Derby: Indian skipper Mithali Raj hailed Harmanpreet Kaur's brilliant innings of 171* as the "greatest knock by an India women player" and said that a "big performance" like that of her deputy was needed to beat a "champion side like Australia" in the Women's World Cup semi-final.
Harmanpreet blasted an unbeaten 171 off 115 balls---the highest score by an Indian player, male or female, in a World Cup knockout match---set the platform for a thrilling 36-run semi-final victory over the defending champions at the County Ground in Derby on Thursday.
Rain had delayed the start of the match by 195 minutes and Harmanpreet came in at the fall of the second wicket in the 10th over with the floodlights on. She remained unconquered for 128 minutes, making 69.51 per cent of the 246 runs scored while she was at the crease, as India posted 281 for 4 - it's highest-ever total against the defending champion - in just 42 overs.
Raj, while addressing the post-match press conference, pointed to Harmanpreet's knowledge of Australia's bowlers, courtesy her stint at the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL), which ultimately helped the Women in Blue plan for the semi-final.
"I think the transformation [has come] after she played in the WBBL," she said. "That exposure she and Smriti (Mandhana) got by interacting with other players has been massive. As I mentioned in the last press meet, against Australia it was they who were giving us more inputs about these players."
"If more players are a part of these leagues where they exchange ideas and follow the routine of other players, being part of the meetings, it will only help improve the standard of women's cricket, as well as it's very beneficial for youngsters and players from Indian team," Raj added.
28-year old Harmanpreet had earned acclaim in the T20 circuit by becoming the first Indian to be picked for the Big Bash League and the Kia Super League.
But at the World Cup, Harmanpreet found herself coming in towards the slog overs and so struggled to get time in the middle.
Before the semi-final, she had faced only 91 balls in five innings.
The India skipper attributed Harmanpreet's turnaround to her 60-run-knock, her first half-century of the tournament - that was the key in the middle overs against New Zealand in what was a virtual quarter-final.
In the game against the White Ferns, it looked like India reach 220 until Veda Krishnamurthy's unbeaten 45-ball 70 lifted them to 265. Her partnership with Harmanpreet gave them the momentum and eventually the defeated New Zealand to set up clash against Australia.
"The game against New Zealand, she had runs as well as Veda had runs. They backed themselves to make fifty and those runs gave them confidence," Raj said.
"Had they not scored those runs, it would have been a different picture today. All said and done, everything happens for a reason and good. It was needed, and this knock will give her confidence tomorrow when she is in a position to take more responsibility as a batter. She will be in better shape and experience to take along," she added.
The 34-year-old equated her team's qualification to the World Cup final as a completion of a full circle that started in 2005.
"I am speechless. For me, Jhulan Goswami, it is very special because we are the two players from 2005 who have been with the team and it feels like just going back to 2005. I am just too happy that girls have given us the opportunity again to be a part of the World Cup finals," she said.
India will face now hosts England in what could be expected as a cracker of a final on Sunday at the iconic Lord's.