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Feature

Harmanpreet breaks knockout curse and Lanning's challenge to cap off fitting WPL finale

India captain sees larger picture too, praising Radha and Pandey for their valiant fight to put up a testing total for the Capitals

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
27-Mar-2023
Harmanpreet Kaur hugs Charlotte Edwards after the win, Delhi Capitals vs Mumbai Indians, final, Brabourne, Women's Premier League, March 26, 2023

Harmanpreet Kaur hugs Charlotte Edwards after the win  •  BCCI

The feeling of falling short of expectations can hurt in varying degrees. Ask a student failing an exam by two marks, who would perhaps be hurting more than one who has a bigger margin. Or a Formula 1 driver, who's been overtaken in the last lap just before the safety car has been deployed and, as a result, came a close second. Or an athlete who keeps turning up and competing and yet losing against the same opponent by different margins. Or simply, ask Harmanpreet Kaur.
The joy when she threw punches in the air after Amelia Kerr hit the second of the two fours to get the asking rate below a run a ball was unmissable. Her run to the centre after Nat Sciver-Brunt hit the winning runs to help Mumbai Indians win the inaugural WPL title was akin to a kindergarten kid running towards their parent after a day at school. It was as raw as it was delightful.
India have regularly challenged Australia's dominance in women's T20Is in recent times but have a bare trophy cabinet to show. As India's captain, Harmanpreet has often seen the match slip away and fall short against Meg Lanning's Australia - be it in the Commonwealth Games gold-medal match or the semi-final of the Women's T20 World Cup last month, to name a few. She knows how it feels to fall short after being in control. Therefore, the win over the Lanning-led Delhi Capitals was a feeling she was longing for.
"I was waiting for such a moment for a long time… when as a captain I can win something which is so important for women's cricket," Harmanpreet beamed with the WPL trophy glittering beside her at the post-match press conference. "I want to keep doing this in future also. I was waiting for a long time to win a tournament on a good platform. Whatever I have learnt from this tournament I want to share the experience with my Indian team mates."
Briefly in the chase though, there was a sense of déjà vu. Thirty seven were needed in the final four overs when the Mumbai supporters at the Brabourne Stadium were silenced with Harmanpreet's run-out. It brought back memories of her run-out against Australia in the Women's T20 World Cup semi-final with India needing 40 off 33. A set Sciver-Brunt and an experienced Kerr wouldn't let Lanning's Capitals claw back.
"Both [the run-outs] were disappointing," Harmanpreet said. "Today it was different because Nat was there. She was already well settled and knew who is going to bowl and how they were bowling. Amelia is always there for the team and she was in good touch. Apart from them Pooja [Vastrakar] and [Issy] Wong were there. We were positive and knew we would finish the game one or two overs before. But after I got out, we thought we should go by how the situation is."
Despite the high of the title win in the first edition of the WPL, Harmanpreet was quick to put the success into larger perspective. She was the first Indian to be signed up for the Women's Big Bash League in 2016, a move she termed "turning point in my life". Having played about seven years of international cricket upto that point, Harmanpreet wanted to add another string to her bow, challenge herself and get out of set routine. With a home-grown league in place, she hoped the Indian domestic players benefit similarly.
"At this level it's about learning how to keep calm and handle the pressure and do well for the team," Harmanpreet said. "Otherwise in terms of skills everyone works hard. Fitness also they are doing so well. It's about how mentally strong you are and how you can do on the field. These are the things domestic players need to learn from international."
As the captain of the Indian team, Harmanpreet was also pleased to see Radha Yadav and Shikha Pandey impress with the bat for the opposing team. Capitals were reduced to 79 for 9 in the 16th over when Radha and Pandey got together. They added 52 in the last four overs with both finishing unbeaten on 27 to take Capitals to a respectable score. In the WPL, Pandey picked up ten wickets, the third most by a seamer. Apart from her knock in the final, she was also involved in a 35-run stand with Arundhati Reddy in Capitals' narrow loss against Gujarat Giants.
"I was actually very happy the way they were batting," Harmanpreet said eliciting laughter in the room. "I always told Radha, you don't need to take singles because singles jiska kaam hai woh le lega (leave strike rotation to someone else). I was actually happy when she hit those sixes at the end. Even after the match I spoke to her and said I want to see the same batting when you join the Indian team.
"Shikha was bowling brilliantly throughout the tournament. And today when the team needed batting, she took time and then executed it brilliantly."
Harmanpreet finished the competition with 281 runs, the fourth highest run-getter. In a tricky chase on Sunday, she added 72 with Sciver-Brunt to help Mumbai be in command after they lost the openers relatively early. On the eve of the final, she spoke about how Lanning always led her teams from the front and on the D-day, Harmanpreet herself did the same.
"We've seen Lanning do well for her country for so many years but it was different here," she said. "For me it was important to get everyone together and make them understand why they are here and what they can do best for the team. Everybody was so mature. It didn't come across even once that they didn't understand what we were talking."
A line in the peppy WPL anthem goes, "… beti hoon aaj ki, ladhna sweekar hai! (I am a daughter of this age, I accept the battles)!" That sportswomen have to face stereotypes, stave off inequality and distasteful jokes, all while being multitaskers who fight rivals on the field is almost a given. With the platform of the WPL, there's belief that little of this is done away from the public glare.
The WPL title win could well be a start of a period where Harmanpreet - and in extension India - move away from the feeling of falling short in global tournaments.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo