First day, first show: Harmanpreet Kaur kicks off the biggest night in women’s cricket with a bang

The last time Harmanpreet Kaur played a competitive fixture, she threw her bat in disgust after being run out in the T20 World Cup semifinal. After that narrow loss to Australia, she had to wear sunglasses in public to hide her tears.

It has been just 10 days since that heartbreak, and the wound must have still been fresh for the India captain. But by showcasing her sublime batting skills on one of the most significant nights in the history of women’s cricket, Kaur proved her tenacity, mental strength and ability to bounce back.

The Gujarat Giants bowlers felt the full brunt of Harmanpreet’s anger and frustration, as the Mumbai Indians skipper got the first-ever Women’s Premier League to the perfect start.

A victory margin of 143 runs would have been convincing enough in a Test match, let alone a T20 fixture of such great significance. It brought back memories of the first-ever Indian Premier League match when Brendon McCullum’s pyrotechnics left an indelible impression even though the match itself turned out to be a no-contest.

Kaur’s shots on Saturday evening were more refined and cultured in a way, without any hint of slogging. Her famous fluid bat-swing was evident once again, as both seam and spin seemed destined for the boundary cushions.

The match was effectively over as a contest inside the first two overs of the chase as the Giants lost three wickets after skipper Beth Mooney, their most pedigreed batter, had to be helped off the field due to a knee injury.

Natalie Sciver-Brunt and Issy Wong got the white ball to deviate in both directions in an impressive fashion, followed by strikes by left-arm spinner Shaika Ishaque and leg-spinner Amelia Kerr to cut the Giants down to size for just 64, but the abiding memory of the evening would be Harmanpreet’s sublime strokeplay.

When a team scores 207/5 in 20 overs, one expects there would have been a lot of sixes hit. The likes of Hayley Matthews and Kerr hit most of them. Kaur didn’t hit any, but hers was the most eye-catching contribution of the evening. The sweeps, drives, glides and all other strokes peppering every part of the ground would have not been out of place in a game of much longer duration. There were 14 boundaries in her 30-ball 65, but none seemed to have been hit with any anger. There were 11 fielders out there, but Kaur could only see the gaps between them.

Key partnership

Her partnership with New Zealander Kerr is what took the game away from Gujarat Giants. Mumbai Indians were once looking set for a score of around 160, which, going by the trend at the recent World Cup, would have been a competitive total. But a great batting track at the DY Patil Stadium and the firepower on show ensured that Mumbai Indians exceeded that estimate by a long way.

The squads in the WPL haven’t had much time to gel, assess their own strengths and weaknesses or those of the opposition. The non-international Indian players in the squad may be a bit of an unknown quantity for captains and coaching staff, most of whom have come from overseas. In that context, the fielding of the Gujarat Giants left a lot to be desired, and almost on every occasion, it was a local player at fault.

Matthews and Sciver-Brunt set the platform for Mumbai Indians after Yastika Bhatia failed to get going at the top, but after both got out in quick succession, it was all about Kaur and Kerr. They seemed to be vying with each other shot for shot as the bowlers gave them plenty of loose stuff to showcase their prowess. Left-arm seamer Monica Patel was hit for four successive boundaries by Kaur, as 21 came off that over.

Team effort

Kerr’s effort cannot be ignored either, as she was the one to take the initiative in the partnership early on, before Kaur hogged the limelight. The Kiwi all-rounder’s unbeaten 45 came off just 24 balls.

The match was virtually over early in the Giants innings, with only the victory margin and the effect on the net run rate to be decided, but Ishaque was impressive with her skill and control. She may not have been tested too much, with the cream of the opposition already back in the dugout, but made her presence felt with four wickets.

The result shows the significance of gelling as a unit in a tournament of such nature as most players wouldn’t have played with each other before. All is not lost for Gujarat Giants, but with a match against UP Warriorz on Sunday evening, the likely loss of skipper Mooney will be a bigger blow for them. Sneh Rana is expected to lead the side if the Australian left-hander, who also kept wickets on Saturday, is unavailable for the game.

Kaur alluded that she went in to bat in a confident frame of mind. “I just thought I will watch the ball and back myself. I will not think too much, and instead react to the situation.

“We kept things simple and clear. I told the players to play naturally. Obviously, it’s a big day for women’s cricket but it was all about backing yourself,” Kaur said after the victory.

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