The helmet is bouncing, the gloves are on the ground, and Harmanpreet Kaur is screaming. She has 100 runs, she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care that her bandana has come off, that she is dirty, that her partner may be out. She is angry that Deepti Sharma didn’t listen to her. Harmanpreet started screaming at Deepti while she was still running. Had she been further down the pitch, she would have picked Deepti up and tossed her like she did the helmet. Deepti is almost in tears; she won’t even look up, she’s afraid of Harmanpreet.
And she should be. In this mood, Harmanpreet is angry, Harmanpreet is a monster.
Harmanpreet was 10 from 10 while Mithali Raj was collecting dot balls like they were rare beanie babies. But something stopped Harmanpreet almost dead. For the next 29 balls, she made nine runs. All in singles. It looked like Raj and Harmanpreet had a non-scoring pact.
But Harmanpreet was going against muscle memory, neural plasticity and her cricket senses. So, of course, she dropped to her knee and planted Kristen Beams over midwicket for a four. That got India to 77 for 2 at the halfway point. Raj left Harmanpreet with little more than a slow 36 and it all to do. Ashleigh Gardner had 1 for 9 from her five overs. In the last game, it was Punam Raut and Raj who made all the runs. With them both gone, Australia were sharpening their knives, waiting for all that pressure to give them an easy chase. After all, Harmanpreet couldn’t do it all on her own.
The ball lands at gully on the full. It came straight from the errant hand of Kristen Beams, up into the cloudy skies of Derbyshire, over Harmanpreet and Alyssa Healy, and just plonked in the turf metres from anyone. It was the fullest of full-tosses; the umpire couldn’t even work out what it was. It turned out it was a no ball, which meant Free Hit.
Up until that point Harmanpreet had been human; she’d got stuck, hit a couple of decent boundaries and was 41 from 60. The Free Hit ended up in the beer garden underneath the players’ dressing rooms. It was a free gift, a free six. Beams wasn’t finished with the offerings; she finished the over with a half-tracker, Harmanpreet finished with a boundary and her fifty.
If that full-toss looked hilarious at the time, by the end of the game it looked like one of the worst balls in Australian World Cup history. The ball that woke the beast.
Harmanpreet scored over midwicket like it was her personal property, her wagon wheel might as well have said this is Harmanpreet’s house. Between wide long-on and deep square leg, every single woman ever born in Australia could have stood there and they wouldn’t have stopped what came.
Australia tried extra fielders in the ring, leg-side heavy fields, off-side heavy fields, and all the players up on the offside. It didn’t matter, Harmanpreet hit the ball where she wanted. They tried offspin, legspin, pace, medium-pace and slow left-arm orthodox. It was the kind of balanced attack coaches dream about. Harmanpreet ate it.
Jess Jonassen goes at four an over usually with her left-arm sliders. If you ever visit Derby’s ground you can find parts of her scattered around the long-on boundary. Even when Jonassen had the audacity to try something clever, like fire the ball down the leg side when Harmanpreet was running to devour her, it didn’t work. Harmanpreet just stopped, reached, and whipped the wide fast leg-side stumping ball over backward square leg. You could bowl her a grenade, and she’d blow you up with it.
You remember how I said Gardner bowled her first five overs for nine runs. Well, then Harmanpreet found her.
Over 37. A running flick wide of deep midwicket – a combination of power and placement – it hit the rope an inch off the ground, like she was trolling the Australians. But that was the warm-up; the next ball was a huge swipe that is currently in Leicestershire, or Staffordshire, or anywhere but here. Australia try to change the field and the line, get it away from her legs. So she goes over mid-off, through the covers and over point. 23 runs in the over.
If you don’t remember that over, it’s fine. Just ask Gardner about it and you’ll be able to relive every part of it as she screams.
Harmanpreet needs a break. She has literally battered Australia so much all the electrolytes in her body are at deep midwicket. The human body was not meant to be this awesome. Harmanpreet is like the Millennium Falcon, travelling faster than she was designed to travel. The only breaks she gives Australia are when she’s on the ground being looked after.
Once she gets up, there is a dot ball; it seems an hour and several entire lifetimes since anyone saw Harmanpreet face one. Maybe she is broken, maybe this is over, maybe she is smashing the ball through cover and mid-off like it’s been carried by a team of speedy elves, maybe she’s clearing mid-off with a slap so disrespectful it should be rectified by a duel off ten paces.
At this point Australia give up trying to stop her. Elyse Villani comes on to bowl slow-medium-dibble-dobbly-change-up part-timers. It’s like trying to kill Godzilla by putting a puppy at her feet. Villani’s only hope of survival is keeping Harmanpreet off strike, a job she does spectacularly poorly when her first ball is a wide so horrible that Healy can’t grab it and they take a single bringing the ogre back on strike.
The next ball clears midwicket, and all but travels back to Australia and lands in Villani’s backyard. There is a four, a wicket of some bit player at the other end, and then another four. Villani’s one over is a decent spell of bowling – 1 for 19. She won’t darken the crease again. She wouldn’t dare.
More bad things happen to Jonassen, things she’ll still be having nightmares over when she’s 70. Then Megan Schutt gets the last over; Harmanpreet slashes one away to start the over like pretty much so many of the rest. Then she goes to the other end for a single, and she falls. Her body has finally had enough. All the anger, the awesomeness, it has taken a toll, and she is all but a pool of her own magnificence at the non-strikers end, a husk, with an unbeaten 171 from 115. She’s made 4.75 times the score of the next best Indian. Over 60% of their total runs. One-twenty-one off her last 51 balls. Other numbers. So many great numbers. But she’s carried off the field by the goodwill of Indian fans and the last bits of human energy she is left with.
The TV cameras stop her and she says, “I got a little bit angry [during the run-out chance], but we are fine now.” The Harmonster has done her job.