Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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India T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur returns to competitive cricket today, leading defending champions the Supernovas in the 2020 Women's T20 Challenge in the UAE. She looks back on her time away, her lockdown and quarantine routines, and more.
Whatever opportunities us Indians are getting to play cricket right now, I want to enjoy them, savour every moment. Being away from cricket for about seven months because of the pandemic made me realise that you have to appreciate every such opportunity that comes your way.
As the Supernovas captain, I definitely want to win the Women's T20 Challenge trophy this year as well. There's no feeling as good as winning a tournament. Ayabonga Khaka, the quick bowler from South Africa, is a good addition to our squad. Our entire overseas contingent is very good, and so are the uncapped Indians. Ayushi Soni from Delhi seems like a promising youngster. I think we have a squad that can put up a good fight and Supernovas can take their third straight T20 Challenge trophy.
This competition comes at a vital time for us. It is important that we keep getting these opportunities to play high-level competitive cricket. So even if we continue to only get to play in countries where Covid-19 is a bit under control, I think it will be great for us. Whether it is for bilateral series or all the big tournaments in 2022, we would be able to plan and prepare ourselves better.
The lead-up to the tournament has been unlike any in the past. A long break, and then a quarantine in Mumbai before coming to Dubai, which is where our hotel is, and then quarantining again.
While in quarantine in Mumbai, I tried to stick to a routine. Some yoga and stretches in the morning, then I'd watch something after breakfast if I felt like it, and then I'd spend some time at the gym before lunch. I brought some of my fitness equipment from Punjab and rented the rest in Mumbai; I kept it all in my room. We'd have some team meetings over Zoom after that. I had activities to keep myself occupied with, so it wasn't as though I had to keep staring at the walls all day long!
Before that I didn't have many problems training in Punjab during the lockdown. I have a small gym set-up in a room in my apartment in Patiala, which is where I practise. For the first month after the T20 World Cup in Australia, I didn't do anything at all, didn't even touch my bat or the gym stuff. But after I was mentally relaxed, I started missing the feel of holding a bat. Since then, I have kept up with my fitness regime and didn't take any long breaks, because at the back of my mind I knew that if the two World Cups and the Commonwealth Games go ahead on schedule in 2022, I need to be up for the challenge. And avoiding laziness from setting in, knowing how much time we all had on our hands, is key to that process.
So when I turned up at the ground in Patiala the first day, I didn't feel rusty. When in Punjab, I usually train under the state Ranji Trophy coach, Munish Bali. We have a group of about eight players there: among them myself and some four or five men's players such as Sandeep Sharma and Mayank Markande, who are regulars on the Ranji circuit. There are a few male Under-19 Punjab players, too. During the initial part of the lockdown, we all stayed away from practice, but before some of the local boys who were headed to the IPL flew out to the UAE around mid-August, I was lucky to get a few net sessions with them.
Earlier, the pause in all cricket in early March came at a significant time. On March 8 we lost the World Cup to Australia. It was a difficult day for us. Having played good cricket throughout the tournament, deep down we felt we deserved to win the title. But in the final, nothing went our way, nothing we tried went in our favour.
And there's the other thing: putting up a good fight and losing, you tell yourself, "We did our best." But we actually didn't show any fight in that match. At the end of the day you have to appreciate the team that plays better cricket, and Australia were certainly that team. No doubt, they were very good on that day and they deserved the trophy.
The good thing is that with no cricket for several months after the final, I think it helped us process the defeat. It calmed the mind a little. At least that's how it was for me personally. That break helped me analyse a number of things: areas we can look to improve going forward as a team, things I can personally do better. So being away from cricket brought in a lot of perspective. It gave me the opportunity to approach cricket, think about it, and treat it slightly differently. Those six months after March played a very important role in my life.
In cricket we hear a lot that one needs to stay in the present, enjoy everything. But I have often found it difficult to follow this advice and I have struggled to apply it in practice. But these six months actually taught me to approach life on a day-to-day basis. I started to give myself 10-20 minutes to think about what I intended to achieve the following day. It could be a small thing on the personal front, but the thought that had to be put into the planning, especially for someone like me who loves to have a sense of planning in most things I do, it was a good reinforcement.