Harmanpreet Kaur was timing the ball sweetly at the Mosley Cricket training ground, two days before the Commonwealth Games kicked off with the first women’s T20 competition. But it was in her warm-up that the Indian captain made her intentions clear.
There was no net bowler or throwdown specialist around. In fact, there wasn’t even a bat in sight. Instead, a long golf driver, bent at the edge and gleaming silver, caught streaks of the Solihull sunlight, well before Edgbaston’s crackling opener pitting a fearless India shrugging their shoulders in a ‘so what’ manner against world champions Australia.
Later in the net cage, Harmanpreet swapped the driver for a bat, and hit them far and nicely chunky, looking ready for the big battle ahead. “She uses the golf swing simulation for hip-shoulder dissociation. It’s her own unique thing,” explained Team India physio Anand Date. “Harman has a natural swing, and it helps her get into rhythm.”
A dozen-odd nice drives, arms freed and shoulders unlocked with the hip and shoulders getting into proper six-hitting motion, Harman proceeded to the nets.
The 171 in the 2017 World Cup semifinal is a thing of the ancient past, though the Australians might not forget that 50-over blitz in a hurry. India start as firm underdogs against the domineering Aussies, but the team has carefully tossed the pressure on their opponents by casually hinting that they don’t exactly quake in their boots at the prospect of the opener. Smriti Mandhana on departure and later Yastika Bhatia on arrival shrugged away the reputation differential. It’s T20, and the Aussies better respect the inherent unpredictability, they suggested.
You know, you never know.
The Indian team gave the first peek into Indian CWG jerseys – the BCCI logo missing on this rare occasion, and the I of India a three-band tricolour.
Camped at a hotel with just the beach volleyball teams for company, it’s the closest they’ll experience a ‘Games village’ as accommodation is fragmented across the West Midlands for the Birmingham Games. The team flew in from Bengaluru and were upgraded to first class, one of few perks of being cricketers. Not all sports could afford that.
But otherwise, they have been left to themselves. The opening ceremony is a no-go with the Indians playing the next day at 10.30 am. And the team is enjoying the rare instance of sharing rooms with fixed slots allotted. Some of the support staff, never trimmed for international tours, was checked into a hotel at their own cost, and the young team is in a good mind space hoping to hit Edgbaston with a bang.
A day before the Indians, the Barbados team was at Mosley – equally chattery and hitting long. But blasting music, more laidback before the women open their campaign. South Africa are arriving without two top names, and Australia are rusty. England as hosts are all primed, but it’s the Indians who will bring in the crowds – especially in the second pool game against Pakistan, with the local communities jointly excited to watch that faceoff.
Yastika enjoying new role
Yastika was told on match-eve during India’s recent tour of Sri Lanka that she would keep wickets. She had a faint whiff of it, but was simply glad that an extra batter could be accommodated if she strapped on the big gloves, and now an extra bowler can walk into the team with her taking on the additional mantle.
“Since childhood, I’ve loved to keep wickets. I love the feel of the big gloves in the hands,” she says, adding that she continues sending videos to Kiran More, who’s helping her log in rapid improvements.
She’s undergone some serious mental strengthening work under Mugdha Bavare, who also works with Shreyas Iyer. “I wasn’t happy after the last tour but there were continuous matches. So, I began working on the mental aspect besides recovery, fitness and running techniques.” Yastika has put in work into her running technique, though she is some way from haring about like Smriti. “I feel lighter on the field now and match focus is high,” she says joking that she’s also a “free girl” now, having wrapped up her graduation.
For the team, it was important to down Sri Lanka 3-0. “We wanted a clean sweep, usually we end up with 2-1.” This time the knife had to be driven down, twisting it deep, nice and proper.
The last few weeks have turned Yastika into a movie buff, the latest from the Minions franchise her favourite, plus three movies in the last five days.
Keeping wickets has also helped her get a wider lens affixed on the game. And like her idol MS Dhoni, she wants to bring astuteness in her game reading and aggression in her batting. But otherwise, it’s a lot of keeping the atmosphere light and playing pranks on Shafali Verma. “Bohot dinon ke baad roommates ko jhelna ho raha hai (We are getting roommates after a long time). So we are enjoying,” she laughs.
Besides the throwdown pro, physio, masseuse and trainer, the team also has a dedicated video analysis unit for the first time. The Commonwealth Games might not be the World Cups cricket prizes traditionally, but the CWG medal holds the potential to push women’s cricket into the next orbit. Both hockey and cricket at the same Games gives Indians plenty to root for. It all started with a boundary-side golf swing though, of Harmanpreet, a la Bryson DeChambeau.