NEW DELHI: Harmanpreet Kaur, renowned for her unforgettable 171 not-out during India’s stunning victory in the 2017 ODI World Cup semi-final against Australia, is a name often associated with cricket enthusiasts.
Recognized as the captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, she holds the distinction of being the first woman to achieve a T20 century for India and the initial cricketer from the country to secure a contract in an overseas franchise-league.
Despite an already impressive legacy, 2023 marked the 15th year of her international career, during which Kaur amassed a series of remarkable milestones. In February, she set records as the first cricketer to participate in 150 T20 matches and led her team to victory in the Women’s Premier League the subsequent month. Later in the year, she co-captained India to their historic Asian Games gold medal in cricket, partnering with Smriti Mandhana.
Her achievements garnered widespread acclaim as Wisden named her one of its five cricketers of the year, a remarkable feat for an Indian woman. Furthermore, her inclusion in BBC’s 100 influential women of the year and TIME magazine’s 100 Next list underscored her growing global recognition.
These accolades serve as a testament to Kaur’s unparalleled influence in the cricketing world. They also coincide with a pivotal period for women’s cricket in India and beyond, as the sport continues to push boundaries and gain prominence.
“She’s an unbelievably talented cricketer and has showcased that for an extended period of time,” Australia captain Alyssa Healy said. The two sides recently met for a test match in the financial city of Mumbai, which India won by eight wickets.
“But what she has done in leading this Indian side, and almost this new generation of Indian women cricket into the modern game, has been really amazing to watch.”
Kaur, a testament to small-town success in Indian cricket, originates from Moga, a town historically known as the “drug capital” of Punjab. Born into a Sikh family of modest means, she, the eldest of three siblings, initially played cricket using a hockey stick alongside boys in her neighborhood. However, it was her encounter with Kamaldheesh Singh Sodhi, a frequent visitor to the local ground between 2006 and 2007, that profoundly steered her life toward a serious pursuit of cricket.
“She was a natural athlete whose potential found direction under my father,” Sodhi’s son, Yadwinder, also Kaur’s first coach, told the BBC. “Her fearless temper and genuine love for cricket has underpinned her appetite for getting better at the game, learning to hit those big sixes…and look how far it has brought her.”
Kaur, in tandem with her vice-captain Mandhana, remains a driving force behind the escalating prominence of women’s cricket in India, consistently amplifying her role as a pioneer in the nation’s female sports landscape.
“Every era has two or three such figures, and Harman has been in the driver’s seat for a few years now, especially since getting the captaincy in T20s [in 2016],” said former India captain Anjum Chopra.
“Stepping into full-time leadership across formats after the retirement of the legendary Mithali Raj last year has significantly elevated her standing.”
In 290 international appearances, Kaur amassed more than 6,500 runs, steering India into uncharted realms domestically and internationally. Her leadership in 2020 marked a significant milestone as she propelled the team to their inaugural T20 World Cup final, secured India’s first ODI series victory in England in nearly 23 years during the multi-format tour, and clinched silver at the Commonwealth Games’ first-ever women’s cricket competition merely weeks prior.
“The most important thing that I remember about working with Harman was the way she was always looking to do things for the team,” former India head coach WV Raman said. “Her personal form wasn’t the best, and the harder she tried, the worse it got. But she was calm, receptive and quick to implement any feedback about her batting for the sake of the team.”
Kaur’s dominance in limited-overs cricket has long defined her stature in the sport. However, December marked a pivotal moment as she capitalized on a rare chance to play Test cricket. During her debut as Test captain, she adopted an invigoratingly aggressive approach, contributing scores of 49 and an unbeaten 44 in India’s monumental 347-run win over England in Navi Mumbai.
This victory set a new standard as the largest margin in women’s cricket history. Subsequently, she etched her name in the annals of cricket by guiding India Women to their inaugural Test triumph against Australia in Mumbai, securing a historic milestone as the team’s captain. Leading up to the England Test, the first women’s Test on Indian soil in nearly a decade and Kaur’s fifth overall in the longest format, she underscored her perspective on personal achievements.
“I want this team to grow in a way that everyone says that this is the best team,” she said. “For me winning a World Cup is a dream … I don’t count my personal achievements to any level because I’m playing a team sport. If the team is doing well I’m happy.
Harmanpreet Kaur : Everybody wants to know, What I would do
"If they break me"
– I guess they will never know 🗿❤️🔥@ImHarmanpreet
(In the face of negativity, Her posture remains unbroken.)#HarmanpreetKaur pic.twitter.com/FTbq7wB7hP
— Unsung Captain 👑 (@_harrykaur7_) December 25, 2023
“At the same time, when you’re not feeling great, you see people telling you, ‘You’ve done this and that,’ to make you feel good.”
Kaur, known for her assertive presence on the cricket field, reflects a paradox that echoes not just in her playing style but also in her personality. Her batting exudes a blend of poise and power while her private demeanor embraces affable reticence, yet occasionally showing a struggle to gauge the room, mirrored in her time at the office.
Throughout her career, on-field conduct concerns have punctuated her journey. The most recent incident in June during an ODI against Bangladesh saw Kaur smashing her stumps and openly criticizing umpires, leading to a two-match ban by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
“You can be angry if you don’t feel a decision was right, but you can’t have an outburst in front of the world,” Chopra said. “That said, as an athlete, if you trade the natural instincts that make you human and genuine for a picture-perfect, plastic personality, you cease to be relatable.” Top of Form
Chopra and Raman both anticipate that the upcoming three years could potentially mark Kaur’s strongest and most sustained performance yet.
“That’s because she’s gradually understanding herself better and is also aware of her cricket a lot more,” Raman said. “Plus, she knows that she’s got a bunch of cricketers who relate to the fact that she’s all for the development of the team and the individuals.”
Kaur has all the necessary elements to create an unparalleled legacy. With the right circumstances, this could be defined by India’s inaugural senior women’s World Cup victory – potentially in the T20 edition in Bangladesh next year, in the ODI edition at home in 2025, or perhaps even both.