"Form is temporary, class is permanent."
For every sports fan, this oft-quoted adage comes to the rescue when their favoured player remains caught up in the midst of a slump- a phase where the ball fails to middle the bat; or when those foreheads constantly find its resting place in the tennis net.
It fills one with frustration, with a strange sense of agitation. The athlete, who had enjoyed being the toast of the nation and swivelled his way to the summit with an insane consistency, is suddenly caught up in the mesh of terrible footwork and technique. Every moment and every match remains a test for the athlete that he is; for his ability to make a mark even when the going seems very tough.
He walks out to the fields or the courts, expecting an encore.
He walks back dejected. A sullen figure.
And this is what segregates the ordinary from the extraordinary. Trapped in the hullabaloo of criticism and peering eyes; with his back towards the wall and the purple patch far behind him, an athlete carves his niche when it is least anticipated. Producing a spell that fills one with nostalgia, reminding one of his heydays, a champion marks his comeback in the most dominating way ever.
These knocks stay on; the champion is restored.
Far off the track for Big Bash hero
Indian Women’s Cricket Team’s Harmanpreet Kaur gained unprecedented popularity after her stint in the Big Bash, where she emerged the second highest run-scorer for the Sydney Thunders last summer, notching up 296 runs in 12 innings at a staggering average of 59.2. Earmarking a name for herself as a reliable finisher, courtesy her stroke-play and clean cricketing shots, Kaur rode her way to the Thunders’ Women’s Player of the Year award, as she forced the world to sit up and take note.
However, after her stint Down Under, a drought of scores in the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers and the Quadrangular Series followed. Defined by patchy footwork, Kaur’s stamina and ability were questioned as a string of low scores were what followed.
The Indian, who made her debut in 2009, last scored a half-century against Sri Lanka in Ranchi last year and even though her skills were unquestionable, her form, or rather the lack of it, remained a worry.
As Punam Raut, Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, Veda Krishnamurthy and Deepti Sharma blazed away in the ongoing World Cup in England, Kaur remained cocooned in the shell. Till the semi-finals, the 28-year old had notched up 77 in 6 innings - pretty shambolic to say the least.
But as is the norm, the greats identify themselves in conditions that are way out of one’s comfort zone. With the deluge of pressure and mounting expectations, Harmanpreet gave a slight glimpse of her credentials against the crucial must-win game against New Zealand, scoring 60 off 90 deliveries.
The semi-final game against Australia was her heralding.
The monster; the inhuman and the Powerpuff Girl
With India reeling at 35-2 and Raj fighting her way to score runs, India’s innings seemed in deep waters. As Raj kept piling on to the hill of dot balls, Kaur struggled for momentum. She was a bundle of nervousness, not having faced more than 23 deliveries in a single innings in the particular tournament, barring one match.
The nerves and the consciousness had ventured into a timeless arena. Runs were hard and the fight back would be harder.
With the match reduced to 42-overs, India reached 101 in 24 overs when Raj departed after a snail’s pace 36, which had been carefully accumulated over 61 deliveries. With the consistent Raut and the captain in the hut, Australia whiffed an opportunity.
Kaur was struggling. The Indian Team was struggling. An exit seemed on the cards.
Trudging her way to each run, India’s innings till then, had been defined by a weary laziness and the failure to answer the questions that Ashleigh Gardner or Megan Schutt threw at them. Up until the 27th over.
Kaur, who was batting on 35 from 59 deliveries, plonked Kristen Beams’s full-length delivery for a six. It was a no-ball and she was rewarded a free hit.
This was just the initiative Kaur needed to break her monk-like stance. The Free Hit boomed for yet another maximum. The over finished with a four. The half-century was done and dusted in 64 balls. But the battle remained.
Rather, it had just begun.
What followed was carnage. Pelting away each ball with all her might; smashing the midwicket and thereabouts with her brutal shots and devouring each obstacle, Kaur’s insatiable hunger came to the fore.
The second fifty was reached in 26 balls. The hundred in 90.
Her emotions were on full display in the 35th over of the innings, when she wanted two runs off the bowling of Beams. Deepti, slow in her tracks, failed to run the second. She had reached her hundred, but the celebrations remained missing.
Instead, the helmet bounced off and the gloves came off. A shriek of exhilaration. Of pent-up emotions and feelings.
The Indian was charged up. The emotions were pelting. Deepti bore the brunt of her anger. The anger of a beast who had wanted to explode and was finally roaring high in his own den.
Scoring like the stadium was her arena and the assault her birth-right, Kaur played with the brimming confidence of the Australian bowlers- carefully diminishing it, layer by layer. You could throw anything at her and it would be swallowed, in just a gulp.
Bring on the best and the best will be beaten.
The 37th was sheer supremacy- a running flick wide of deep mid-wicket raced away for a four. The next one was sent for a huge six. The next went soaring over mid-off, through the covers and over point. 23 runs off Gardner’s bowling, who till then had just conceded nine runs in the first 5 overs.
The six in the 39th, off the bowling of Elyse Villani, was even better. A slog sweep over mid-wicket, as she raced ahead to a staggering 140, with shots that stood out for their blatant power and cricketing skills.
Her last 71 runs were notched up in just 25 deliveries! Limping and battling injuries, the right-hander did not care to think of the psychological impact that her innings had upon her rivals, who had stopped trying to control her. They know they could not. She was that magnificent.
As the last ball of the innings was bowled, Harmanpreet was on her knees, a figure of frailty and weakness- after she had just sacrificed every ounce of her energy for the Indian team. Revelling in her own magnificence, the Punjabi stopped to smile as she limped back to the dressing room.
The numbers flashed on.
How she had made 60% of the Indian runs. How she was the second-highest score by an Indian Women in the ODI format. How she had the highest score by an Indian in the knock-out stages of the World Cup- both men and women. How it reminded one and all of Kapil Dev’s historical 175 not out in the 1983 World Cup.
But the numbers did not matter. They really didn’t. Throughout the Australian innings, it was just a weird wonderment that remained, similar to the one that Ricky Ponting had inflicted during his knock of 141 against India in the 2003 World Cup Finals.
He had sapped India out of all energy that day.
It was Kaur who sapped Australia out of theirs.
As the knock rode its way to record books, Kaur emerged as the undefeated monster; the inhuman human and the indomitable Powerpuff Girl that had been waiting to unleash her magic. She managed to do just that, and much much more!
The awe-inspiring innings can be witnessed here.Published 21 Jul 2017, 12:22 IST