She made her India debut at the age of 21. She started as a middle-order bat and an off-spinner for her state team slowly taking the onus of opening the batting and switching it from off-spin to leg-spin. She smiles from ear to ear and her cheerful nature is unequivocally infectious. With six T20Is and a solitary ODI in her short stint for India so far, she is definitely a player to watch out for in the coming years. We are talking about Harleen Deol, who recently graced the Female Cricket podcast during which Vishal Yadav engaged in a heartfelt tête-à-tête with the emerging 21-year old all-rounder from Punjab.
Excerpts from the Podcast
When did you start playing cricket?
I started playing cricket when I was in the third standard. It was the first with my brother and my friends that I started playing gully cricket. In my school too I played cricket. Watching my game, the school coach picked me up in the school team when I was playing alongside girls who were studying in higher standards. I remember during one of the matches, when I was representing my school in a district level cricket tournament, we were playing against Chandigarh. To our horror, we were done and dusted for a paltry seven, and out of the seven runs, I scored four. The then coach of the Chandigarh team was impressed with my rather dismal batting performance and asked me to join the practice nets of the Punjab state cricket team. I played for Punjab U-19 for 2 years. At the age of 11, I got selected in the U-19 team. Taniya Bhatia was with me and we played many matches for the district and state together.
How did you manage school and sports?
Thankfully, my school in Mohali encouraged sports. I participated in athletics and won as many as 82 medals in nine years. Apart from this, I played basketball, hockey, and football, of course along with cricket. Every day at 6.30 am, our sports practice used to start in school. Then, from 8 am to 4 pm we had school. After that, I used to go for cricket practice and return home by 7.30 pm. I had a quite busy childhood as I was juggling between academics and sports.
We have heard that you scored well in your 10th and 12th. How did you do that? And, which were your favorite subjects?
(Chuckles) Yes, I scored 82% in 12th boards and 80% in 10th standard. My favorite subjects used to be Chemistry when I was in 10th. Later I started liking English in my 12th. The thing with me is that if I do one thing at a time then I do that thing with efficiency. During my boards, my single point of focus was studying. Probably that is why I could manage to score those many marks.
When you were in your ninth standard you had to shift from Punjab to Himachal Pradesh. How was the change?
My father got transferred to Himachal Pradesh when I was in the ninth standard. Himachal was different from Punjab. Back in Mohali, I had a big school with a playground and various other facilities. However in Himachal when I visited the first school it was just a building and nothing else. That time I told my mother that I don’t want to study in that school. Finally, I took admission in DAV school which fit the bill. Just before we moved to Himachal we spent some time in Dharamshala. During my visit to Dharamshala, I visited HPCA (Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association) and I was mesmerized with the state of the art facilities and the rigor at which cricket was played in the state.
If I had to continue playing cricket in Himachal, it was important for me to get into HPCA. Unfortunately, the selection trials were done and there was no way I could get myself into HPCA. To my fortune, one of my innings that I played for Punjab against Himachal Pradesh came to my rescue. In that match, I played a 14-ball cameo to score 32 which helped Punjab seal a win over Himachal. I had smashed one of their ace bowlers, for 15-16 runs in one over. I was a known figure in HPCA courtesy that knock. Somehow the association arranged for selection trials and I gave trials as an off-spinner. I was selected!
Which is one of your most memorable innings from domestic cricket?
In domestic cricket, when I was playing for Himachal Pradesh against Hyderabad in an elite group match, I scored some 80-odd runs opening the batting and helped my team to chase down some 230 runs. Chasing anything over 200 is considered to be daunting in domestic cricket and I was happy that I could do it for my team. Prior to playing against Hyderabad, we had lost two matches. If we would lose the third match then we would have been out of the elite group. So it was kind of a do or die match for us.
When you got selected to play for Punjab U-19 for the first time you had just injured your little finger. What happened after that?
I was around 11 years old when I got selected for Punjab U-19 for the first time. While fielding I injured my little finger. At that time I was too small to understand the seriousness of the injury. With the broken finger, I played three matches and had some good performance which helped me to get picked for the state team. After the matches, I told my father about the injury and he took me to the doctor. The doctor said that I couldn’t play. I was very disappointed. However after six years when I was 17, still playing for the U-19 team, I had the best season of my life. I was the second-highest wicket-taker and second-highest run-getter (scored two half-centuries in four matches). I was selected for the senior team, courtesy of my performance at the U-19 level.
In 2015 when I was selected for the senior team I thought to myself that it was in a way good that I missed out playing for the state when I was 11. As per the latest rules, you can only play U-19 cricket for six years and in 2015 was my sixth and last year. Had I played then when I was 11, 2015 would have never happened. I have always believed in God, thanks to my mother’s family, who has had a spiritual influence on me in my growing up years. I have always believed that whatever happens, happens for good.
In 2017 you were picked up to play the Challengers Trophy, however, you were ruled out due to injury. How did things unfold after that?
In 2017 I injured my finger again. I was trying to save runs of my bowling when the ball hit my little finger and deflected to mid-off. As soon as the ball hit my finger I knew it was going to be bad. At that time I chose to remain quiet and bowled another three-four overs with a broken finger. It was a fracture and I had to miss the Challengers Trophy. I was looking forward to playing the tournament as it was going to be broadcasted on television for the first time. I came back strong in 2018 when I played for India Red and I ended up as the leading run-getter in the competition. After my stellar performance for India Red, I got a call to play for India A. I was very happy to see my hard work reaping fruits. We played against England. I bowled in two matches giving away just 18 runs in four overs in one game and 15 runs in three overs in the other when my fellow bowlers went for far too many runs. I did not bat that well.
In 2017 when India reached the finals of the 50-over World Cup, what was your reaction?
I remember I was watching the final at home. I had my fingers crossed and I was praying that India should win their first-ever World Cup title. I was very happy to see the team in the finals and back of the mind I was thinking when will I get to sport the India colors.
How did you feel when you got your India call?
It was in 2019 that I made my debut for India. I vividly remember that day when I got India’s call. We were supposed to play against Arunachal Pradesh in Mumbai. While on my way to the ground, I received a call from Trupti Bhattacharya ma’am and she told me that I was selected for India. My joy knew no bounds and those words were like music to my ears. As soon as I hung up, I wanted to share this good news with my mother. However, I could not get through. I then called my father and broke this news to him. I later called my brother, who somehow managed to reach my mother, and finally, when all four of us were in the conference call I once again shared this news with them.
After your first series for India, when you were returning home, there was a lot of celebration. Tell us about that.
(Smiles) I was coming back home from Guwahati. I had no idea about the kind of welcome that was planned for me. My parents have a big circle of friends and they were all curious about my return date. On the day of my arrival, there were many people gathered and there were dhol and a lot of music to welcome me. It was an electric atmosphere. I had not expected this at all.
You have also played for Trailblazers in the Women’s T20 Challenge. How has that experience been?
Playing a T20 tournament with a mix of foreign and domestic players was amazing. It was great rubbing shoulders with some of the overseas players. I got to see how they prepare themselves for the game, their routine, inter alia. I had a wonderful experience playing under the captainship of Smriti Mandhana. I remember I had one match-winning performance and one hundred-run partnership with Mandhana. We also reached the finals and the match was played in Jaipur. We had an unexpectedly huge crowd and it was a matter of pride and joy to play in front of so many people.
Lastly, tell us about your T20 World Cup experience in Australia that was played in February-March 2020.
The T20 World Cup in Australia was my first ever World Cup for India. I was very excited to travel Down Under for the competition. The thing that we made it to the finals was like an icing on the cake. I was very happy to be a part of the squad that dominated throughout the tournament. I got to learn a lot from the outing. The World Cup memory would have been definitely sweeter had we bagged the coveted trophy. However, in the hindsight it was an amazing experience to witness a jam-packed MCG on the eve of the finals. The crowd was fantastic and it was wonderful to see so many Indian supporters supporting the Women in Blue.
Questions from Instagram & Twitter fans
Did you copy any cricketer’s action?
(Smiles) Yes, a bit. I tried to copy Sachin Tendulkar’s straight drive, then Harbhajan Singh and Bret Lee’s bowling action. Also, I tried to imitate Shoaib Akhtar’s celebration after taking a wicket and Virender Sehwag’s celebration after hitting a century.
If you owned an IPL franchise, what would its name be?
If not a cricketer what would you have liked to become?
I would have become a pilot. Right from my childhood, I was intrigued by the phenomenon of flying planes.
Which is your favorite social media platform?
Instagram. It is not very complicated.
Did you ever think of quitting cricket, especially when you suffered from serious injuries?
I never thought of quitting. Since I am spiritually inclined I have been always able to manage the ups and downs that the game throws at me.
How are you always so cheerful?
By default, my nature is cheerful. I love spreading happiness. For instance, if anybody in my team is sad I go to that person by myself and crack jokes to cheer up that person.
What was your first impression of Jemimah Rodrigues and Smriti Mandhana?
The first time when I saw Jemi it was during a match when she was batting and I was fielding at short covers. Though she seemed to be a tiny little girl she had some real power and could ht some powerful shots. I remember in that match she muscled a cover drive after which I slowly pushed myself from short covers to covers (smiles). About Smriti, my first impression was I thought that she was serious and mind her own business type. But I was completely wrong. She is totally fun to hang around with.
What do you like and dislike about Jemimah Rodrigues?
The one thing that I dislike about her is that she can’t sleep during day time. Since most of us in the team tend to sleep during the day time she is the one who is up and keeps on disturbing us. The one thing that I like about her is she is fun-loving and just like me, she wants to spread happiness.
To listen to the complete podcast, click on the following links:
This article was transcribed by Juili Ballal.