For Harmanpreet Kaur, playing for the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games “means a lot” and a favourable result in the final can “change a lot of things” for the game in India.
Speaking after India’s four-run win in a seesaw semi-final against England at Edgbaston on Saturday, Harmanpreet, now India’s all-format captain, said the result was possible because of the players’ immense self-belief and their never-say-die attitude. For the record, this was India’s first win in a knockout game in a T20I competition outside the Asia Cup.
“It means a lot for us, we’ve been working hard for so long,” Harmanpreet said. “This is a great platform for us. Participating for the first time [in the CWG], if we can do well [in the final], a lot of things can change for us.
“We never thought or wondered what we are playing for and what we aren’t playing for. [Gold] medal coming or not coming isn’t in our hands. We just want to play well. The way we’ve played so far, we’ve learnt a lot.”
At one stage, with England needing 33 off 24 balls with seven wickets in hand, it looked like the momentum may have slipped away from India. But their spinners, Deepti Sharma and Sneh Rana, delivered just when the team needed them to. For Harmanpreet, seeing the energy on the field right, especially under pressure, was a revelation.
“Until the last moment, we believed we could win, even though they had a couple of strong partnerships,” she said. “Even when they were going well, no one gave up. We’ve been working on this for a while. If you keep doing this, results will come at some point along the way, and I’m glad it is showing now.
“It was an important match. It feels good that that everyone stepped up to their responsibilities with the bat, ball and on the field. It’s important that all of them remain together in such matches. In the last over, if you see, our fast fielders took the responsibility of fielding in the deep. That shows how keen you are to do well for the team.”
Harmanpreet suggested that the key to India becoming serious contenders for global titles in recent times, even if they won any, was because they were trying to embrace pressure and not be intimidated by the big stage. She credited the support staff for trying to bring about this change and also for “bringing in new plans”.
“I’m a great fan of knowing how other teams are doing,” she said. “If you’re aware of it, you can plan. We need someone who can help us like that and I’m happy it’s working for us.”
Among the plans that were put to good use on Saturday were, firstly, taking pace off the ball against England’s middle-order batters, and secondly, having the deep-cover fielder squarer than usual in the death overs. The decision to bowl Shafali Verma in the 11th over, with England needing 79 off 60, was also such a move.
Earlier, India’s pacers had been taken for plenty, and Harmanpreet knew bringing herself on at that stage would have not have added much, given India had already used two offspinners in Deepti and Rana.
“When we brought her [Verma] in, there were two offspinners bowling,” Harmanpreet explained. “If we would have brought in a third [offspinner], it would have been easy for England. Shafali mixes it up well, she is always keen to bowl. You need someone who enjoys bowling and wants the ball in tough situations.
“Whenever I ask her if she wants to bowl, she gets excited. Under pressure, sometimes, a bowler may not be able to give it their best, but her excitement motivates the others too. It sends out a message that if someone who isn’t a regular bowler is so keen to bowl and make a difference, it gives extra responsibility to the [main] bowlers.”
On the batting front, Harmanpreet said the plan was to go big in the powerplay to try and take England by surprise. On the day, Smriti Mandhana‘s charge, which brought her a 23-ball fifty – the fastest for India in T20Is – helped India massively, and their 50 came up off 4.3 overs, their quickest in the format.
“The reason why we batted [after winning the toss] is we wanted to dominate in the first six,” Harmanpreet said. “We were ready to lose one wicket, but we needed to utilise the first six overs on a fresh wicket. The way Smriti batted was outstanding to watch. We were looking for more than 150. In games like these, you need to have [a big] total on the board.
“Smriti is someone who is keen to do well for the team always. That innings charged us up, and when the opponent’s body language is down, we could utilise those moments. Also, the way Jemi [Jemimah Rodrigues, who made 44 not out off 31 balls] batted was outstanding. We needed someone who could finish and it was great that she was there till the last ball.”