On the outskirts of Moga, Gurjinder alias ‘Garry’ waits eagerly for his sister. Soon, a Toyota Innova arrives and Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s latest cricketing sensation, comes out of the car and tightly hugs her brother, asking, “Kiddan veerey? (How are you, brother?)”
The joy across the small town in Punjab was palpable Sunday as people turned out in large numbers to catch a glimpse of Kaur. The administration and politicians organised a grand welcome to celebrate her fabulous innings of 171 runs against Australia in the semi-final of the recently concluded ICC Women’s World Cup.
Harmanpreet said she was “not used to such starry and glittery welcomes.” Not that she had achieved less in the past, but Moga never welcomed her this way before. When she had come home after the Indian women’s cricket team won the Asia Cup (T20 tournament) under her captaincy, there was no such welcome.
In an exclusive chat with The Indian Express, Harmanpreet Kaur admitted, “This is new. I am not used to such starry welcomes. But this moment is hard-earned. I feel so proud. My hometown has never welcomed me this way before.”
Even on the outskirts of Moga where Harmanpreet’s vehicle halted for a few minutes, people passing by started recognising her and requesting for photos. “Now, this is something. They are recognising me now. Well, I have played in Moga for years but this moment was long awaited, not only for me but for all women cricketers in India.
We have earned this moment and it is finally here,” Harmanpreet told The Indian Express.
“My entire focus is now on the T20 World Cup next year. We have to win that. It is a dream,” said Harmanpreet.
Children and others with fluttering tricolours in their hands stood on their toes to catch a glimpse of Harmanpreet at Landeke from where her victory procession started in an open jeep. Politicians from all parties, including SAD, Congress and AAP, were present. Posters of local Congress MLA Harjot Kamal — welcoming Harmanpreet — were put up in many parts of the town.
“It was only on the day she scored 171 runs that we got to know Harmanpreet is from our district. We came here today to see her. It is a proud moment and we thought we must welcome her. No, we never followed women’s cricket before,” said Arjinder Singh, who came from a nearby village, Dagru.
‘She’s not a new star for me, I can wait’
Meanwhile, away from the buzz, some 20 km away from Moga, sits Kamaldheesh Singh Sodhi, 60, at his Gyan Jyoti School and cricket academy for girls in Darapur village. He is calm, not in any hurry to go and get photos clicked with Harmanpreet. For him, she is not a ‘new star.’
Over the past few years, Sodhi has been welcoming Harmanpreet in a grand manner whenever she came home after winning any series or tournament. It was nearly 11 years ago that Sodhi had found a little girl playing cricket with boys in a park with her ‘dupatta’ tied around her waist. And in an instant decision, Sodhi resolved to adopt her for free coaching and education.
“I would deploy extra fielders near the boundary line of my school ground as Harmanpreet would hit sixes and balls would sink in water-filled paddy fields, never to be found. She would say that she doesn’t want to go to class but just play cricket the whole day. She is not a new star for me. For me, every win of hers has been special since she left this academy to play for India. Let all others welcome her today. I know she will never forget me or her first ground,” said a visibly emotional Sodhi.
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Sodhi remembers how he had accompanied Harmanpreet to meet several politicians and seek a government job for her. But she was forced to move to Railways for it as Punjab helped her in no way. “No one acknowledged her talent then. Maybe a new star is born now for Moga or India, for me she is my Harman puttar. We will be honouring her in our school like before and she will interact with budding cricketers,” said Sodhi.
Harmanpreet said a job as deputy superintendent of police (DSP) was her dream but it was not given to her earlier though she played cricket for nine years. “I am happy getting it now but will discussing with my family and my coach, Sodhi sir, before taking it up,” she said.