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Match Analysis

Days ahead of World Cup, Harmanpreet Kaur provides timely reminder of her ability

Having endured a lean patch since her 171* in Derby, the batter returned to form with a 66-ball 63

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
24-Feb-2022
Harmanpreet Kaur used the sweep productively while scoring 63 off just 66 balls  •  Getty Images

Harmanpreet Kaur used the sweep productively while scoring 63 off just 66 balls  •  Getty Images

When Deepti Sharma was dismissed in the 18th over of the run chase, New Zealand were starting to regain control. The pressure applied by the spin duo of Frances Mackay and Fran Jonas had consumed Deepti - she had faced a combined 23 balls from them and failed to score off 14 of them.
From 53 for 1 at the ten-over mark, India had only added 36 more in the next 7.4 overs. In walked the out-of-form Harmanpreet Kaur to join the set Smriti Mandhana. It was a comeback of sorts for Harmanpreet, who had been rested in the previous match.
India came to New Zealand having lost just one out of ten ODIs while chasing since the start of 2019. But on this tour, they had lost both their previous matches when they had been set a target.
Were they on course to botch another chase? Would the batters undo the spinners' efforts, which had helped restrict New Zealand to a total that looked assailable?
On Thursday, Harmanpreet used the sweep to good effect for most part of her innings. Anything remotely in her arc and around middle and leg was swept away towards square leg as she kept the runs flowing, while also not denying Mandhana the strike.
She had got out to a full toss off Jonas in the second ODI to give the teenager her first wicket in the format. But come the fifth game, she was cautious to begin with, taking no chances off the first eight balls she faced from the left-arm spinner.
At the start of Jonas' fifth over - the 24th of the chase - Harmanpreet slinked down the track and thumped the ball over deep midwicket. The nifty footwork, hand-eye coordination and the shot had shades of the trademark strokes with which she had lit up Derby during her 171 not out in the Women's World Cup of 2017. The shot even elicited a bear hug in response from Mandhana.
"I think it was important for the whole team, and it was good to see her come back and play the shots she was playing," Mandhana said after the match. "I was happy to be at the other hand to watch the ball flying off her bat. When she hit that six I felt like hugging her. I felt happy for her."
There was no looking back from thereon for the pair, who found at least one boundary in almost every over from then. Harmanpreet took a special liking to Mackay in the 28th over, hitting her for back-to-back fours after she had been given a life.
"It was important for the partnership to happen before the World Cup," Mandhana said.
She was right. In 27 innings since that 171* against Australia, Harmanpreet had scored 627 runs at an average of 27.26 and a strike rate of 66.91 before Thursday's knock. Her best score in six knocks since the start of last year's tour of England last year was 19. She had come under fire from numerous voices, including those of former players.
However, in the interim, she had done well for Melbourne Renegades in the WBBL, both with bat and ball. But the performances had dried up at the international level by the time the New Zealand tour began.
"My conversation with Harry di was outside of cricket," Mandhana said when asked about the words she shared with the senior batter. "I believe if someone is not confident or timing the ball, it is better not to talk to them about cricket. We spent time going out, having dinner, having fun. We tried to distract her so that she can start afresh. I have not had any batting conversation before in the middle today."
Harmanpreet finished with 63 off just 66 balls and played a key part in India picking up their first win of the tour.
In two of the last three ICC tournaments, Harmanpreet produced at least one big knock for India: her ODI best in 2017, and a maiden T20I century in the T20 World Cup in 2018, when India made the semi-finals.
With the upcoming ODI World Cup just around the corner, and to be played in New Zealand, Harmanpreet couldn't have chosen a better time to get back among the runs.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo