During their series sweep against the New Zealand development squad in Mumbai last December, which was the India Under-19 women’s team’s first international bilateral assignment, the scenes just after each of the five victories were the most captivating.
Shweta Sehrawat and Co would spend a long time in and around the dugout, laughing and pulling each others’ legs, reliving moments from the match, and telling the handful of journalists present how much they enjoyed playing with each other.
They put in clinical performances each time they stepped on the field in that series, but the image that really stuck with you till long after was the smile on each of their faces. You knew they were a group of cricketers who thrived in each others’ company.
It was only fitting then that about two months later, this team spirit remained unmissable as India went on to create history by winning the inaugural edition of the ICC Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup Potchefstroom. It was the first-ever ICC trophy for Indian women’s cricket, a moment that will undoubtedly be cherished for years to come, and it had been achieved on the back of a complete team performance.
India won six of the seven games they played in the tournament and through all of it, they had a number of players who stood up at different stages.
Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh, players who had established themselves in the senior team, had been added to India’s under-19 squad. They played their part, with Shafali delivering a couple of blazing knocks to set the tone early in the tournament and Richa providing constant support from behind the stumps. But it was the less-established names who formed the fulcrum of the side.
Sehrawat, who led the team admirably in the series win against New Zealand’s development squad, was the standout player for India at the World Cup. Appointed as vice-captain this time around, she was the team’s rock at the top of the order and finished as the highest run-scorer in the tournament.
The right-hander’s versatility as a batter, her ability to find boundaries in all corners, the easy power she generates, and her measured aggression was an incredibly promising takeaway for India. With the inaugural season of the Women’s Premier League coming up, one can expect Sehrawat to remain in the headlines with the talent she possesses.
Then there were the likes of G Trisha and Soumya Tiwari – the top run-scorers in the series against New Zealand’s development squad. At the World cup, the two right-handers perhaps didn’t match the sparkling strokeplay they showcased in Mumbai last December. But they ended up making a key contribution when it mattered most.
In the final, with India losing Shafali and Sehrawat in the powerplay, Trisha and Tiwari stepped up and delivered a match-winning 46-run partnership for the third wicket. The class they possess was there for all to see as they defended maturely to start and found gaps skilfully later on. It has perhaps been said before but it is worth remembering again – Trisha and Tiwari are batters for the future.
In terms of the batting department, it’s also worth noting Hrishita Basu’s presence. The wicketkeeper didn’t have much to do with the bat in the tournament. But despite Ghosh donning the gloves, Basu was kept as a specialist batter in the XI and there was a good reason for it. She’s electric in the field and saved plenty of runs right through India’s campaign.
And additionally, she is undoubtedly the most enthusiastic, passionate supporter of her teammates. During the series against New Zealand’s development squad in Mumbai, she would orchestrate rhythmic claps and cheers from the dugout, and during the World Cup, one could see again that she provided the most animated celebrations.
In a team that hadn’t played much together and was aiming to win a World Cup, the energy that Basu brought was invaluable.
Coming to the bowlers, India tormented their opponents at the World Cup with their lethal spin options. Skipper Shafali and coach Nooshin Al Khadeer opted for a multitude of spinners and one pacer in the attack on most days and the move worked perfectly.
Leg-spinner Parshavi Chopra finished as the leading wicket-taker for India. She was fortunate at times with full-tosses and half-trackers getting her success as well (wrist-spinners often do), but there is no denying that her variations tied opposition batters in knots for the most part.
Mannat Kashyap, meanwhile, took the new ball consistently and was the go-to bowler for Shafali. The left-arm spinner, who has a wonderfully rhythmic action and gets top-class flight and dip, provided her team with breakthroughs consistently. Sonam Yadav, the other left-arm spinner in the side, was used a bit less but was also impressive with her flight and turn.
Archana Devi, the only full-time off-spinner in the side, got a three-for against Scotland in the group stage but it was her performance in the final that stood out. Apart from taking a sensational catch, she took the new ball and picked two wickets in her first over to set India on their way.
And finally, there was Titas Sadhu. In a campaign dominated by the team’s spinners, the right-arm pacer quietly but surely left her mark. After pipping Shabnam, another promising pacer, in the playing XI, Sadhu was solid with the new ball and maintained pressure from her end throughout. She ended up saving her best performance for the final and was named player of the match for her stunning spell of 2/6.
India were touted as one of the favourites heading into the World Cup. Perhaps a lot of it was due to the fact that they had two stars in their lineup in Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh.
But at the end of the day, it’s safe to say that India didn’t bag the title thanks to a player or two carrying the team. It was a team effort all the way. They found match-winners from top to bottom in their lineup. They took responsibility. They played for each other. They dominated. Through it all, they never lost their smiles either. And with their historic triumph, they got millions smiling along with them.
Skipper Shafali Verma said it best after the final: “I can’t say the words but thanks to all the team, the way they were performing and the way they were backing each other. I’m going to miss this batch.”