“One thing (that has) always been constant is the burden that I have carried all through my career. I felt somewhere if I had few more (batswomen) to support me, maybe my game would have been much better than what it is or what it was.”
The Indian Women’s team skipper, Mithali Raj, said those words after India lost to Australia in the group stage of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. Much like Sachin Tendulkar, Raj has also shouldered the responsibility of the Indian women’s batting unit for almost two decades. And that has always somehow forced her to bat according to the needs of the team rather than having her own freedom.
“Coming into the World Cup, considering how the team has been performing in the last two years, I felt that it was the right time for me to elevate my own batting standards into the tournament. It has come back to the same phase where me being in the middle gives a lot of confidence to the others, and it keeps the dressing room more confident,” Raj had added.
Although, Krishnamurthy’s knock of 70 against New Zealand came in a supporting role to that of Raj’s fabulous century, it did turn the momentum of the game in India’s favour. But, it was still the skipper’s knock of 109 that held the innings together. Without that innings, it wouldn’t have been possible for Krishnamurthy to play the way she did. More importantly, without Raj’s innings, the result could have been completely different. No matter how much Krishnamurthy’s innings impacted that game, it would always be overshadowed by Raj’s innings.
However, the knock that Kaur played on Thursday against the defending champions Australia, helped her move out of Raj’s shadow and establish her own authority. Kaur’s knock of 171* will go down in the history books as one of the greatest knocks ever by an Indian in a knockout game. Indian fans have been treated to something like this after 34 years; it was back in the 1983 World Cup when Kapil Dev played that iconic knock of 175* against Zimbabwe. Since then, the world has rarely witnessed a player demolishing the Aussies in this manner in a World Cup knockout game.
Kaur walked out to bat when India were two down for 35 having lost both the openers, Raut and Mandhana, cheaply. It was a situation similar to the one she faced in the game against New Zealand. The only difference being that against the Kiwis she had played a rather subdued innings, a knock of 60 runs off 90 deliveries, which was very unlike her. However, that was more due to the pressure of failing to score big at a stretch. Scores of 24, 10, 20, 0 and 22 were all she had managed before that innings against the Kiwis that gave her a dose of much-needed confidence.
And she chose the best occasion to show what she could do in demanding situations. Mithali Raj had left her with an uphill task when she departed after scratching out 36 runs off 61 deliveries. The score read 101/3 with 17 overs to go and Kaur wasn’t looking in the best of shape either. But, she hung in there trying to find an escape. Australia, once again, had forced her to play a bit of a subdued innings. This time she was on 41 from 60 deliveries with Australia in firm control of the match.
However, once Kristen Beams let the momentum shift towards India with a no ball and a free-hit consequently, Kaur made took full advantage of it. The free hit resulted in a six and a boundary off a half-tracker later in the over helped the 28-year old to a fifty off 64 deliveries. Australia, would have still felt that they had everything under control. Little did they know that it was just the initial spark to the wildfire that was about to be witnessed.
When she reached her century, she was absolutely livid with her partner Deepti Sharma. Sharma’s ‘brain-fade’ moment almost ran Kaur out on 99. She had taken off her helmet but she wasn’t celebrating. Rather, she was yelling at Sharma. She was furious with her and wanted her to realise the gravity of the situation. And when Sharma was almost in tears, Kaur showed her softer side as she tried consoling her, telling her to forget everything and get back to business.
Her hundred had just come off 90 deliveries which meant she had scored her last 50 runs in just 26 deliveries. That shows the amount of damage she had done by then. But, it was going to be her her day and she wasn’t going to stop there. Another 25 deliveries followed in her innings and she scored 71 runs in those to take India to a mammoth total of 281/4 in their stipulated 42 overs. Her magnificent knock consisted of 20 fours and 7 massive sixes. It meant more than 65 percent of her runs had come in boundaries. That innings had completely shifted the momentum of the game in India’s favour and the Aussies could never get back into the match. Although, Elyse Villani (75) and Alex Blackwell (90) tried their best to match Kaur’s heroics, it still proved to be too much for them.
Kaur’s innings showed that Indian women’s cricket has greatly evolved over the past decade or two. India might have relied solely on Raj’s batting back then. But, the team have now got a lot of talent and potential in players like Kaur and Krishnamurthy. It’s time Raj plays the way she wants as it is almost the twilight of her career now. She has carried the burden of the Indian nation for almost two decades. It is now time that she puts her trust in other players and breathes easy.
(This article first appeared on Firstpost on July 21, 2017)