Harmanpreet was overthinking, which resulted in her playing a bit cautious in the past: Coach who helped her break shackles

On Wednesday night, when the India Women beat England Women by 88-runs in the second ODI at Canterbury, in Adelaide, a coach typed out a message for Harmanpreet Kaur Bhullar, the skipper of the winning team.

Harmanpreet’s 111-ball unbeaten 143 was the highlight of the Indian innings, her fifth ODI century and helped India Women win their first series in England since 1999.

Coach Yadwinder Singh Sodhi watched the India innings and went to sleep knowing that Harmanpreet had well and truly turned a corner.

“I had to go to work this morning. But watching her play in her natural style of dominating the opposition bowlers was satisfying. It reminded me of her century (171) against Australia in the semifinals of the 2017 World Cup. I messaged her that ‘when you play your natural attacking game, then the team as well the fans enjoy watching you,’” Sodhi told The Indian Express from Adelaide.

Post that knock against Australia in 2017, Bhullar had just one century — against West Indies earlier this year — in 37 innings in ODIs. A T20 International hundred against New Zealand in 2018 was followed by another drought of big runs. During the Commonwealth Games, she found form with two half-centuries, including a 65 in the final, a game India Women lost by nine runs.

During a challenging phase last year, Harmanpreet spent time with coach Sodhi and his family — daughters Sabreen and Mehar and wife Mandeep — in Adelaide when she was playing the Women’s Big Bash League.

“Last year, when she came to Australia to play in the WBBL, she spent a week with us at our Adelaide home. Big scores were not coming from her bat. But at first, we wanted her to be at ease and to relax. It was Diwali time and she celebrated with my family. It helped her get some time away from cricket. She would accompany my wife and daughters sightseeing in Adelaide,” Sodhi recalls.

The coach had one piece of advice for Harmanpreet and that was to play her natural attacking game. “She was overthinking and it resulted in her playing a bit cautious. Later that week, she hit a 40-odd in 18 balls in WBBL. We watched that game in the stadium and I could sense that she had got the rhythm back,” Sodhi said.

What followed was a turnaround.

In the WBBL, where she was adjudged as the Player of the tournament, Bhullar scored 406 runs at a strike rate of 130.96 with three fifty-plus scores and smashed 18 sixes — the most last season. She also took 15 wickets.

“Sometimes pressure makes players try new things and that’s what Harman was doing prior to the WBBL. She was trying to score the runs behind the square or square of the wicket and playing shots like the paddle sweep. But then I told her that it was not her game. She is one of the few batters in the game who can clear the boundary at will. She has targeted runs in cow corner and mid-wicket area by stepping out or slog sweeping with success. Harman is kind of a player who derives motivation from fours and sixes and we discussed that there is no harm in trying that off the first ball.”

On Wednesday, Harmanpreet showed why she is still one of the best strikers of the ball. Her unbeaten 143 contained 18 boundaries and four sixes. Harmanpreet scored 45 runs in the deep midwicket region and 43 runs in the deep extra cover region.

Her childhood coach and Sodhi’s father Kamaldeesh Singh Sodhi too watched the match highlights at his Moga home. “Harmanpreet saw some ups and downs in recent years. I always tell her that a batsman’s life is one ball only. He can hit a six on that ball and can get bowled off that one ball too. She has the right outlook now.”

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