Commonwealth Games 2022 – Harmanpreet Kaur leads India out of the shadows of legends and into a new era

The 2022 Commonwealth Games really feels like the beginning of a new era in Indian women’s cricket. An era without the towering presence of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, who were always present in at least one format until this year’s ODI World Cup in New Zealand.

For the past twenty years, Mithali and Goswami have been synonymous with Indian women’s cricket, and they have been integral to many of its turning points: South Africa’s historic 2002 Test victory, second place at the 2005 World Cup, victories over England in Tests at Taunton (2006) and Wormsley (2014), and a first-ever series win (in T20Is) in Australia in 2016.

It is surreal to think of India at a global event without Mithali and Goswami as active cricketers. The two long-serving teammates and friends led the lights through turbulent times. 2017.

Goswami retired from T20Is in 2018 and Mithali in 2019, and yet, as long as they were active in ODIs, the power of their presence permeated all formats. In Mithali’s case, ODI captaincy meant she still had a strong influence on the squad.

So while Harmanpreet Kaur had a certain way of leading her T20I team, there was a sense that it wasn’t always hair team. In a way, it was as if Ajinkya Rahane intervened to lead the Indian test team when Virat Kohli was rested. It was Rahane’s team at the time, but it was always Kohli’s team.

It’s no secret that Mithali and Harmanpreet were captains with different methods of leadership and often had to find a middle ground. Where Mithali often took a safety approach by preferring to play an extra batter—a luxury she lacked for much of her career—Harmanpreet tended to take an aggressive route, often with five bowlers and an all-rounder.

Mithali was all about steady accumulation as a batter; Harmanpreet is brimming with energy. It was only when it came to the point that under Mithali’s captaincy, India finally handed an ODI debut to Shafali Verma, whose power-hitting at the top had been a breath of fresh air on the T20I side. Until then, India had preferred the assurance of Punam Raut, who was more sedate and orthodox compared to Shafali.

Harmanpreet’s mantra is very different: she supports herself and her team to play aggressively. She has tried to get more out of her players, for example by encouraging Richa Ghosh and Yastika Bhatia to keep wicket so that the team can play an extra batter or bowler depending on the circumstances.

Ahead of the Sri Lanka tour in June, Harmanpreet said at her first press conference after becoming a full-time ODI captain that she finally felt that this was her team now.

“When there were two different captains, sometimes things weren’t easy because we… [Mithali and I] they both had different ideas,” she said. “Now I can easily ask them [the players] what I expect from them. Things will be much easier for me and clear for my teammates too.”

Harmanpreet, 33, is at the peak of her ability and has overcome a string of bad form. In Smriti Mandhana, she has a calm, mature vice-captain who not only leads the way as a batter, but also as a role model for future cricketers.

Missing the 2022 World Cup, Jemimah Rodrigues is poised to become the next mid-sized linchpin across all formats, taking on the role Mithali once played. Rodrigues is currently in excellent shape and has turned her career around after stints in The Hundred and the WBBL.

Yastika is another freestyle woman who plays with the energy that Harmanpreet loves and supports. She has credited Hardik Pandya for helping develop a power play after the two teamed up in Vadodara when Hardik recovered from his back injury late last year. This shift in approach has gradually allowed India to be more aggressive and achieve higher scores as a batting unit.

However, with the ball, India has plenty of work to do to be a force at the Commonwealth Games. Legspinner Poonam Yadav is not the force she was two years ago. With India’s bias towards multi-skilled cricketers, Poonam appears to have lost to Sneh Rana, who has proven himself as an all-rounder in both white-ball formats.

While India has identified several players who can fill Mithali’s void, finding a replacement for Goswami is more difficult. There is a group of young sailors – Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur and Pooja Vastrakar – coming through, but their inexperience was evident in their final World Cup group match against South Africa. India lost that match and was knocked out of the tournament, even as an injured Goswami sat on the bench, crippled.

In many ways, the Sri Lanka tour leading up to the Commonwealth Games was India’s first step into the post-Mithali-Goswami era. Both legends may still have a big part to play in shaping Indian women’s cricket – as administrators, for instance – but there’s a sense that the national team has finally moved on.

Harmanpreet’s team is now in Birmingham to take part in the first women’s cricket event at the Commonwealth Games. A medal would be the perfect way to usher in a new era in Indian cricket.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.