You know how you can tell a player is settling into their rhythm by just how convincingly they play their trademark shot? Harmanpreet Kaur goes down on one knee, backs herself to clear the infield, brutally swings the bat and then derives sadistic pleasure from watching the bowler react when the ball goes sailing over the midwicket ropes. Slog-sweep, breathe, repeat. Or, she’d mercilessly dance down the track and the bowler knows in an instant what the fate of the ball would be, nine times out of ten.
Of course Harmanpreet Kaur didn’t unleash the beast in her till it became absolutely necessary to do so, on Thursday. She’d walked in when India were in a very familiar territory of having lost a couple of early wickets and their captain bating and battling to make ends meet.
But the signs were all there for the Australians to see. Right from the start.
The aesthetically beautiful cover drive Harmanpreet hit to get things going for her in the truncated game would have had her partner at the other end, Mithali Raj, applauding with both hands in the air. The Tendulkaresque straight drive that followed pierced mid-off and mid-on with surgical precision.
Both shots were right out of the cricketing manual and even though they do not define Harmanpreet Kaur Bhullar in a nutshell, they were full of conviction – something that wasn’t quite there during her 60 in a similar do-or-die situation against New Zealand last week. Rather, since she’d set foot in the country.
And for a brief period right after, it seemed it was all back to square one. India had succumbed to Australia in the league fixture after consuming more than half their innings in dots; and it was happening all over again. At 20 overs – nearly the halfway mark in 42-overs-a-side affair – India’s scoreboard read 70 for 2. Raj and Harmanpreet were both going at a strike rate of 50, or marginally over. Kristen Beams was in the middle of what could potentially turn out to be a match-defining spell. It was indeed one, but just not how Australia would have liked.
Going into her fourth over on the trot, the legspinner had given away only seven off all her previous deliveries. Out comes the slog-sweep off the third delivery. Harmless boundary, really, at the time. More out of necessity, thought Beams, and Australia. Left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen is up next, Harmanpreet jogs down the track and tonks one oh-so-effortlessly over mid-off for another four.
Harmanpreet’s world is in the right place. Those two are her get out of jail free cards. She rehearses them in nets, and then some more by dragging a couple of net bowlers to one deserted corner of the ground until it’s time to wrap up practice. It is, perhaps, an extension of the routine her childhood coach set for her – daily target of two dozen hits into the stands which, back in the day, was a mango tree in one corner of the ground in Moga.