“I just want the World Cup Trophy as my birthday gift on Sunday,” said the Indian women’s captain Harmanpreet Kaur in the pre-match press conference ahead of the T20 World Cup final.
Her fellow middle-order batter Jemimah Rodrigues is hoping that’s exactly the gift Kaur will get.
“We should be gunning to give the captain the biggest birthday gift by winning the final,” Rodrigues said in a TV interview during the tournament.
Winning the World Cup for their captain, in fact, has been on the team’s mind for some time now. In October, when Kaur became the first Indian player to play 100 T20Is, Rodrigues posted a tribute on Instagram, with teammate Harleen Deol and her rapping ‘public machati shor hain/jab marti harry kaur hain/na deti kabhi gaali/soh match khelne wali/ poora karna sapna hain/world cup ab toh apna hain’.
This is a captain that inspires fierce loyalty, and a team that likes to stick together, and have fun doing it. This is a team that believes in singing and dancing. Just follow Rodrigues’ hilarious and immersive twitter account—she calls herself Lil J—for a sense of the joy with which the squad goes about their business.
“This outfit is the most fun, I have to say this,” opener Smriti Mandhana said in an interview during the tournament. “The way coach WV Raman and Harman have handled and given confidence to players like Shafali (Verma) is also commendable.”
It’s an astute observation from Mandhana; it takes an assured touch to work with a team full of teenagers—Verma is just 16—and bring out superb performances from them at the biggest platform of the game.
“Harman didi bahut encourage karti hain muje. She keeps telling me to enjoy and play my natural game. When I am at the crease, I just go for my shots,” Verma said recently.
If the captain wears her role with distinction, Rodrigues wears hers—as the team’s comic spark—with great style.
If the team knows synchronized dance moves, it’s because Rodrigues taught them; if the team likes a certain song, it’s because Rodrigues, the official DJ of the dressing room, played it.
“All of us like to give 100 percent on the field, and have fun when not playing cricket,” says wicket-keeper Taniya Bhatia. “It helps keep the pressure away.”
The team has travelled some distance from those bitter memories of the 2018 World Cup in West Indies, where they were knocked out by England in the semis. After the exit, the team was engulfed in a controversy involving Kaur, the senior player Mithali Raj and the then coach Ramesh Powar.
Raj, who had done well in the previous matches in the tournament, was dropped by the team management in the semi-final. A can of worms was opened when bitter emails were exchanged between Powar, Raj and the BCCI. Soon, Powar’s tenure as coach came to an end. A few months later Raj quit T20 cricket.