“Think this is the last time we’ll get tickets at these throwaway price(s) to watch the kind of stars that we got in action here.”
Amod, a recent college graduate, is new to women’s cricket but is intrigued enough to know that the inaugural Women’s Premier League kicks off on a Saturday not far from his home. The Punekar is a huge Smriti Mandhana fan, but he has always supported Mumbai Indians in the IPL.
“I’ll settle for Harman [Harmanpreet Kaur, MI Women captain] as well,” he chuckled, flashing his self-painted MI tattoo on the side of his cheek and unfurling the flag he found just outside the DY Patil Stadium. The 23-year-old has also dragged three of his non-cricket-watching buddies to the DY Patil Stadium, one of whom is reluctantly obtaining their tickets at a very packed box office in 35-degree heat.
“But as soon as I heard Mumbai had a women’s squad, I knew I had to watch and follow [the games].” The other two members of his group scoffed at the assertion right once, but Amod would have been vindicated within a couple of hours.
And his new MI captain was the one who told him it was okay. Harmanpreet Kaur, who didn’t eat breakfast that July morning in Derbyshire, brought women’s cricket to India’s attention. This March, even though she hadn’t practiced much, she lit up the competition that came from it, which was long overdue.
After hitting her first boundary, which was the first of 14 she hit in her 30-ball score of 65, Harmanpreet hit the packed off-side field that Australia-dominated Gujarat Giants had set up for her with pinpoint accuracy, finding gaps where there weren’t supposed to be any and making fielders in the deep make mistakes. Even though all of the drives and pulls were there, she didn’t wait long to bring out her favorite sweeps.
Every time Mumbai Indians won a game, the team’s anthem, “Aali re,” was played to celebrate. This was usually prompted by the DJ, but it was played anyway. There were seven of these prompts in a row, with the 15th over break in between. As Harmanpreet raced to her fastest T20 fifty (22 balls), she and Amelia Kerr put on 97 runs together in just 49 balls. This meant that Mumbai’s enviable lower-middle was ready for the final flourish. The one where over 200 posts were made on the first night, and their captain was in the middle of it all.
Things really worked out well for Harmanpreet. The captain, who admits to being a thinker, didn’t have much time to be upset about India’s strange run-out in the T20 World Cup semifinal because she joined the MI squad the day after India was eliminated. Since then, she has been busy watching intra-squad practice games, giving pep talks at team dinners, running from one meeting to the next, meeting with sponsors, and talking to the press.
Even on D day, Punjabi rapper AP Dhillion’s latest chart-toppers at the glitzy opening ceremony kept her moving and made her “feel at home.” At the ceremony where the trophy was given out, the home crowd cheered loudest for her out of all five captains. This added to the feeling of being “at home.” A little earlier in the day, the whole team got together to get their first caps from head coach Charlotte Edwards or one of her assistants. Shortly after that, The Hundred teammate Kate Cross gave them a boundary-line hug.
In the middle of all of this and more, there was only one training session and a clear reminder to live in the present. So, with the bat in her hand, it didn’t look like Harmanpreet had spent the last week in meetings, even though that’s what made her feel better.
Harmanpreet said after the game, “To be honest, I didn’t think or plan too much for this innings in particular.” “I just wanted to help the team whenever I had the chance… I can only be thankful that I was able to say what I wanted on the field and that I got to bat at the right time and was able to make the most of it. Whoever was on the other end was also getting runs, so it got easier for me, and I didn’t feel any pressure “she said.
“When I’m calmer and more present, it helps me see things more clearly. It’s not easy to be in that zone, but when I’m calm, I can see things more clearly. I have to keep talking to myself and stay in the present. When I’m in the zone, I’m clearer about what I want to do and things are easy for me. Today was one of those days when I was in the zone.”
There were clear parallels between this and the Brendon McCullum chaos in Bangalore 15 years ago. In the first games of two groundbreaking tournaments, the teams were given the chance to bat first. Both times, they ended up scoring more than 200 runs and holding the other team to a low score, which was a complete wipeout. This game was a big hit in the same way as another big hit, but it was also important in another way.
With so many investors and other interested parties giving WPL high ratings, it was important to show why the product is worth it. And the fact that an Indian set the example was even more important. Harmanpreet’s fifty, which won the game, wasn’t as big as McCullum’s, but it did get and keep people in their seats.
As Amod did, for MI’s sake.