Unhurried Amanjot Kaur makes her mark on India debut

India were 69 for 5 in the 12th over. Four out of the top five batters had fallen for single-digit scores. On a sluggish surface, in hot and humid conditions, runs were hard to come by. And in walked allrounder Amanjot Kaur, on debut, joining the seasoned Deepti Sharma in the middle.

Amanjot takes fondly to challenges. Having started playing domestic cricket for Punjab in 2017-18, she switched to Chandigarh for a couple of seasons from 2019-20 in search of more game time. In each of her two seasons there, she was among the runs even while captaining Chandigarh and chipping in with the ball. She was assured of a spot in the XI and was showing off her wares.

But she wanted more. And so, in a bid to play more competitive cricket, she switched back to Punjab in 2022-23 where she picked the brains of India wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia. She scored 192 runs in the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy, the most for Punjab, at a strike rate in excess of 100 and then picked up eight wickets – only behind Harleen Deol’s nine – for North Zone in the Senior Women’s Inter-Zonal T20 competition.

A young seam-bowling allrounder, performing consistently, is hard to ignore in the Indian circuit and Amanjot received a maiden India call-up for this tri-series in South Africa ahead of the Women’s T20 World Cup. It was significant given Pooja Vastrakar, India’s preferred allrounder, was still returning to full fitness following an injury that kept her out of the home series against Australia last month.

And so, in her first international game, Amanjot was tasked with preventing India from getting bowled out cheaply. Understandably, she took her time to get the measure of it all and was on 7 off 13 balls at one stage. She had missed taking toll on a free hit, but she seemed unfazed. She bided her time, and then cashed in.

Seamer Ayabonga Khaka was greeted in her third over with two marvelously timed cover drives. On both occasions, Khaka fed Amanjot full balls in her favoured area – outside off – for her to find the gap through the ring there. She then chipped one over fast bowler Marizanne Kapp’s head and such was the timing that it raced down the ground. She gave Khaka more special treatment in the penultimate over of the innings, hitting her for three fours.

In all, Amanjot scored 22 off the ten balls she faced off Khaka and took ten of five off Kapp. She finished unbeaten on 41 off 30 balls, the second highest score in women’s cricket for India by a T20I debutant.

“[Moving to Chandigarh] was a turning point as I gained knowledge and maturity as a batter and got the limelight,” Amanjot said after becoming only the third India women’s player to win a Player of the Match award on T20I debut. “Then I moved back to Punjab again and I wanted to take that step because I wanted to play more competitive cricket, play under seniors. There was Taniya and from her I learnt about how it is to be at the higher level and how the competition at the highest level is.”

Amanjot added 76 runs for the sixth wicket with Deepti – the fourth-best in women’s T20Is – and helped India amass 44 off the last four overs. That meant India inched close to 150 and that was beyond South Africa on a surface that aided spin.

“[Deepti] said I should not try to hit the ball too hard,” Amanjot said. “[The conversation was about] first to try for singles and then the boundaries will keep coming once we are set. She asked me to rein in my excitement since it was my debut and told me to stay calm and build a partnership so that the team can reach a respectable position.”

Amanjot started training as a 17-year-old under coach Nagesh Gupta, primarily as a bowler. Her father enrolled her in the academy but thought her craze for cricket would fizzle out. She was set on doing something noteworthy for India in cricket though, and, seeing her dedication, her father, who was a woodwork contractor and carpenter, made some changes of his own to help her along. He quit his woodwork job and stuck to carpentry work in locations near their home so that he could drop Amanjot at training and pick her up again.

“The travelling [between home and academy] was three and a half to four hours and he played a big role in managing that in 2016-17 when I had started,” Amanjot explained. “Earlier he used to undertake longer work, and used to stay at the [client’s] place and be away from home sometimes. But to pick and drop me from the academy, he left that.”

Having made a stellar first impression in India’s blue, Amanjot knows her journey has only just started. But, as always, she’s up for the challenge.

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