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Women’s T20 WC: Time for Harmanpreet Kaur to break her shackles

Harmanpreet Kaur
©ICC
 

Harmanpreet Kaur's T20I strike rate, which was upwards of 135 in February, 2018 has come down to around 115 in a matter of two years. The major reason for the dip is India's wobbly middle order and the skipper's overcautious approach.

India, on Thursday, became the first team to seal a semi-final berth at the Women's T20 World Cup. The feat was made all the more remarkable with the fact that the two mainstays of the team's batting line-up, skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and opener Smriti Mandhana, have only contributed a total of 64 runs in tournament till now.

It is a matter of pride that young guns like Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma have taken the onus upon themselves, but can India afford going into the knockouts with an out of form Harman?

 

The extended lean patch

Harman's knock of 171* that shook the world stage came in the 2017 World Cup semi-final against Australia and was laced with 20 fours and 7 sixes. The skipper has almost become synonymous with this knock of her's which came at a strike rate of 148.69.

The first thing she and we, as fans, would do well to concede is that things have not been the same since. Since a ton against New Zealand in the 2018 T20 World Cup that followed the monumental innings, Kaur has not crossed the fifty-run mark in international cricket. There have been three good-looking forties against Australia, South Africa and England but that's just about it.

Her T20I strike rate which was upwards of 135 in February, 2018 has come down to around 115 in a matter of two years. The major reason for the dip is India's wobbly middle order. India are overdependent on their top order, and when Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues fail to fire, the entire responsibility comes on the shoulders of the captain. This is why time and again she has demoted herself to No. 5. Lack of confidence in the batters that follow has led to her overcautious approach, which never serves a free-flowing player well.

 

Overcautious approach not paying off

As per teammate Mandhana, Harman had been sweating it out ahead of the big-ticket encounter against New Zealand. She reckoned that the skipper, in fact, was looking very good in the nets and it was only a matter of time before the big-hitter turned the corner.

However, Harman's body language for far from that when she came out to bat against the Back Caps. In the only five balls that she faced, it was evident that something was wrong either with her mindset or her technique. Almost on each ball, she was falling over and trying very hard to curb her attacking instinct. This led to a soft grip on the bat. The result - she lobbed one back to right-arm off break bowler Leigh Kasperek while feebly trying to guide it to mid-on for a single.

Just before the World Cup, Australian left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen had dismissed her twice during the tri-series as well, with Kaur not being able to hold her shape. "Sab balance ka khel hain [It's all about getting the balance right]," head coach WV Raman had reminded Harman in the nets ahead of the New Zealand game. The pupil would do well to remember the coach's advice.

 

Batting up the order can work wonders

Harman has been fiddling with her batting order to find the perfect balance of attack and defence. In fact, the process is ongoing as the World Cup plays out. Most times, when she comes at the crease, India are a couple down, which hampers her batting approach, forcing her to find the sweet spot between attack and defence. More often, she has been erring towards the latter.

India have tried Jemimah Rodrigues twice and Taniya Bhatia once at one down in the World Cup. Kaur, herself, walked out to bat after the fall of India's first wicket in their last game against Sri Lanka. While Bhatia has been batting virtually everywhere, Rodrigues is another free-flowing player with a flair about her. Just like Harmanpreet, the 19-year-old too has been burdened with the responsibility of stopping the frequent Indian batting collapses, which has led to a decline in her strike rate as well.

It would be ideal for the skipper to throw caution to the wind and continue batting at one drop - at a time when the pace is not already set and you can set your own. She can then be more proactive rather than reactive. While defence has not allowed her to come out of the rut, attack may just be the way to go.

Allowing the bowler to settle and hone in on a line and length has never been Harman's style. One can visualise what the result would have been had the skipper blasted one over Kasperek's head the other day. The fielders would have been pushed back and the entire equation would have turned on its head.

With players of her pedigree and style, focussing too much on technique or holding oneself back seldom pays off. As India gear up for the semi-final challenge, it is time for Harmanpreet Kaur to see the ball and hit it, preferably out of the park, and hit her way back into form.

 ©Cricket World 2020