, he has added two more ODI centuries to his tally and made it a third of his fifty year career; he has averaged 58 in ODIs since the start of the year and 34.13 in T20I.
All racing aside, in this second phase of his career, he captains all formats, a WPL trophy and a Commonwealth silver medal. And for some of those performances, Kaur has been named one of five cricketers of the year SportsNS Almanack 2023 this week.
The honour, reserved for outstanding performances during the English summer, recognized his contribution to India’s first ODI series victory in England since 1999, as well as bringing them so close to Commonwealth Games gold.
The highlight of his tour of England, and a big reason for SportsNS’s recognition, was the unreleased 143 at Canterbury. Even during that blow, the friendly ghost of undefeated 171 remained: could he unleash the “Harmonster,” as headline writers and social media pundits like to call him, again? Looking at the inning, you’d know he did it. Just like he accomplished that day in Derby, he’s lightened the gears. If his first fifty came in 64 balls, he only hit 36 for the next; the final 43 runs required only 11 balls and included three sixes.
This blow didn’t change women’s cricket the way 171* did. Not even the means of her centuries in crucial knockout matches for India in recent world tournaments. But they helped move the needle and, significantly, changed the way we view Harmanpreet the batsman.
When new audiences tuned in to the Women’s Premier League in March, they were treated to this Harmanpreet on day one. He smashed fifty off 22 balls, before finishing on 65 off 30 balls.
The year was a celebration of his skill and power. That she could hit like that was no surprise: she’s always been a great player. But the fact that such performances are no longer rare has brought a new element to the story we tell about her.