Harmanpreet Kaur walks the talk in India’s bright new era

Harmanpreet Kaur is in the form of her life. © Getty Images

It might now seem inconceivable but Harmanpreet Kaur was dropped for an ODI against New Zealand earlier this year. The drop came after she scored 10, 10 and 13 in the first three ODIs against New Zealand in February.

The last time Harmapreet had been dropped in an ODI before was all the way back in February 2010. Between then and the fourth ODI in New Zealand, she had only missed six ODIs in all in 12 years, all of them owing to injury.

In fact, between 26 February 2010 and 1 February 2019, Harmanpreet played in each of the 87 ODIs that India played during that time, the third-best streak of most consecutive ODIs played for any player.

She failed to get going in those three ODIs but in her last competitive cricket event before that tour, she was the Player of the Tournament at the WBBL, where she was the only player in the competition to feature in both the top-ten run getters as well as the top 10 wicket takers list.

Even in 2021, Harmanpreet had been the fourth-highest run getter for India in ODIs, scoring 196 runs at an average of 32.66, while striking at 75.09. However, her average in ODIs had been below 30 in the period from the end of the 2017 World Cup to the match where she was omitted.

The match was a rain-shortened 20 over affair and India curiously chose to drop the player that has been their T20I captain since 2016. New Zealand thrashed India by 63 runs and Harmanpreet was back in the playing XI rightaway.

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From the start of her career till now, Harmanpreet has played 121 ODIs. She had, however been the Player of the Match in only one of her 121 ODIs, in the epochal 171* not out game, before she won the Player of the Match in the final ODI against Sri Lanka earlier this month. For good measure, she also went on to win the Player of the Series award to make up for the lost time.

For a proven big match player and match winner, that number is strikingly now, especially considering the number of matches Harmanpreet has won for India in the format. The number hints at a lack of consistency and also at the fact that Harmanpreet has not batted enough in the top four for a player of her class. She has batted in the top four in only 50 of her 102 innings in ODIs.

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When batting in the top four, she averages 39.59 at a strike rate of 69.93. When batting outside the top four, she averages 32.68 at a strike rate of 73.74. Among all Indian players who have batted in the top four since Harmanpreet’s debut, only Mithali Raj, Smriti Mandhana and Deepti Sharma average more than her while batting in the top four.

Batting in the top four is often the easiest in the ODIs, with the pitches mostly being flat and there being 10 overs of power play right at the beginning.

Batting lower down in the order brings greater challenges, both in terms of more fielders being on the boundary and also in terms of getting less balls to face.

Since Harmanpreet’s debut, only Marizanne Kapp has scored more runs than her while batting at no. 5 or lower in ODIs. Kapp has played 21 more innings though. Harmanpreet also has the 10th best average while batting at no. 5 or lower in the same period among players who have played a minimum of 20 innings in those positions. Of the nine players above her in the list, only Dane van Niekerk has batted in more innings (63) in those positions. Nat Sciver is next with 42 innings.

Since her debut, Harmanpreet is one of only eight players to average more than 30 and strike at more than 70 while batting in position 5 to 11 a minimum of 20 times. The other seven names on that list: Ellyse Perry, Beth Mooney, Jess Duffin, Sciver, Arran Brindle, Heather Knight and Alex Blackwell – some of the best players of the last 15 years.

It was this versatility that made Harmanpreet undroppable right through her career, as she was arguably the only Indian batter who was equally proficient at batting anywhere in the order from no. 3 to no. 6.

The decision to drop her seemed to spur Harmanpreet as she has found the best form of her career since then.

Returning for the fifth ODI against New Zealand, she scored a crucial 63 as India won the fifth ODI against New Zealand for their only win of the series. Since being omitted from the fourth ODI of the series, Harmanpreet has scored 500 runs in 10 ODI innings at an average of 55.55 and a strike rate of 88.65.

Only Laura Wolvaardt, Alyssa Healy, Sciver and Smriti Mandhana have scored more ODI runs in that period. She’s also the leading run getter for India in T20I this year, scoring 92 runs in the three matches against Sri Lanka at an average of 92 and a strike rate of 108.23 on pitches which were far from straightforward to bat on. Kaur has also picked four wickets from the four innings she has bowled in at an excellent average of 22 and an even more impressive economy rate of 3.82.

Harmanpreet Kaur

Harmanpreet Kaur’s ODI record since being omitted against New Zealand earlier this year

She was also the leading run getter in the Women’s T20 Challenge, where she led Supernovas to the title. Kaur is only the second Indian captain after Mamatha Maben to win seven of her first eight games in charge.

While it is still early in her ODI captaincy, she has one of the best records ever as T20I captain. Among captains who have been in charge of a full member nation for more than T20Is, Harmanpreet’s win percentage of 62.12 is only bettered by Meg Lanning, Knight and Charlotte Edwards. Each of those captains have led their team to an ODI or T20I World Cup title, if not both.

Harmanpreet has captained India in two T20 World Cups, where they were unbeaten in the group stages on both occasions. They lost in the semis in 2018 and in the final in 2020.

Even domestically, she has led Supernovas to the final of the Women’s T20 Challenge in each of the four editions so far, with three titles and one runner-up finish.

Also read: India takeaways: Harmanpreet leads in style, Renuka breaks through and Shafali cracks the ODI code

Harmanpreet also tends to lift her game when she’s in the saddle. Her average in ODIs as captain is a staggering 72.80, the corresponding figure in matches where she’s not the captain is 33.79. In T20Is, she averages 30.22 as captain and 23.25 when she’s not the captain.

The other aspect which gives her a significant edge and makes her one of the best of all time is her big match temperament.

She has played four editions of the ODI World Cup and her tally of 876 runs is second only to Raj among Indians, while her average of 51.52 and three hundreds are easily the best by an Indian. Her strike rate of 94.39 at those tournaments is the fifth best of all time among players who have scored a minimum of 200 runs at ODI World Cups. The names ahead of her: Chloe Tryon, Healy, Sciver and Sophie Devine.

Harmanpreet Kaur

Harmanpreet Kaur is one of the most successful T20I captains of all time.

Harmanpreet is the only Indian player to have played in each of the seven editions of the T20 World Cup and her strike rate of 108.78 is second only to Mandhana’s 110.37 among Indian players with a minimum of 200 runs at T20 World Cups.

Her average is a relatively low 19.91 but even that is the fourth best among Indians with a minimum of 200 T20 World Cup runs, after Raj, Punam Raut and Jemimah Rodrigues.

At 33, Harmanpreet is the oldest player in the current Indian squad but her fitness is second to none, with her taking her fair share of blinders this year, be it her stunning catch at third to dismiss Shafali Verma in the Women’s T20 Challenge or her three run outs in the do-or-die World Cup clash against South Africa earlier this year.

With a minimum of two World Cups scheduled in the next three years, India look set for a bright new era under the captaincy of Harmanpreet, who’s easily in the best form of her career.