Some days are meant to go down in history, no matter what happens at the end of it. The day of the final of the inaugural ICC Women’s U19 T20 World Cup will definitely be one such day.
The first-ever cricket World Cup was played by the women. But at the age group level, girls had to wait for 33 years after the boys played their first global tournament to have their own inaugural U19 World Cup scheduled in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic added two more years to that wait.
When the tournament finally commenced this January, it pulled the veil off the enormous talent that the next generation promises to bring to women’s cricket. We not only got to witness the future stars from established cricketing countries, but also some incredible performances from associate nations like Rwanda, Indonesia and the UAE.
At the end, it was India and England who made it to the Final – England unbeaten and India having just fumbled against Australia on the way.
India were the pre-tournaments favourites. They had two players in the ranks with the experience of having played in a World Cup final - Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh. The loss to Australia in the Super Six stage was evidently overcome with ease as India defeated New Zealand emphatically in the semi final. England, on the other hand, had secured a fighting victory against Australia after having been bundled out for 99.
If India had a superstar captain in Shafali, England were led by Grace Scrivens, who lit up the tournament by consistently piling on runs and chipping in with the ball. Shafali and Scrivens, both openers, had formed successful partnership with Shweta Sehrawat and Liberty Heap respectively at the top. In fact, there was a contest within a contest until the end with Scrivens and Sehrawat sitting neck and neck on the leading run-getters’ table.
It was always going to be a clash worthy of a final on that Sunday afternoon.
While England had their senior side cheering for them from the stands, India got a pep talk from Olympic gold medallist javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra on the eve of the final.
— ICC (@ICC) January 29, 2023
At the JB Marks Oval in Potchefstroom that has produced slow, turning wickets for the semifinals, Shafali Verma chose to field first, a call that raised a few eyebrows. After all, the senior Indian women's team had succumbed to the scoreboard pressure in the three tournament finals it had played in recent history. But the Indian bowlers got to business straight-away as England’s dangerous top order was dismissed quickly.
India’s lone pacer Titas Sadhu bowled her four miserly overs on the trot and picked up two wickets. On match commentary and social media, comparisons were drawn between Sadhu and Indian pace legend Jhulan Goswami. With her spell in the final, Titas not just raised the hopes of victory amongst Indian fans but also that the giant hole left in the Indian pace unit with Goswami’s retirement could soon be filled.
From the other end, Archana Devi removed Niamh Holland and Scrivens, which was courtesy of a brilliant catch from G Trisha. Later, Archana displayed her own catching excellence with a diving one hand stunner at extra-cover to dismiss Ryana MacDonald-Gay off Parshavi Chopra.
Archana Devi takes a splendid one-handed blinder with a full length dive to dismiss Ryana. The fielding has been top class by Team India.
Watch #INDvENGFinalOnFanCode https://t.co/T4vX72TcLA
.#U19T20WorldCup #TeamIndia #INDvENG pic.twitter.com/nUPQxopaAx
— FanCode (@FanCode) January 29, 2023
The other three Indian bowlers - Mannat Kashyap, Shafali and Sonam Yadav - weren’t leaving without a share of the pie as England were bowled out on 68. It was a fantastic effort from India, not just with the ball, but also in the field, to restrict the opposition on such a small total in a final. There was no sign of nerves that one can expect to see on such an occasion. Questions began to get louder - Could this Under-19 side do what has not been done so far by an Indian’s women’s team - hold their nerves to cross the final barrier? The supporters were now believers.
But the team was aware that they could not relax yet as England had defended a below-par total in the semis against Australia just a couple of days back. They came in determined to challenge the senior pro Shafali and Sehrawat, whom Scrivens had overtaken by a single run in the leading run scorers’ table in the first innings.
England started with spin from both ends, not wanting to give India any pace to work with on a slowish wicket. Shafali still did what she does best. She fired, hitting a boundary and a six. But she was dismissed on 15 by Hannah Baker. Now Sehrawat had to play a big role for India.
She had scored a single and equalled Scrivens’ run tally in the first over. In the fourth over, Scrivens took matters into her own hands and started with two dots. Sehrawat hit the third delivery to the boundary and now she was certain to finish as the leading run-scorer in the tournament. But the very next ball, Scrivens found the top edge of Sehrawat’s bat and she was caught. The battle within the battle had an interesting ending!
The game was far from over. The openers, who had done bulk of scoring for India in the tournament, were back in the hut. Could England repeat what they had done to Australia in the semi final? Were Indian fans witnessing a far too familiar story of a batting collapse in the finals unfold yet again?
It wasn’t to be. Soumya Tiwari and Trisha steadied the ship and took India close to the finish line. Victory was looking almost certain for them now. At the end of the 12th over, only nine runs were left to be scored. Trisha took a double, played two dots and then hit a boundary.
It was only about finishing touches then. The Indian team had now lined up next to the boundary to run in. Hrishita Basu, who was to be the next batter in, started taking her pads off. But the next ball from Alexa Stonehouse crashed into Trisha's stumps. India had to wait a little longer.
In the next over, Tiwari took a double to level the scores. On the final delivery, she hit the ball towards the point region and ran. Before the run could even be completed, the rest of the India team were already rushing towards the pitch with hands in the air and the tricolour around the neck.
Finally a bunch of teenagers did it for India, their trophy drought at the global stage was over.
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Both India and England had a dominating run in the tournament and both teams deserved to go out as winners. But in the end, the trophy was lifted by India’s captain Shafali, who had turned her tears from Melbourne 2020 to tears of joy in Potchefstroom 2023. But England’s Scrivens didn’t go empty-handed as she was named the Player of the Tournament for her all-round show and brilliant leadership.
The win for India was a sign that the future of the women’s game is very bright in the country. It was a sign that the upcoming generation not only has the talent but also the fighting mindset to go for big wins.
It was also a sign that in the coming years the global game is going to be a lot more competitive.