Following a historic Asian Games gold for the country, in what was India’s very first attempt in the discipline in the multi-sport event, Harmanpreet Kaur and Co. have a busy December to look ahead to. BCCI, earlier last week, had announced that India will be playing a multi-format women’s series against England, followed by Australia. But the biggest takeaway from the announcement was that India, for the first time in nine years, will be playing a Test match at home. Harmanpreet was part of that 2014 one-off match where the hosts had beaten South Africa and while the captain herself eagerly awaits to make most of the big opportunity come December, she did express regret over the lack of experience the team has, “even at the domestic level”. In fact, since that match in Mysore, India, overall, played just two red-ball games in international cricket, one each against England and Australia in the summer of 2021.
Speaking to Hindustan Times Digital in an exclusive chat, Harmanpreet opened up on her experience of being part of a freshly-challenging Asian Games contest, the actioned-packed home season that awaits Team India and the preparation for the T20 World Cup next year. The India captain also talked about her long association with sports brand, PUMA and their ‘Let There Be Sport’ campaign.
Here are excerpts…
Q) When we talk about cricket, World Cup is the ultimate contest, followed by Asia Cup for India. But then all of a sudden you have a tournament like the Asian Games. What was the experience like? Was it different? Less pressure?
If I talk about other tournaments like World Cup or Asia Cup, where we play league games and then we are qualify for the semis and then the final. But here the biggest challenge, which I felt, was like we started directly in the quarter finals, otherwise you always have a bit of chance where you can bounce back and you can always change your plan. But in Asian Games every game was very important for us, we had to win all the games to win the gold so that was something bit of challenging. I think apart from that cricket and mindset was same.
Q) How would you place this Asian Games gold medal then? Has the historic feat sunk in yet?
Gold medal is always a special achievement for any athlete. And for me, also participating in Asian Games, firstly, it was a dream-come-true moment because growing up we never thought that one day we will also be part of Asian Games and even the Commonwealth and now participating in Olympics. So I think that was something as a cricketer, we never thought about. But the moment we got to know that now we can also play Asian Games, as a team we were very happy and we were looking to win the gold for our country. And I’m actually glad that is how things turned out.
Q) For years we have talked about having a Women’s Premier League (WPL). And preceding that we saw the U19 women’s World Cup for the first time this year. If you could stress on this route and the benefits India could reap because we did witness some of the players making it through in this fashion in Asian Games itself.
Cricket at junior level, it’s always going to help a senior team to grow because you always get so much talent from under-19 level. And WPL was something we always wanted to play because such leagues, even The Hundred and Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), are where as a cricketer, you can always go and express yourself and learn from your overseas teammates. But under-19 level was something which was always very important. And we were very happy that this year the World Cup happened and I think it was a great achievement for our team. They have done really well. And from our U19 level we have got some really good talent and they are part of now senior team as well. And some of them are participating in WPL. And I’m sure many more young athletes we will see at junior level who can be part of the senior team also. And they can always bring so much talent to the team.
Q) You have had a great association with PUMA so far. How partnership with PUMA has changed your mindset
Well, Puma is like a family now. From day one. They have working so hard to take women cricket to the next level. They have done so many associations, they have done so many campaign where they can bring that awareness to our people, where that cricket is everyone’s game. It’s not just meant to be men’s game. So I think they have done so many campaign, they have done so many things. Not only for me, I think at ground level also. They have been working with so many young athletes who can do so much for Indian level sport. I think in Asian games also, so many Puma athletes, they have won so many medals. So I think that shows that Puma has been doing so great for all the athletes, not only me. And I’m really happy that I’ve got this opportunity where I’m working a brand like Puma who’s been so nice to so many athletes and whenever we need, they’re always available for us and making our shoes, our clothes, according to our requirement. They are always someone who always listen to their athletes and always ready to make those changes like whatever we need. And I think they have been really nice and I think I’m glad that I’ve got this opportunity to work with them.
Shreya Sachdev, Head of Marketing, PUMA India: As a brand, PUMA is extremely proud and delighted to back Indian sporting talent. In the 19th Asian Games, PUMA extended its support to over 110 athletes across 18 sporting disciplines. More than 60% of the participating athletes were women, reflecting the brand’s commitment to support, celebrate and empower women in sports. From the historic 107 medals at the multi-sport event in China, PUMA-backed athletes secured 42 medals for the country. This clearly indicates the potential of Indian athletes to perform well at the global level if they have strong support. PUMA will continue to drive and invest in sports culture in the country.
Q) Puma has been actively promoting sports and also launched Let There Be Sport campaign. How important is that for Indian sports?
Yeah, as I mentioned, they have been doing so great. They are bringing that awareness to our people where they can take support as a career. They have been working at ground level, they have been finding so many young talent who can who can bring so much talent to the field. So I think they have been very helpful for all the athletes, not only at international level, even at the junior level and the ground level athlete. So they have been someone who is always finding the talent in athletes and they have been really nice to every athlete. And I think a brand like Puma, it’s an honor that athlete like me who are working with them coming back to cricket.
Q) India have an action packed home season ahead against Australia and England. But the takeaway is the two test matches. For the first time in nine years, India will be playing a Test match in India. You were part of that last test match in 2014….
Well, playing Test cricket is always something that as athlete we want to be part of. I was a little unlucky when last Test we played against Australia. I was injured then. But now again I have got this opportunity especially in home conditions and with two Test matches coming up, I’m really looking forward to grab this opportunity with both the hands. And I’m sure we will try to do our best because now we don’t have much experience when we talk about Test games because even at our domestic level we don’t play nowadays this form of cricket. But still we are looking for this opportunity and I’m sure as a team we will put our best performance forward.
Q) This series will also start of India’s preparation for the T20 World Cup next year. How do you think the team is shaping up for the event so far?
Look, we have been working with young athletes. We try to give each and everyone opportunity before the main event. And now the next two series are very important. We will try to give our best players the maximum opportunity heading towards T20 World Cup. So we will try to create a team who can bring their best for the team. And we will always look to win. We have been doing really well at international level. We have been part of so many semis and finals. But winning a cup for the country is something which is as a team we are always looking for that and I’m sure tournament like WPL and under-19 level cricket, that will definitely give us so much good talent and all of us can work together to get the cup for the country.