India registered a 36-run win over world champions Australia to clinch a place in the final of the Women’s World Cup. Mithali Raj’s team will face hosts England in the summit clash at Lord’s on Sunday. In the end, a score of 282 from 42 overs proved to be a bit too much for Australia as they kept losing wickets at regular intervals, thanks to the precision of India’s bowlers. However, the win in Derby would not have been possible without the superlative effort of Harmanpreet Kaur, who scored a stunning unbetaen 115-ball 171 with 20 fours and seven sixes.
The unbeaten was sensational but not unexpected. Kaur’s 28-ball 47 on her Big Bash debut for Sydney Thunder earlier this year featured an exquisite inside-out lofted cover drive for six. Adam Gilchrist, who was on commentary, described it “as good a cricketing shot as you would ever see.”
Harmanpreet, an unabashed Virender Sehwag fan, had made an instant impact in Australia. But more importantly, she had won yet another admirer. The hard-hitting batter won acclaim on the T20 circuit by becoming the first Indian woman to be picked in the Big Bash as well as the Kia Super League in England. That apart, her dazzling and unorthodox strokeplay quickly turned Harmanpreet into the Indian women’s team’s batting lynchpin, complementing the poise and grace of captain Mithali Raj. Over the last decade, the 28-year-old has notched up some stellar contributions in India’s World Cup qualifiers as well as the historic Asia Cup triumph in 2016. Coming into women’s cricket showpiece event — the World Cup in England — Harmanpreet exuded confidence, which emanated from her belligerent batsmanship during her stint in Australia.
In England, however, Harmanpreet struggled to get into her groove, and found it difficult to replicate the magic she had displayed Down Under. Consequently, the women’s T20 team’s captain failed to string together a sequence of decent scores. Batting lower down the order proved to be her undoing, and coming into bat mostly during the slog overs, made the problem worse. But most observers felt it was only time before she would deliver. She showed glimpses of her form in India’s must-win game against New Zealand, where she stroked a sumptuous 60.
India had their task cut out against Australia ahead of the semi-final. The Southern Stars, after all, were World Champions. They were also one of the teams who had pummelled India in the league phase. Mithali’s side was clearly the underdog coming into Derby. If they hoped to make a match out of it, one of their batters needed to fire. That’s precisely what happened.
On the big stage, Harmanpreet finally stepped up, slamming a stunning unbeaten 171 off just 115 deliveries to propel India to 281/4 in 42 overs. It was an innings of sheer insouciance, one that left the Aussies scampering for cover. It was a knock that Sehwag would have been proud of. The century was not completely see-ball, hit-ball, though. The start was fairly sedate. Coming in at No.4 for the first time in this tournament gave Harmanpreet ample time to get her eye in. Along with skipper Mithali, she added 66 runs for the third wicket, which came in 15 overs. The stand soothed the frayed nerves in the dressing room, and restored sanity to proceedings.
Following her captain’s exit, Harmanpreet came into her own, setting the stage alight with an incredible onslaught, in which she racked up an astonishing 131 runs from 55 deliveries. While orchestrating the epic, she had Deepti Sharma at the other end, the only Indian woman with a higher individual score in ODIs. Their fourth-wicket stand yielded 137 runs, which came in just a shade over 14 overs.
“I didn’t get a chance to bat in the whole tournament… therefore I wanted to utilise this opportunity because today was the day when I wanted to prove myself. My plan was to watch the ball and hit the ball, and this is exactly what I did,” Kaur said.
Brief scores: India 281/4 in 42 overs (Harmanpreet Kaur 171* off 115 balls; Ashleigh Gardner 1/43) beat Australia (Alex Blackwell 90 off 56, Elyse Villani 75 off 58; Deepti Sharma 3/59, Shikha Pandey 2/17) by 36 runs.