Stand-in captain ignores medical advice to do the star-turn for India in final against South Africa
“Dhoni wala feeling aa rahi hai (I am starting to feel like Dhoni),” said Harmanpreet Kaur, soon after hitting a six and a two off the last two balls in India Women’s thrilling one-wicket win over South Africa Women in the final of the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 at the P Sara Oval on Tuesday (February 21).
Harmanpreet was disappointed coming into the final of the tournament. She had not yet been able to adjust from the fast surfaces in Australia, where she represented Sydney Thunder in the Women’s Big Bash League, to the slow tracks in Colombo. Her father called her from India on Tuesday morning and helped her get back in to the right headspace.
“I was very disappointed and I had not spoken to my parents for a few days. All were expecting good runs from me and I was not giving the team what was needed,” she said. “I was very upset. Suddenly my father called me in the morning and said, ‘don’t worry, you will do it today, try to play the last ball of the match’. I said, ‘okay, papa I will try to do that’. And, that happened. I am really happy.”
With India needing eight off the last two balls with just one wicket in hand to complete their highest successful chase of 245, and around 30,000 people watching online, Harmanpreet swung a good length ball from Marcia Letsoalo over the deep mid-wicket fence. Had India taken a single off the final ball, then they would have still won the title by virtue of having beaten South Africa in the Super Six stage and finished on the top of the table. But Harmanpreet, destiny’s child, wrote her own script with a hoick to the vacant area on the leg side that fetched her two runs. She remained unbeaten on a run-a-ball 41.
“I was waiting for that ball because that is my strong area. I knew we needed nine runs in the final over and I was going to hit the ball. If we run, then we will go for two runs,” Harmanpreet said, explaining that six. “My partner (Rajeshwari Gayakwad) also did a great job and ran two runs (off the last ball). It was a total team effort from our side.
“Sometimes I wait for the ball to be pitched in my strong area. They had an offside field and were trying to bowl away from my area, so I was trying to go that side (off) and bring the ball into my area,” she elaborated. “But in the end, she bowled in the slot and I went for it.”
The build-up was to the climax was tense. When Harmanpreet, captaining in the absence of an injured Mithali Raj, walked in, India needed 97 off 97 balls. She lost a settled Veda Krishnamurthy to the first ball of the 41st over, and then Shikha Pandey was run out in the 44th over just when India looked in control.
“There was a run, but (Poonam) was not looking at me, she was looking at the ball. I was disappointed that she did not throw herself to save her wicket. Hopefully in a similar situation in the future, she will throw herself (into the crease) and save her wicket,” Harmanpreet went on.
Devika Vaidya, Sushma Verma and Ekta Bisht were bowled off excellent yorkers, and Harmanpreet had only Poonam Yadav and Gayakwad for company.
When Poonam arrived, India needed 22 off 26 balls. Poonam’s edge to the third-man fence in the 48th over settled some nerves, but South Africa kept her on strike to leave India with nine to get off the final over. Poonam was run out at the non-striker’s end going for the second run off the first ball before Harmanpreet played out three dot balls to almost give South Africa the game.
“When Poonam came, we needed 30 (22). I told her not to think of the target, and just give me five runs. I will make the rest. Luckily, she got a boundary with a nick. I was happy for that, and then I told her to give me two-three more runs. I told her if I hit and the throw is on your side, then we will run because we have one more wicket and we will make use of it because by then balls were less and runs needed more. She threw her wicket away for me. It was good teamwork. Everyone contributed today.
“I was nervous because I was waiting for the big shot,” she added, sharing her emotion before pulling the rabbit out of the hat. “I knew we had only one wicket in hand. If a batter was at the non-striker’s end then it was different, but we can’t depend much on a bowler. I just told Rajeshwari that I will play the full over and if I hit down the ground then we will go for two runs. She said okay, and that’s what happened off the last ball.”
Harmanpreet threw her bat up in the air in excitement even as her teammates ran to the centre to hug their star, who extended the India’s unbeaten streak to 13 ODIs. While it was a thrilling finish in every sense, what made Harmanpreet’s show even more indelible was that she was batting with a half-fit right hand.
She discovered a ligament tear on her right wrist when in Australia and played the last few games for Sydney with pain. She took pain-killer injections on returning to India. While the doctors advised her three weeks of rest, she worked with Tracy Fernandez, India’s physiotherapist, to be available for the Qualifiers.
“It’s a nerve problem, so I took an injection on my wrist and I didn’t get that much practice. I have been in pain for a long time, but I took the injection in India because trusting anyone outside of NCA won’t be right. That’s why before the Super League, they were giving me a chance to get adjusted (by promoting me up the order). All those experiences helped me in the final match,” Harmanpreet opened up. “I have to go back to India and undergo rehabilitation.
“Here, the physio and support staff supported me. They allowed me adequate rest. Even now, the right hand is slightly weak,” she said. “After the injection, the doctor had suggested rest for three months, but Tracy, our physio, worked on my hand really hard and got me fit for the tournament. I would also like to thank her.”
Hitting a six against a ball that came at around “100 kilometres per hour” with a weak right hand for a batter known for her strong bottom-hand is no mean feat, and she credited her personal coach for preparing her.
“When you are practising for so long for a shot…Harshal Pathak has been making me practise sixes for a long time now. When you get into the flow sometimes, you practise with one hand and we also do drills with the top, left hand,” she reflected. “Now it is helping as I am a totally bottom-hand player and my right hand is not working completely. Teammates, support staff and personal coach motivated me and said now is the right time to use the top hand. I think overall, it is a good experience for me, and the experience from BBL also helped me today. Hopefully I will get fit before the World Cup and produce some good knocks to the team.
“Right now, I don’t have pain at all, but the hand is weak. So, I have taped up my hand. I took an injection at the wrist,” “Through the day, it keeps releasing (pressure) before the match, after the match. Because of the physio, I have been able to play this tournament as she has helped me get the right amount of release (on my hand).”
It was India’s first win without Mithali in a long time. Harmanpreet said that would give the team a lot of confidence, but hoped that Mithali and Jhulan Goswami would be around for a few more years.
“Unfortunately, she (Mithali) did not play today because of the injury but I think it was a great experience for all our team members because when Jhulu di and Mithali di don’t play, everyone becomes so nervous. We are used to playing with them,” she said. “It is a great experience for us as all our teammates will get a lot of confidence now that even without them, we can win. My team members and I pray that they will play for two to three more years for us. We will learn a lot.”