“Yes, it is nice we have won it, but that wasn’t the idea.”

That is what Rahul Dravid said in an interview to ESPNCricinfo after guiding Prithvi Shaw and Co to the ICC Men’s U19 World Cup title in 2018.

And this wasn’t him just saying it for the sake of sounding cool and correct *after* India did win the World Cup. After all, athletes – at any level – don’t generally play to lose. They want to win, they want to shine, they want the plaudits... but sometimes that is not all. The journey to success is as important as the success itself.

It was worth revisiting that line on Monday, as the All-India Women’s Selection Committee picked the squads for India U19’s upcoming bilateral away T20 series against South Africa U19 and, more importantly, the inaugural ICC U19 Women’s World Cup to follow, in South Africa as well.

The announcement caught almost everyone who has been following the recent exploits of the U19 team by surprise. There were no indications till now, officially, that two of the eligible stars from the senior team would play. But here they were... Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh were selected, and the former named captain of the side.

On paper, adding two of the most impressive young cricketers in the country into the team playing in a tournament those players are completely eligible for is not wrong. That is not where we will go. The selections around the Indian teams in recent months have been filled with questionable calls, that you could make a strong case that they were just plain wrong (Richa Ghosh getting dropped for the Commonwealth Games on the back of just a few bad matches and returning for Asia Cup immediately after is one that comes to mind immediately).

Seeing as the selectors continue to name squads without explanations provided through releases or press conferences, we can only assume that this move on Monday is, presumably, one that has been made with the idea of winning the World Cup. In itself, that’s not the worst call. Winning a global event, that too the first of its kind, is worth striving for.

The upsides to this are fairly obvious. Firstly, it adds immense quality to the squad that has already been building well. Secondly, it offers Verma and Ghosh the chance to be mentors to a group of cricketers that is about to embark on its biggest challenge yet. And as an aside, it gives the two senior cricketers a chance to get acclimatised to tournament play in South African conditions, where the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup is also scheduled to be held in February. (As things stand, there is no reason to think Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh won’t be part of the senior World Cup.)

From a tournament point of view too, it adds star quality for the first edition right away, especially with England deciding not to pick a couple of their senior squad members.

But on the other hand, what does it mean for the team dynamics for Shweta Sehrawat, G Trisha and Co, who have been playing the U19 matches in the past few months domestically and against international sides like West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand? The team has registered some fine results in this little period (with India A and India B competing against each other in the final of a series that also featured Sri Lanka and West Indies). What message does it send to them, by bringing in – in their view, for sure – two superstars to the mix?

Even setting that aside, if Verma and Ghosh are set to be an important part of the senior team for the World Cup, shouldn’t they be playing the tri-series in South Africa before that event? It is a tournament where combinations and tactics will need to be finalised for the World Cup, and India will be without two cogs in their wheel for that event. That, perhaps, is the biggest downside to the move.

Going back to the former Indian captain who’s quote we started this piece with, here’s a transcript of what Dravid told ICC in a video interview in New Zealand in February 2018, elaborating in greater detail about the process that went into Prithvi Shaw and Co becoming champions.

It’s nice for me to be able to say it once we won the tournament. It’s that for me, it’s never been about the results. This tournament I think, you know, is a lot more than that. It’s a great exposure and experience to be able to play the U19 World Cup. And not only just play this tournament, but to build up to this. I think the process that we sort of started almost 14 months ago, with giving nearly 30 players an opportunity at various stages to represent India, whether it’s been the Asia cups, tours, and you know, the teams that come to India and played. I think we’ve given 30 players an opportunity. 

We’ve looked at a completely younger bunch of people. We had players from the last World Cup who would have played this one, but we purposely chose not to pick them because we wanted to give more exposure to some of these young boys who wouldn’t have got it otherwise. And, you know, I think we took those decisions, obviously, not necessarily aiming at this tournament to win this. Just aiming at the bigger picture and trying to sort of work on the bigger picture at this age group level and seeing that we make it a more holistic development for some of these players. Hopefully they go on and then use these opportunities to play you know, first class or international cricket. 

From a coaching perspective, yeah great, it’s nice to win it. But for me at this level, even if we’ve lost that final, I would have looked at a lot of the positives that we’ve gone through the 14 months and the way we built it up. 

And I think we need to keep refining that process and from our perspective and hopefully from Indian cricket and BCCI’s perspective, we’ll be able to get even better and better at that and not really just rely on this tournament as a benchmark for success.

— Rahul Dravid after India won men's U19 World Cup 2018

Indeed, if that was the thought process that was applied back then in 2018 – when even players were not picked for two back-to-back U19 World Cups – the BCCI has gone and selected two players who have actually been part of multiple senior major events in their careers already. Both Verma and Ghosh have played at the pinnacle of the women’s game already across both 20-over and 50-over formats, with the former one of the breakout stars of the 2020 edition when India reached the final. They have a collective experience of 111 international matches across formats for India.

By adding them to a U19 squad, that had been put together recently and been producing some exciting cricket (as evidenced by scorecards and a few souls who have watched them live at the venues), one can’t help but wonder if the BCCI has missed the chance to achieve the sort of development that Dravid said India must continuously strive for. They might very well go on to be champions in a little over a month from now, but are these means worth that end?

India’s team for ICC Under-19 Women’s World Cup: Shafali Verma (Captain), Shweta Sehrawat (Vice-Captain), Richa Ghosh (WK), G Trisha, Soumya Tiwari, Sonia Mehdiya, Hurley Gala, Hrishita Basu (WK), Sonam Yadav, Mannat Kashyap, Archana Devi, Parshavi Chopra, Titas Sadhu, Falak Naz, Shabnam MD.

Standby players: Shikha, Najla CMC, Yashashree.

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