Harmanpreet Kaur: Spearheading change in WBBL & women’s cricket

By Indira Laisram
Harmanpreet Kaur // Pic supplied

Harmanpreet Kaur is preparing for action once more, aware that the eyes of millions in her home country, India, and Australia are upon her. This formidable cricketer returns to the Melbourne Renegades for the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) after a season hiatus due to injury and is upbeat about making a significant impact on the field.

As the eagerly awaited season of WBBL unfolds, Kaur says, “The preparation was the same as what I had in the previous edition when I played. Unfortunately, the team’s performance didn’t go according to our plan, but we’ve acquired some truly exciting talent, both international and domestic. They are performing admirably, giving their best. The upcoming games are crucial, and we are hopeful of securing victories.”

Known for her adaptability, she emphasises being flexible with the batting order and seizing bowling opportunities.

Having played multiple seasons in the WBBL, Kaur, 34, reflects on the league’s impact on her growth as a player. The stark contrast in physical and fitness training between Indian and international teams became apparent early in her career.

Kaur is helping to change this. She recognises the necessity of bringing these learnings back to India, fostering a cultural shift in the approach to fitness in Indian cricket.

“In India, our culture isn’t relaxed, but the domestic team here excels in physical strength and fitness training. To elevate my international game, I realised I have to bring those things home. If we talk about cricket at the domestic level, we are still far behind in India. Things have undoubtedly improved in the past few years, so it will take time.

“Often, we criticise international players’ fitness, attributing it to training differences. We have to change that culture in India; we are still working to instil that change.”

Comparing WBBL and Women’s Premier League (WPL), a women’s Twenty20 cricket franchise league in India, Kaur notes that while the competition is equally strong, the number of games in WBBL provides more opportunities for players to prove themselves.

“The only difference is that the number of games here is more for a player to prove herself. Because, when talking about WPL, we get fewer matches, but in WBBL, domestic players have more opportunities with additional matches. Here, players, both individually and as a team, have more time to improve and grow. For domestic players, this is advantageous as it provides them with more opportunities to showcase their skills,” she says.

Her keen observation of different players each season contributes to her evolving game and serves as a bridge to address the gap in Indian domestic cricket.

The evolution of women’s cricket on a global scale is a theme close to Kaur’s heart. Leagues like the WBBL and WPL, in her view, play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the women’s game.

“When you play in these types of leagues, you can execute yourself in a different way, share experiences with local players, and get a chance to play with other overseas players. I believe it creates a unique feeling and atmosphere where you can be more expressive on the field. Personally, I’ve always taken this opportunity seriously because it’s the only platform where I can improve both as a player and as a leader. Regardless of what comes my way, I want to be ready for it and give my 100 percent,” she says.

A leader from a young age, Kaur acknowledges the importance of understanding teammates’ mindsets and adjusting to different leadership styles. As both a senior player and captain, she seamlessly juggles roles, focusing on her performance and adapting to the needs of the team.

Kaur’s return to the Renegades is not just a comeback; it’s a resurgence. Her accolades, including being the Player of the Tournament in WBBL|07, highlight her consistent brilliance. In 2021, she not only led the Renegades’ batting charts with 399 runs but also emerged as the club’s highest wicket-taker with 15 wickets. Her all-round excellence earned her the prestigious title of Player of the Tournament, a testament to her impact on the league.

As she gears up for the final stretch of the current WBBL season and anticipates the upcoming Test matches in India, the excitement in her voice is palpable. The prospect of playing a Test match on home ground is a rare and cherished opportunity, and she aims to savour every moment. The focus is not just on winning but on enjoying the experience, given the limited preparation time with the red ball, she says.

Kaur’s stardom is a likely outcome considering her achievements. Her story is not just about records and awards; it’s a narrative of breaking barriers and inspiring a generation.

From her historic 171* in the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup to being the first Indian player in the WBBL, she continues to pave the way for Indian cricket on the global stage. She is also a recipient of one of India’s highest sporting awards the Arjuna Award for Cricket in 2017.

As she dons the Renegades’ jersey once again, Kaur is determined to end the season on a high note.

While acknowledging the team’s suboptimal performance in the WBBL, the commendable team culture centres on accentuating positives, recognising strengths, and strategizing improvements, she believes.

“The admirable culture here is that they always find the positive in situations, find out what we have excelled in and how to do better, we talk about basics and if our basics are strong, the results will also be good. Our next four matches are very important, and we got a few days break… We hope to end the season well.”

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