HARMANPREET KAUR had already said no on three occasions. But the TV reporter was insistent. He was literally pleading Indian cricket’s latest superstar for a byte as she quickly rushed past him flanked by her entourage. Eventually, she did relent, though rather reluctantly, saying, “Theek hai. Chalte, chalte kar lete hai for two minutes.”
There was no surprise that the entire media contingent present at the JW Marriott on Wednesday afternoon wanted a piece of Harmanpreet. It’d been less than a week since she played what many described as the most destructive, if not significant, knock in women’s cricket history after all.
She might have been the cynosure but Wednesday wasn’t just about Harmanpreet though. She wasn’t the only member of the Indian women’s team being hounded for interviews. This was their moment. This was their time. They might have fallen agonisingly short of being world champions at the Home of Cricket on Sunday. But long before Anya Shrubsole played party-pooper with the ball at Lord’s, Mithali Raj & Co had taken enough giant strides to start a revolution back home.
If they wanted any confirmation of the magnitude of their achievement, the fanfare that greeted them outside Mumbai’s international airport in the wee hours of the morning upon their return from England should have been overwhelming enough. There were drums, there were multiple flashes going off from cameras of all shapes and genres, and most importantly, there were hordes of people, who’d sacrificed their sleep and arrived with garlands to show their incessant gratitude.
Mithali & Co had left home last month as a bunch of women playing cricket for India, but returned as the Indian women’s cricket team, one that had captured the collective imagination of a nation that had for decades been indifferent to them and their feats. For the record, some 10 journalists had shown up in a small room at the Bandra-Kurla Complex for a pre-departure press conference when the team had departed for England in June.
A few hours later, they were to receive an even more sweeping and glitzy acknowledgement of their achievement. And they seemed a little unaware just to what extent as they walked in a group, giggling and joking, towards the “grand ballroom”. For, as soon as the doors opened, Mithali & Co were greeted by an incessant and loud crescendo of the crackling sounds emanating from shutterbugs that awaited them.
Not like they looked overawed even for a moment. This was to be their first real tryst with genuine fame and a touch of glamour, which their male counterparts have been bestowed with over the years.
The arbitrary photo-shoot once done, it was time for the women to take the podium with Mithali taking first strike. The rest sat diligently on seats arranged on the side, some looking on nervously as if already preparing for their time in the spotlight and in front of the microphone. The veteran skipper didn’t waste any time in perfectly and poignantly summing up the moment that she and her teammates were finally soaking in while also revealing that she wasn’t getting carried away anytime soon.
“It is just the beginning of good times for women’s cricket,” she said before defending her team’s efforts in the final despite the shocking collapse that robbed them of what looked like a definite victory. Jhulan Goswami, another old hand herself, called it a “new road” for women’s cricket.
Here too, though, it was Harmanpreet who stole the show. She spoke briefly about her journey, attributing her power to a childhood spent playing cricket with boys and her learnings from the Women’s Big Bash League Down Under, but played down talk of her eventually taking over the reins from Mithali. A question about her angry, almost Virat Kohli-of-old, reaction to reaching the sensational century against Australia in the semifinal incited a lot of nudges and laughter among her teammates, all directed towards Deepti Sharma, who looked on sheepishly.
The event was a celebration of how far this team of talented and passionate individuals had come over the last few weeks and not how they’d failed to cross the line in the final. And the questions, too, mainly ranged around the individual performances of note that had turned many into overnight sensations – from Smriti Mandhana’s metoric rise with the bat to Deepti’s all-round contributions.
They weren’t done yet though. Next up was a photo-shoot for a renowned fashion magazine.
And understandably, most of them looked a lot more nervous awaiting their turn to face the camera than they had facing the media a little earlier. But the spotlights are not going away anytime soon.