Harmanpreet Kaur symbolises the new breed of women cricketers. She is a superstar on the field, and is marketable off it. She is media savvy and talks the ‘hashtag’ language of the social media generation. The attention around her during the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 in England has been intense because very soon she will be the first Indian to play in the Women’s Super League when she turns up for Surrey Stars in August this year.
Having been the first Indian to be picked up for the Women’s Big Bash League last year, this is familiar territory for her. What is interesting is how well she is prepared to handle the hype.
“We are bindaas (cool). We knew that this will happen,” said Kaur. “Our seniors always told us that when you do well, the media and people will come to you on their own. So we are prepared; it is not that we have not seen or heard this attention.”
The impact of social media cannot be understated in the recent rise in the profile of women cricketers. Mithali Raj, for example, had only 3000 followers on Twitter before the start of the tournament, but now the number has gone past 50,000. Similarly, Smriti Mandhana, one of the centurions in the competition, has now a follower base of around 30,000. Kaur is third in the list among Indians with around 20,000 followers.
A total of 10 ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 games are being telecast live on television, while the remaining 21 matches are being streamed online. Also, the International Cricket Council’s digital media has done a tremendous job with their match highlights, which have gained a lot of traction across platforms.
“Whenever you get time you are looking at your phone and social media; you can see the clips of the players,” agreed Kaur. “Family and old friends who don’t follow cricket that much, they are giving their views on cricket. Some of my school friends who have never watched cricket are sending us their wishes. So we get to know so many people are following it back home in India.”
It is a world different from the one Kaur grew up in in Moga, learning the game under her father and coach. “(The development) is positive. When we used to play before, I had to call my sir and tell him, ‘Sir, I did this today’,” she remembered. “He would always say, ‘jangal mein mor nacha, kisine na dekha (the peacock danced in the forest, but no one saw it)’. Now people are watching. They know what’s happening. It’s a good sign. I recall now what he said.
“When Ekta (Bisht) took five wickets in the last match (against Pakistan), you open Instagram or any other social media, you get to see her five-wicket haul all the time. Before, when someone took wickets or great catches, no one knew about it. And, so they (critics) felt that girls cannot do these kind of things. Now people are getting to see these clips over and over. People who had not watched the match or who don’t know (about women’s cricket). It’s a positive sign.”
Kaur, personally, is yet to come to the party in what is the biggest World Cup to date. She had a chance to revive India’s innings against Pakistan when she walked out in the 27th over, but could make only 10 off 23 balls before Sana Mir dived full length to her left at mid-wicket to pull off a two-handed stunner. Mona Meshram eating up a lot of dot balls did not help Kaur, as the fifth-wicket pair added 13 runs in eight overs. That India reached 169 for 9 was because of Sushma Verma’s 35-ball 33 later on and her seventh-wicket stand of 34 with Jhulan Goswami.
“It was a crucial time when I went to bat. The ball was not coming on to the bat, but whatever the conditions you have to utilise it. I didn’t utilise it,” accepted Kaur. “Sush played really well. It was an important innings for the team. No matter who is performing, team’s win is important. Now everyone is performing, that is good for us. Now we are not depending only on Jhulu di and Mithali di. This is the reason we are winning now, and looking fresh everyday. Everyone wants to perform for the team.”
Kaur playing against Pakistan was a big box tick marked for India, as she had dislocated her ring finger on the left hand early in the game against Windies in Taunton. She came back to bowl in that game, but the recovery is not complete yet.
“It’s fine now. Initially when I was injured, I was really scared. I thought my World Cup is gone. I won’t get to play,” she opened up. “But my physio and the doctor (at the ground) both did a great job. I can move my hand, I can hold the bat. I still believe god has given me a chance to play the World Cup for my team; so looking forward to some good spells and good knocks for my team.”
A couple of years ago, Kaur had said: “Since I made my debut in the 2009 World Cup, I wanted to win it. It would have been really big. But that has not happened so far. My immediate aim is to see India win the upcoming World Cup. Once we win one World Cup, the team’s confidence will automatically sore high and after that we will start winning more series.”
Kaur is in with a great chance to realise that dream now, as are her mates.