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Shafali's opening salvo and Ghosh's maturity give a peep into India's future

Teenaged duo showed what they can do when the senior India batters have an off day

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Shafali Verma stayed back in her crease, waited for Shamilia Connell's first legitimate delivery and hit it with just the right amount of force to thread it past backward point and to the square boundary for four. She stayed in the same place for the next one, which was wider and hit it harder, for four more. By the end of the over, Shafali had been tempted by an even wider ball and got a thick outside edge that went for four. India were only chasing 119 and Shafali had given them a rollicking 14-run start.
Any other 19-year-old may have been rattled when, three overs later, her partner Smriti Mandhana, who was also the most expensive buy at the WPL was dismissed cheaply. But we know Shafali is no ordinary 19-year-old. India's Under-19 T20 World Cup-winning captain knows how to play pressure situations. Even as questions came up about Mandhana's poor run of form in South Africa - she only got into double figures once in the recent tri-series that included West Indies before suffering a hand injury that kept her out of the Pakistan game - Shafali carried on.
She bisected long-on and deep midwicket with a powerful swing off Karishma Ramharack and helped India close out the powerplay on 41 for 2, far ahead of the required run-rate. She didn't last too much longer though, and swept Ramharack to long-leg soon after but she'd laid a foundation from which an Indian failure would have taken some doing, especially with the batting to come.
Exit Shafali, enter Richa Ghosh, who has also tasted Under-19 T20 World Cup success and is brimming with confidence. Ghosh had the benefit of the captain, Harmanpreet Kaur, at the other end, and concentrated on rotating strike before lashing out. Ghosh didn't find the boundary off the first 15 balls she faced, but scored 14 runs. When Connell went too short after that, she hung back and pulled hard to send the ball strongly through midwicket.
If two acts summed up this Indian innings, those were it: Shafali's opening salvo and then Ghosh's first boundary. In them we saw two young Indian batters willing to take on the seamers and the short ball and set the tone for a generation of fearless cricketers to come.
"They are not the traditional Indian batters who like to play the drives and stuff like that," Harmanpreet said afterwards. "I think they are players who really enjoy the short ball. They know what international cricket is, what type of balls you are going to face, when you are going to bat, what speed is going to come and I think they are mature enough. It's good to see that they are taking the responsibility and taking us through in any situation."
Ghosh soon accelerated past Harmanpreet and brought out the pull, the cut and the back-foot drive, specifically waiting for the shorter lengths to find the boundary. Her ability to identify which deliveries she wanted to go after has come in a short time and Harmanpreet was thrilled to see how quickly Ghosh has learnt.
"She talks about picking the right ball because that is very important for her," Harmanpreet said. "Earlier, she was a little in a hurry - because she's someone who can always clear the ball - so picking the right ball is the key for her. I think it's good to see that she's understanding which is her zone and which ball she can hit and which ball to just take a single. So, I think showing maturity is something which we are really happy to see."
That approach allowed Ghosh to be the player who swept momentum away from West Indies after their former captain Stafanie Taylor was stretchered off the field with what looked like a recurrence of the back injury that hampered her over the last year, and take India to victory with 11 balls to spare. Shakera Selman sensed the shift and realised there was very little West Indies could do to pull things back.
"I first played her [Shafali] in IPL [Women's T20 Challenge] and the first ball she hit me back down the ground for four, so I rated her from then," Selman said. "She is a really good player. She's a superstar for India and it's good to see youngsters hold up their hand and lead from the front. I'm impressed by what she's done so far. I think she'll do so much more for India."
This tournament has already seen several young batters, many from the subcontinent, show what they can do. Sri Lanka's Vishmi Gunaratne and Pakistan's Ayesha Naseem are two of them. Shafali and Ghosh are two others and they already have 84 caps between them, enough to be considered experienced internationals despite still being teenagers. Against West Indies, they showed what they can do when the seniors don't step up and have put India one step away from the semi-finals.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket