Harmanpreet’s batting through the prism of the unknown

Harmanpreet Kaur celebrates her century. © ICC

There is a pattern.

Harmanpreet Kaur and MS Dhoni. No, it’s not her time to hang up her boots, and neither is she joining the para-military forces.

Dhoni had once mentioned that he needed 15 balls or so to get into the groove. Kaur’s game-plan works on similar lines.

The last time Kaur crossed 30 was in the World T20, 2018. It was a 27-ball innings with three fours and as many sixes against Australia. Her first 12 balls in that innings got her just 19. Before that, her first T20I ton (103 off 51) in Providence in last year’s World T20 versus New Zealand. In her first 12 balls during that knock, she had scored just five. A game before that against Sri Lanka, when she ended up with 63 off 38, she was on 13 off 11 balls.

In all the aforementioned cases, India were batting first.

And so there is an uncanny, unsaid similarity in Kaur’s approach to the game with that of Dhoni – Dhoni of old, of course.

In the first T20I against South Africa at the Lalbhai Contractor Stadium in Surat on Tuesday (September 24), India were put in to bat. Kaur found herself in the middle with India reeling at 28 for 2 inside the power play. They had a target to set for the visitors.

It seemed the track was on the slower side, as evidenced by the fact that Jemimah Rodrigues was on seven off 13 balls. Some of her shots were played a tad early, she couldn’t quite seem to find her timing. And so, despite some flashy attempts to bisect the field, she wasn’t going at a canter.

Kaur took her time. Nondumiso Shangase, the off-spinner, playing her first game, was bowling at that time and from the other end, another debutant, Nonkululeku Mlaba, the slow left arm spinner, was on. Though the duo wasn’t generating alarming turn, the slowness of their bowling coupled with the track not having much pace in it made it tough for Rodrigues and Kaur to play their shots.

Kaur kept the scoreboard ticking with some dabs and sweeps. She was on five off eight balls before she deposited Sune Luus’ leg spin over deep mid-wicket. And so, she was on 12 off 10 – in unknown territory.

That wasn’t really a move on. She had to be a bit cautious soon after as Rodrigues had fell in a bid to up the ante.

In the eleventh over of the match, she had moved on to 19 off 16. However, the fourth ball of that over from Mlaba was smashed long and handsome into the deep mid-wicket stands. It was then that the shackles were broken – at least by Kaur. She seemed to have got the measure of the track.

“I think when you play the night games, the first innings is an important one because you have to gauge how the wicket will play. At times it is wonderful while at other times, it is up and down, like today, ” she said, when asked if batting second was tougher.

“The wicket was better to bat on in the second innings. Although there was a lot of spin available, it was coming nicely on the bat. So, it is easier to bat in the second innings and it was tough to put a good score on the board when batting first.”

It sure was not an easy track to play in the first innings. There were numerous plays and misses by the Indian batters. In seamer Tumi Sekhukhune’s last over, Kaur missed one, being early into the shot while on another occasion, Tazmin Brits misjudged a skier completely to give Kaur a life, when she was on 29 (22 balls).

Mlaba was hit for consecutive boundaries in her third over, which helped Kaur inch towards a seventh T20I half century. However, a Nadine de Klerk slower one kept a tad low and Kaur missed a swipe across the line to be caught in front of the sticks. She had to be content with a 43 that took 34 balls, featuring three fours and two maximums. Her 46-run partnership with Deepti Sharma appeared to have put India on course for a total in excess of 150.

“They bowled very well and we didn’t get many loose balls. So, it was hard work,” the Indian captain said later.

Dhoni had this impeccable control over a run-chase. How did he do that? How did he know when to go for the kill or how deep to take the match?

Is Harmanpreet a master of knowing how much is enough? Even though she hasn’t spelt it out, does she consciously play out a certain number of balls before she starts attacking?

She never broke it down for us. She didn’t say if she knew 130 was enough on the day. She didn’t enunciate about the friendliness, or otherwise, of the conditions in Surat.

But clearly, there is a pattern.

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