On a sluggish pitch against South Africa in the Women’s T20I tri-series opener at the Buffalo Park Stadium, India were in trouble at 69/5 in 12 overs.
Four out of the top five batters, including stand-in captain Smriti Mandhana, had fallen for single-digit scores. Eyes were on all-rounders Deepti Sharma and debutant Amanjot Kaur in the middle to carry India to a respectable total.
Amanjot was finding it hard to tee off, being at seven off 13 balls at one stage and not making the full use of a free hit on a no-ball. But she kickstarted the momentum shift for India by slamming Ayabonga Khaka for back-to-back boundaries in the 16th over.
She went to give the same treatment to Marizanne Kapp in the 17th over, before slamming three more fours off Ayabonga in the 19th over. Though Deepti fell after making 33 in the final over, the 76-run partnership between her and Amanjot had given India a respectable 147.
Amanjot herself was unbeaten on 41 off 30 balls, which was also the second-highest score in women’s cricket for India by a T20I debutant. When India eventually won by 27 runs, Amanjot got the Player of the Match award on her T20I debut, becoming the third Indian women’s player to do so.
“This is an unreal feeling. I hadn’t even thought or expected that something like this would happen in the very first match, that too on my debut and it’s my first Player of the Match award, which was highly unexpected. The feeling right now is very unreal,” she said in the post-match press conference.
Amanjot and Deepti’s efforts ensured India smashed 44 runs off the last four overs, putting a target which was out of South Africa’s hand, with the spinners bowling out the hosts’ for 120.
“(Deepti) said I should not try to hit the ball too hard. (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 through singles so that the team can reach a respectable position,” she added.
Amanjot’s journey as a seam-bowling all-rounder shining on her T20I debut began by playing domestic cricket for Punjab in the 2017/18 season, before switching to Chandigarh in the 2019/20 season.
But she went back to Punjab in the 2022/23 season in search of more competitive cricket and learning from India wicketkeeper-batter Taniyaa Bhatia while making 192 runs for the side in the senior Women’s T20 trophy, before picking eight wickets for North Zone in the Senior Women’s Inter-Zonal T20 tournament.
“I started from Punjab and moving to Chandigarh was a turning point as I gained knowledge and maturity as a batter and got the limelight. Then I moved back to Punjab again, which was also another turning point and especially being captain of the Chandigarh team in the mid-season.”
“I wanted to take that step because I wanted to play more competitive cricket, play under seniors and learn from them. 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. Coming here from there wasn’t easy at all and hopefully, the journey continues,” she elaborated.
Amanjot dedicated her Player of the Match award to her coach Nagesh Gupta, under whom she has been training since 17 and started off initially as a bowler. Her father had admitted her to the academy with the thought her craze for cricket would die down soon.
But seeing her growth as a cricketer, her father, a woodwork contractor and carpenter, picked work only at locations which were in the vicinity of 30 minutes so that he can be in time to drop and pick Amanjot from the academy.
“The travelling (doing up and down from home to academy and back) was three and a half to four hours and he played a big role in managing that in 2016/17 when I had started. 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,” she said.
With her journey as an Indian cricketer starting on a bright note, Amanjot signed off by saying she would now fill out her nomination form for Women’s IPL auctions. “Regarding bidding, I hope a team picks me and gets me to play a lot of cricket and be a contributor for the team.”