S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Hazare Trophy (4)
BBL 2023 (1)
Asia Cup [U19] (2)
SA v IND (1)
ZIM v IRE (1)
IND v ENG (W) (1)
Rhys McKenna, Australia's captain and fast-bowling allrounder, had speared one full and outside off. Shorna Akter got on the front foot, extended her arms and just nonchalantly whipped it over deep midwicket for six. A couple of balls later, she deflected a full one on her pads to the fine leg ropes and just like that, Bangladesh completed a remarkable upset over Australia to kickstart their Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup campaign.
This is unlike a lot of the Bangladesh women's sides of the past. Power-hitting and all-round contribution were key words as they went about preparing for this tournament under head coach Dipu Roy Chowdhury. But that's only the half of it. They are also picking squads in such a way that about 60% of them remain eligible to play the next World Cup too. This is how they are trying to build a women's cricket system with a continuous supply of talent and experience. This is how they have already unearthed multi-faceted strokemakers like Afia Prottasha, Dilara Akter, Shorna Akter and Disha Biswas.
Prottasha, in particular, was refreshing to watch at the top of the order. So what if five of the Australians, including McKenna, had the experience of playing in a top-flight competition like the Women's Big Bash League? Prottasha cleared her front leg and deposited McKenna over the long-on fence to get off the mark. She then chipped Milly Illingworth - who bowls just like former Australia men's fast bowler Shaun Tait - over mid-on for a one-bounce four.
Prottasha's 22-ball 24 featured two fours and two sixes - the second off legspinner Amy Smith - and had put Bangladesh on course in their 131-run chase.
"She is our pinch-hitter and we prepared her like that," Chowdhury told ESPNcricinfo.
Unlike Prottasha, Shorna's game is not reliant on power but in finding gaps and keeping the score ticking. But with Bangladesh on the doorstep, staring victory in the face, she decided to have a bit of fun and produced perhaps the shot of the match. That six over deep midwicket off McKenna. To think, she did all that while feeling less than 100%
"She had fever and still she played," Chowdhury said, "In fact, after the match also she was exhausted. She has a bright future, is a class player and definitely will be in the Bangladesh national team in the near future because her batting is fluent and very fearless. She's been playing in Jamalpur near Mymensingh. She's very devoted and very nice girl. She wants to do something for Bangladesh"
The Under-19 team prepared for this World Cup meticulously, with support from the Bangladesh Cricket Board. They played regular practice matches with the Under-15, Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 boys and as a result, on game day, even the might of Australia didn't really faze them.
"We have been planning [for this competition] for a long time," Chowdhury, who has worked with men's players like Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Afif Hossain and Najmul Hossain Shanto among others at the Under-15 level, said.
"The good thing about this age group is that they listen to what you tell them. Since the last year, we have been telling them to improve in certain aspects and they are good learners. I don't treat myself as the head coach but I treat them as family. We gift them from our pockets if they have done something good.
"Most players don't come from affluent backgrounds. We help them dream being the life-changers for their family, and the country."
Biswas, the captain, hails from Magura, the same district as her idol Shakib Al Hasan. Her dream is to win this competition like the Under-19 boys did in 2020.
"We are not over the moon that we won the game," Biswas said after the match, "but we are looking for day-to-day improvement. The turning point was Dola apu [Dilara] playing a wonderful innings. The other batters provided great support… Shorna, Prottasha and Sumaiya did well."
Those following Bangladesh's senior women's side would know about the glaring power-hitting void in the set-up. On a memorable day in Benoni, Biswas and her young troops have offered hope that things are changing.