The most impressive thing about Harmanpreet Kaur during WBBL02 was her aggressive style of play © Getty Images
The most impressive thing about Harmanpreet Kaur during WBBL02 was her aggressive style of play © Getty Images

In almost every tournament or series there is usually one moment that remains etched in your mind for its sheer brilliance; a moment that defines the series for you — one that takes your breath away. This moment is not necessarily linked to a milestone in a player’s career or to a turning point in a game. There is, however, something special about it, something other-worldly.

One such moment during the 2003 ICC World Cup in South Africa was Sachin Tendulkar’s leaping uppercut off Shoaib Akhtar into the stands of SuperSport Park. In the 2008 Commonwealth Bank series in Australia, it was once again the Master Blaster at work, this time smashing Brett Lee straight down the Melbourne Cricket Ground. More recently, the world witnessed the jaw-dropping performance of Roger Federer at the Australian Open — the manner in which he caressed a backhand winner from around the net post against Kei Nishikori in the fourth round.

In the second edition of the Women’s Big Bash League, that ‘moment’ was provided by Harmanpreet Kaur on the very first day of the tournament. The India Women’s Twenty20 captain, playing her first innings for Sydney Thunder, launched into a wide half-volley from Gemma Triscari, Melbourne Stars’ left-arm seamer, and sent it sailing over the extra-cover boundary, leaving everyone, including the bowler, in utter disbelief.

With that six, Harman announced her arrival to the Australian public and set the tone for a successful tournament. She played 13 matches for Thunder, scoring 296 runs at an impressive average of 59.20 with a strike rate of just under 117. She also chipped in with some useful wickets with her off-spin, including her best figures of 4 for 27 against Melbourne Stars. Her exploits earned her Sydney Thunder’s WBBL02 Player of the Tournament. It was not just the value she brought with bat and ball: the most impressive thing about Harman during the tournament was the aggressive style of play.

Over the past few years, if there has been any criticism of Harman’s batting on the international circuit, it is that she has become rather defensive — something that is alien to her. Rewind to the 2009 ICC Women’s World Cup, where a young Harmanpreet Kaur had made people sit up and take notice when she pummeled an unbeaten 8-ball 19 against Australia at the North Sydney Oval. On display were her ferocious bat-speed, power and desire to dominate like her idol, Virender Sehwag.

As she grew to become one of India’s mainstay in the middle order, Harman learned to play the longer, more mature innings and curbed her natural instincts for what she believed was the greater good. She knew the onus was on her to score a bulk of the runs and grew into a more well-rounded batter. Once in a while, when the situation demanded it, she would unleash her power, but typically kept her game risk-free, choosing to settle down and plod for runs before playing her trademark aerial strokes.

At WBBL, however, she played with great freedom and in her usual dominant style. She hit 11 sixes and 17 fours, perfectly picking her moments to attack. There was a newfound confidence about her, somewhat of a swagger.

In her very first outing, she nearly pulled off a coup, when she scored a rapid 28-ball 47 against Melbourne Stars. With 45 runs required off the last 3 overs a win seemed improbable, but Harman dug deep, hit straight and more often than not, cleared the boundary. Despite her heroics, her team fell tantalizingly short of the target. Sydney Thunder lost the match by 6 runs.

If the loss was hard to digest, she did not show it, putting on another impressive performance against the same opposition in the next game. She picked up four crucial wickets and scored an unbeaten 21-ball 30 to seal the victory — as was her style in Australia, she did so by belting a huge six. If anything, Harman was making a statement: Indian batters could not only time the ball but could also bludgeon it.

Sydney Thunder may have failed to qualify for the knockout stage, but Harman certainly strengthened her position as one of the world’s leading players. Often, in what seemed like helpless positions, she continued to try and push her team to victory. In her last outing of the WBBL season against Perth Scorchers, Harman smashed a belligerent 64 off 37 balls, including 6 sixes and a four. Thunder lost the game by 4 runs, but their Player of the Tournament made sure to sign off with a bang.

Ahead of the tournament, Harman had argued what set the Australians apart was not their skill, but their mindset and training routines. She was keen to lap up all she could during her stint with the defending WBBL champions, and the time she spent with the likes of Alex Blackwell and Stafanie Taylor clearly helped her grow. The fighting spirit that she always possessed was further strengthened, as were her belief and confidence in her abilities.

It was that spirit that India’s ODI vice-captain carried with her for the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in Colombo. She struggled to find her timing through the initial phase of the tournament, but in the final against South Africa, that fight shone through. With 8 runs required off 2 balls, her sheer determination and desire to win carried the ball over the boundary rope and took India to victory. This new version of Harman no longer looks for tailor-made situations to stamp her class on a match; instead, she adapts her game to suit the conditions and is confident that her ability will carry her through.

Well before she embarked on her WBBL journey, Harman had established herself as the leader of the young Indian batting brigade that was making many heads turn. She did not need to go to Australia to prove her worth on the international circuit — she is, without doubt, a player of very high pedigree. If anything, her stint with Sydney Thunder has broken the shackles and set the old Harman free. She is still calculative and extremely responsible, but she is also willing to let the Sehwag side of her take over from time to time.

And that shot is proof enough — it was calm, calculated and brutal, yet oh so easy on the eye!