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Calm Harmanpreet ready for must-win challenge against West Indies

"On days when the top order collapses, my role and my game changes. I am expected to bat patiently and stay till the end" Getty Images

When Harmanpreet Kaur put down a sitter, a full toss hit straight to her at cover, with England at 88 for 8 in the 19th over and needing three runs to beat India in the Women's World T20 match in Dharamsala, a sprinkling of fans, who had given up on Mithali Raj's team pulling off a shock upset, only to sit up in disbelief at the challenge mounted by the team, wondered if Kaur had dropped the cup. Never mind the two wickets she took off successive deliveries to give India a sniff in the first place.

Kaur, of course, was disappointed, maybe even shocked for a split second at just how she had grassed it, but remained admirably composed even as the rest of her team rallied around her after the match and trudged off knowing they had given it their best. While there weren't any Match ka Mujrim-type (Culprit of the Match) analysis shows, Kaur's dropped chance was replayed a fair few times. With each new showing, the same question popped up over and over again.

And just like that, it was 2013 all over again - when India crashed out of the World Cup in the first round after a shocking loss to Sri Lanka. Except that, this time around, the doors are not fully shut just yet.

Kaur will remember 2013 for different reasons, however. At the Brabourne Stadium, she made a century that briefly sparked talk of her taking over the baton from Mithali Raj, clearly the team's best batsman for the better part of the last decade and a half. Kaur had just brought up her maiden one-day century in trying circumstances against a fired-up England attack that was demolishing batting line-ups the world over. While India lost that match narrowly, Kaur remained unconquered, if heartbroken.

And so when she walks out to play West Indies in Mohali, her home ground, on Sunday, Kaur will have an opportunity to erase the pain of that defeat and memories of her dropped catch. India need a win at any cost. They also need England to beat Pakistan in order to qualify for the semis.

Despite two losses, the fact that India are still in with a chance is testament to the team's self-belief. Not too many India Women teams would have come out and defended 96 and 90 like they did against Pakistan and England. Sure, the pitches were slow, low, and helped India's spinners, but for them to make those games a fight was heartening.

"I took a while to gel and feel free with the seniors. I didn't want the youngsters to feel that way, so that when I'm captain few years down the line, there's a rapport"

"When you keep losing, you tend to get frustration. But now, everyone's talking about winning, which was missing before," Kaur says, when asked to pick out the difference between the teams of the past and the current crop. "There was a lot of self-doubt back then. Today, when we leave in the bus, all the talk is about us winning, not just competing. Before, we used to get overawed by names, overawed by teams. Now we've moved out of our comfort zone, we're starting to read the game well, so that has made a big difference.

"When I first came in, there were a lot of changes within the team. Players weren't getting time to settle down. Unless you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team-mates, you won't be able to gel together. Now, for a while, the same group has been playing together. We understand each other's game better. Back then, we didn't know who we had to go to at the slog, who we could open with. Everything starts with the dressing room. Once we have started doing that, we have been progressing."

Kaur followed up a Player-of-the-Match performance against Bangladesh with a laboured 29-ball 16 against Pakistan, unable to hit it off the square before perishing to a slog. But against England, she top-scored with 26; the next best was 20 by Tammy Beaumont.

Kaur is aware of the need to change her style of play in a young batting line-up, where she is one of the calmer heads. She knows there is so much more scrutiny and accountability today because of central contracts. While she has retained the belligerence her game has always been associated with, there's a calmer side to her now, one of a finisher who has had to curb her style of play, as seen in January in Adelaide, where India recorded their highest T20 chase and set the tone for their first series win against Australia.

In that match, Kaur started slowly and finished with an unbeaten 31-ball 46. The innings earned her plaudits even from the opposition. Alyssa Healy, the Australia wicketkeeper, went so far as to say that India taught them how to play in that game. It wasn't easy for Kaur, for she hadn't scored a single fifty across formats in 2015.

A ten-day stint with coach Harshal Pathak in Mumbai, where she lives now since being employed by Western Railways, helped clear the cobwebs.

"Earlier, I would be appreciated for whatever little bit I could chip in with. Now, being the senior player, I don't have that choice to not score," she explains. "The team heavily depends on your form. One of the top four has to play the anchor role. On days when the top order collapses, my role and my game changes. I am expected to bat patiently and stay till the end.

"Reporters often compare me to [Virat] Kohli, in terms of my batting style and where I bat. He was my favourite player back then, he still is, but now I admire Ajinkya Rahane. Aggressive main hoon hi, sab jaante hai, but life mein thoda calmness bhi chahiye. [I'm aggressive, everyone knows that, but you need some calmness in life as well]," she laughs.

"Recently we were at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai. Rahane was practising for a Test against South Africa, and for three hours he was leaving the ball, even if it was at a drivable length. I can't remember him playing one ball. Usually when we train, even if our coach asks us to leave, we instinctively tend to play, so I learnt a lot from him that day. If you decide on something, you need to achieve it come what may."

Her focus and goals, Kaur says, were shaped by her life in Moga, a small town in Punjab, where she grew up. Driving to an academy 30km away from her house to train, she says, made her realise the importance of being dedicated to her craft. But it was a move to Mumbai in 2014 that transformed her outlook.

"It wasn't tough to leave Punjab, purely from a cricketing point of view, but my early days in Mumbai were tough. I wanted to come back home, but Diana Edulji [the former India captain, and then a Western Railways colleague] kept telling me, you shouldn't give up easily. Living away from home in a big city has also changed my outlook towards cricket. It has made me a better person."

"Today, all the talk is about us winning, not just competing. Before, we used to get overawed by names, overawed by teams"

As Kaur speaks, a few players mill around the lobby of the hotel. Some for a snack, others shopping. There are half-taunts aimed at Kaur, teasing her for being a "big person", giving interviews.

Kaur says this India team has a lot of pranksters in it. "Don toh woh [Veda Krishnamurthy] hain, she is a dominating girl," Kaur chuckles. "But both of us, along with Sushma Verma, push the other girls to not feel shy. If you are free in the dressing room, you will be free on the field. I want them all to enjoy like we do. If you're shy and reserved, it shows on the field too. So we want to create an atmosphere where everyone is friendly. If you don't talk, you don't really know what the person is going through. We try to keep the atmosphere light.

"Everyone tells me I should be taking responsibility going forward. Of course, there is Mithali di, but I try to ensure everyone mingles with everyone, so the youngsters don't have any apprehensions when they approach the seniors. I want to be friendly with all. The first step towards that is to call everyone by name - it helps break the ice. I took a while to gel and feel free with the seniors. I didn't want the youngsters to feel that way, so that when I'm captain few years down the line, there's a rapport."

All the off-field efforts will be put to a severe test on Sunday. A slip-up against West Indies and it will be 2013 all over again. Kaur saw her World Cup hopes go up in smoke then. There's hope now, but also the expectation of a special performance from her in familiar surroundings. If she can put aside the pressure and be calm, she can leave her imprint at a venue she calls home.