S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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The wide-eyed, wry smile perhaps told a tale.
Harmanpreet Kaur had just managed a last-minute crouch, enough to connect a pull off a short ball from Lauren Bell that barely rose knee high. So good was the contact that it beat deep square leg to her right. The reaction was telling because she was bowled by a Sarah Glenn delivery that stayed low in the first T20I against England. But on Wednesday, the India captain was set, having already faced 46 balls until that point, and was up to the task.
A flurry of cuts, pulls, slog-sweeps and scythes over the off side followed as Harmanpreet lit up Canterbury with some scintillating strokes to finish unbeaten on a monumental 143, thereby taking India to 333 for 5, which eventually proved 88 too many for England. It was India's second score over 300 in ODIs this year, following the 317 for 8 against West Indies in the World Cup earlier this year.
In fact, two of India's four 300-plus totals in ODIs have come in 2022. And both of them have a common thread - a Harmanpreet century combined with a three-figure fourth-wicket stand.
Harmanpreet walked out to bat after Yastika Bhatia's dismissal and soon saw a well-set Smriti Mandhana depart, leaving India at 99 for 3 at the start of the 19th over. At the time, it seemed as if yet again, India's batting would let them down after the toss had gone against them. It had happened more recently in the T20I series decider and also in the World Cup against England.
With Harmanpreet though, there's now a sense of this being her team, especially after assuming the captaincy across formats post Mithali Raj's retirement. She commands more authority - not that she did not earlier - and the players seem to rally behind their fearless leader. And so, in company of Harleen Deol, Harmanpreet set about with the rebuilding task. India could score only 24 runs in the next seven overs as Harmanpreet guided Deol, who was playing just her sixth ODI. The run rate, that was well over five when the pair got together, dipped below 4.75.
Deol likes to play the long game - get in early, get set and then accelerate, much like she had showed during the Senior Women's One Day Challenger earlier in the year. Having crawled to 18 off 36, Deol tried breaking the shackles by stepping down to Kate Cross but only managing to chip one over mid-on, before truly doing so with a dab past backward point for four.
She then showed her wares against spin - carting offspinner Charlie Dean inside-out over cover before slinking down and depositing left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone into the sightscreen - then notching up her maiden half-century in ODIs. In the interim, Harmanpreet used the crease well to flick Bell through midwicket before a slog sweep over the same region brought up her second successive fifty-plus score. In the 12 overs leading up to Deol's dismissal, India had managed to score 76.
While Harmanpreet's first fifty came off 64 balls, the next fifty runs took only 36 balls coming. She picked the lengths early and almost made England bowl to her plans by using the crease well. Full and wide outside off, get across and smack it over the bowler; slower length ball outside off, move across and swipe it through square leg; full and fast on off, get down to paddle it to fine leg or nail the cover drive. Debutant Freya Kemp's back of the hand slower balls were dealt with by making room and slicing over the infield to exploit the arc from extra cover to backward point.
It was as if Harmanpreet was finding the boundaries at will. She scored her last 43 runs off just 11 balls with India managing 62 off the last three overs. Her unbeaten 24-ball 71-run stand with Deepti Sharma was the quickest in women's ODIs where data is available. Kemp's 11-ball penultimate over went for 26 and Harmanpreet scored 18 off her 19-run last over.
"I just wanted to spend some time on the wicket because today's wicket was not easy to bat on in the first innings," she said after the match. "I wanted to keep watching the ball and play accordingly. I didn't try too many shots [early on]. It is important to read the wicket and be there. Being there is more important because I know if I take more balls initially I can easily cover up in the end."
It was the 113-run fourth-wicket partnership between Harmanpreet and Deol that enabled them to score 121 in the last ten overs against England.
"After the partnership with Harleen, we got the rhythm we wanted and I just backed myself after that," she said. "We knew even if we scored 300, it could be chaseable given England's batting line-up. That's why we were looking for maximum runs in the last five-six overs.
"Whoever was coming in to bat with me, I was giving them the message that if they could find boundaries, fine, otherwise keep rotating the strike. Scoring more than 300 was very important for us."
At the end of it all, Harmanpreet ensured that she - and the entire team - could afford more than just a wry smile as they head to Lord's for the series finale with an aim to give veteran fast bowler Jhulan Goswami a fitting farewell.