Matches (17)
ENG v WI (1)
MLC (2)
Asia Cup (2)
ENG v SL (U19) (1)
LPL (2)
TNPL (1)
T20 Blast (8)

A new chapter in Lanning-Harmanpreet captaincy saga

After finishing second to Lanning in many high-stake games over the years, Harmanpreet will want to finally get one past her

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
Harmanpreet Kaur and Meg Lanning pose with the WPL trophy ahead of the final, WPL, Mumbai, March 25, 2023

Harmanpreet Kaur and Meg Lanning pose with the WPL trophy ahead of the final  •  BCCI

Despite a bit of festive fervour to it, both Meg Lanning and Harmanpreet Kaur were focused on the eve of the inaugural WPL final. As captains of their respective national teams, they are quite used to this routine. After all, they led Australia and India in two title clashes that played a big part in the changing landscape of women's cricket in the last three years - the 2020 T20 World Cup final that attracted 86,174 people at the MCG, and the gold-medal match in Birmingham last year, when women's T20 cricket featured for the first time in the Commonwealth Games.
Lanning and Harmanpreet have been T20I captains for a long period now. Lanning has led Australia in 100 of the 132 T20Is she has played. Harmanpreet has done the same for India in 96 of her 151 T20I outings. But when the two teams have met each other with Lanning and Harmanpreet at the helm, Australia have often had the upper hand, winning ten T20Is to India's three. And one needs no reminding that while Lanning's trophy cabinet is running out of space, India Women's recent Under-19 victory is their only global title.
So, Sunday's final is not just about Mumbai Indians taking on Delhi Capitals. Harmanpreet will want to finally get one past Lanning in a high-stakes game.
Both Harmanpreet and Lanning are equally passionate leaders, but they operate in very different ways. Harmanpreet is someone who wears her heart on her sleeve. Consider Alyssa Healy's dismissal in the Eliminator. Harmanpreet was pumped up after taking the catch to dismiss the UP Warriorz captain, making it evident through her celebration how much that wicket meant for Mumbai.
On the other hand, Lanning is almost inscrutable. After Capitals beat Warriorz in their last league match to confirm direct qualification to the final, all she offered was applause from the dugout and hugs.
Some of Harmanpreet's headline-grabbing knocks in international cricket have come against Australia. Her 171 not out in the semi-final of the 2017 ODI World Cup - she wasn't the captain then - against the Lanning-led Australia was what made women's cricket in India mainstream. She has been in the midst of it all - the high of a group-stage win over Australia in the T20 World Cup in 2018 and the lows of a narrow loss in the tri-series final in 2020, the Commonwealth Games final, and more recently, the heartbreaking loss in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup last month.
Harmanpreet has been an epitome of consistency in this WPL. She kicked off the competition in grand style with an enthralling 30-ball 65, and has only twice been dismissed before reaching 20. She has been the rock that's held Mumbai's middle order together and has struck three half-centuries, second only to Tahlia McGrath's four, in the tournament.
Lanning has had an even better tournament. She's been the leading run-getter for most of the WPL and is the only player among the finalists to score over 300 runs. They have come at a strike rate of 141.55 even though she hasn't really gone hammer and tongs. With Shafali Verma, she has formed a formidable opening combination.
"Australia have been always doing well ever since I have started playing and they always have great captains," Harmanpreet, seated next to Lanning at the WPL final pre-match press conference, said. "With Meg, they always have a good team and it's easy for her to make those changes and come up with a good challenge. In this WPL, they have a balanced side and she is leading from the front.
"The biggest thing to learn from her is that she is not someone who is dependent on players. She is someone who leads from the front, like in this WPL. That's something you want from a leader. When a leader takes responsibility from the front, the team does well. That's something I always see and learn from her.
"She is not someone who gives up early, we will have to fight till the end and we are ready for that."
That last line could also have been in reference to the semi-final last month, where for a large part of the chase India seemed in control before Australia wrested it back to knock them out.
Just like on that day, Lanning knows she has another fight on her hands. "Coming up against Harman is always a good challenge," she said. "She has shown that she is an excellent leader and gets results, both individually and for her team. I always look forward to challenges like that. Always a great contest to come up against a team led by Harman and I am expecting exactly the same tomorrow night."
So, once again in what is yet another landmark game in women's cricket, Lanning and Harmanpreet are face to face. While the contest on the field will be intense, it has a celebratory feel to it as well. The smiles returned to both the captains' faces as the presser drew to a close.
"Hum logon ne thodi na rope lagaya hai, jinhone rope lagaya hai aap unko pucho na [We haven't put the ropes. You should ask those who have]," Harmanpreet retorted when asked about the smaller size of the boundaries at this tournament, drawing laughs from the room.
We are less than 24 hours from the first ever WPL final. And this time, whoever wins, whether it is Lanning or Harmanpreet, it will be a win for Indian cricket.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo