Harmanpreet Kaur's white-ball form in the red | Crickit
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Harmanpreet Kaur's white-ball form in the red

Jan 10, 2024 08:22 PM IST

She has scored 92 runs in her last 8 T20Is. Her last 7 ODI innings too yielded just 92. Her form played a role in series losses to England and Australia

You couldn’t fault her effort through it all. It was a rare busy month for Indian women’s cricket, in that it was stacked with one bilateral series after another. Three T20Is and a Test against England, followed by a Test, three ODIs and as many T20Is against Australia -- all in the span of 35 days. And then there were the training sessions sprinkled along, which is where one got a true picture of the hard graft by Harmanpreet Kaur.

India's batter Harmanpreet Kaur plays a shot during the 2nd T20I cricket match between India and Australia, at DY Patil stadium, in Navi Mumbai(PTI) PREMIUM
India's batter Harmanpreet Kaur plays a shot during the 2nd T20I cricket match between India and Australia, at DY Patil stadium, in Navi Mumbai(PTI)

The India captain would bat for over an hour almost every time she turned up for practice. About 20 minutes each in the pace and spin nets followed by 20 minutes against throwdowns. At times, she would even take a break and return for another brief hit before packing up. The commitment was there, as was a sense of desperation.

Harmanpreet got scores of 49 and 44* in the Test against England before getting out for a duck in the red-ball game against Australia. But Tests are scarce in the women’s game, which is why her performances or lack thereof had only so much significance. With T20 and ODI World Cups scheduled over the next 20 months, it was the limited-overs games that had more relevance. However, none of the relentless work she put in behind the scenes translated into runs.

After a 21-ball 26 in the first T20I against England, she scored 9, 6*, 9, 5, 3, 6, 3 in her next seven white-ball innings during India’s just-concluded home season. The famous bat-swing and thunderous drives were a consistent sight in the nets but when it came to matches, there was tentativeness. She would eat up deliveries at the start of her innings, which has been a familiar issue throughout her career, before facing an abrupt end to her stay at the crease.

The 34-year-old has scored 92 runs in her last eight T20I innings and as many in her last seven ODI innings.

“I’m getting starts, it’s not like I’m not scoring runs,” Harmanpreet had said before the T20I series against Australia last week. “I’m trying to convert them into big knocks, but I feel luck is a big factor as well. If you see a few of my dismissals, it’s not like I played a bad shot or they bowled a particularly good ball. They were very weird ways of getting out. I’m trying my level best to gain confidence and not feel out of form.”

India’s head coach Amol Muzumdar too put his weight behind the skipper. “It happens to every cricketer. She’s been a great player for India and I’m sure you’ll see some bright performances from her in the near future,” he said after Australia clinched the T20I series 2-1 in Navi Mumbai on Tuesday.

Much of the talk from the Indian camp centered around the fielding and fitness standards of the players. But the fact remains that Harmanpreet’s lean run, as much as bad luck played a part in it, went a long way in India losing all three white-ball series. With no international cricket lined-up for India over the next seven months, they had a chance to gain confidence against two of the best teams in the world. There were positives no doubt, but they’ve also been left with some tough questions.

Along with her experience, Harmanpreet’s six-hitting prowess makes her a crucial figure in India’s batting order. Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma can clear the rope at the top of the order, as can Richa Ghosh later on, but there are a few too many in the top seven who aren’t adept at it. For India to keep pace with Australia or England, they’ll need more firepower in the middle overs.

Fitness and fielding aren’t really concerns when it comes to Harmanpreet, who has raised the bar and taken several blinders in her career. And in terms of batting, her peak remains higher than most. At her best, she takes down bowling attacks like few others can. But she has to find a way to halt the slide quickly. The next two World Cups will be played in the subcontinent, which presents India a great opportunity to win their first-ever ICC title. They’ll need their captain to bat fearlessly and lead the way.

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