Match Analysis

Harmanpreet and Shafali's pyrotechnics give brand India another boost

Their respect for each other is endearing, but the fire in the contest between the two batters was anything but

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Shafali Verma rushes up to congratulate Harmanpreet Kaur after the latter's 51-ball 71  •  BCCI

Shafali Verma rushes up to congratulate Harmanpreet Kaur after the latter's 51-ball 71  •  BCCI

Shafali Verma is pacing towards Harmanpreet Kaur as the Supernovas captain trudges towards the dugout after a momentum-shifting 51-ball 71. The 18-year-old Velocity opener then extends her arm, clutches Harmanpreet's palm in a homie handshake, grins in appreciation, pats on her back, and walks off.
If brand India Women ever needed a hero shot for a marketing campaign on its explosive batters or, more specifically, the passing of the baton in this regard, this sequence between Shafali and Harmanpreet might be a worthy choice.
Even more fitting was the fact that these moments played out during the Women's T20 Challenge. It was, after all, the second edition of this tournament that catapulted Shafali into India reckoning almost overnight, in 2019. An international debut materialised soon after, not to mention under Harmanpreet's captaincy, during a record-breaking seven-month period that culminated in the big-hitting Shafali almost singlehandedly steering Harmanpreet's India to their first-ever T20 World Cup final, in March 2020.
The bonhomie on view between the two India team-mates at Pune's MCA Stadium on Tuesday was endearing. The fire in the contest between the two batters, though, was anything but. Set 151 to win their season opener, Velocity opener Shafali had a task on hand: Go big or watch Supernovas saunter to a fourth straight final of a tournament in its fourth season.
No team in the Women's T20 Challenge had successfully chased that big a total before. And the failure to do so on the day would have shoved Velocity into a must-win situation - and on the same boat as defending champions Trailblazers - for the third and final round-robin game of the four-match competition.
But Shafali understood the assignment. So, she took on the No. 1-ranked white-ball bowler, Sophie Ecclestone, the second ball of the chase and refused to relent - against Ecclestone, offspinner V Chandu, and pacers Meghana Singh and Pooja Vatsrakar - ever since. All 10 of Shafali's boundaries, a six included, came against this pack of four. Each of them ended up conceding at a rate of 144 or more against her as she galloped to the fastest fifty - off just 30 balls - in the tournament's brief history.
"I took some learnings from the first innings [of the day] - which areas were easier to access and which weren't," Shafali said to the host broadcaster after Velocity's seven-wicket win. "I was especially wary of the direction of the wind, so I chose my strokes accordingly.
"I have worked very hard on them [shots in the third region that required deft touch rather than brute force] over a while and there are two or three more shots that I have in my repertoire and would like to convert in the next game."
Velocity captain Deepti Sharma, who made 24 in an unbroken, match-clinching stand with South Africa's Laura Wolvaardt, described Shafali's "fantastic" innings as a turning point in the game. Wolvaardt, who shared a 14-ball 11 stand with Shafali, was equally effusive in her praise of the teen opener.
"I really enjoyed it," Wolvaardt said about Shafali's aggressive approach that, she added, helped her ease into her unbeaten 51-run innings. "It was really nice for me to come in when there's a set batter like that. Because, then, all that my role becomes is just getting her on strike. So, it's an easy way for me to get into my innings when I have someone like that at the other end. I'm glad we were able to bat together for a little bit today.
"She's probably the most chilled batter that I've ever met. So it's really cool to hear how she goes about her game," Wolvaardt said when asked if she has shared any notes on batting with Shafali in the dressing room. "She's just really relaxed, really backs her skills and knows what our options are. I think I need to do a bit more of that sometimes. Sometimes, I overthink my game a little bit too much… Hopefully, I can take some learnings out of it (their interaction)."
The only measure of discomfort Shafali showed during her knock, which underpinned a foundational 63-run second-wicket stand with Yastika Bhatia, was against Australia legspinner Alana King and West Indies medium-pacer Deandra Dottin. Motoring on after Dottin dropped her on 35 at point off Ecclestone, Shafali, on the insistence of her partner, Wolvaardt, took the DRS and survived a close call, overturning an on-field lbw decision that had initially gone in King's favour when Shafali was on 49.
Shafali, however, was only able to extend her stay by another six balls. Stopping her on her march was Harmanpreet, who plucked the ball mid-air, with both hands, at short third when Shafali tried to make room and glide it off Dottin. The blinder was one of the two catches Player of the Match Harmanpreet, by far the best fielder in the Indian side, took on the day. The first, of the other opener, Natthakan Chantam's, had come earlier in the innings, with Harmanpreet looking every bit the captain on a mission to seal Supernovas' entry into the final.
With the bat, to that end, she had already done her bit. Equal parts circumspect and alive to opportunities, Harmanpreet steadied Supernovas' ship with her first fifty of this edition. En route what was also her highest score in the tournament yet, she relied heavily on the sweep, using possibly every variation of the shot in the book - including the reverse option, albeit sparingly - to good effect. With Taniya Bhatia, she added 82 off 63 and then a 28-ball 28 with Sune Luus, making good on her intent to score quickly and sizably in the death, as she had made clear the previous evening.
Having walked in when her side was 18 for 3 in the fourth over, Harmanpreet departed after bringing Supernovas to the safety of 138 in the final ball of the 19th over. For the batter who top-scored in their win against Trailblazers less than 18 hours ago, it was fitting she walked back to the dugout to a standing ovation from her team-mates and highlights-worthy gesture of appreciation from a player almost half her age, but nearly an equal in pluck and pyrotechnics.

Annesha Ghosh is a freelance sports journalist. @ghosh_annesha