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Feature

The day women's cricket changed forever in India

India not only won the inaugural Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup, but also their maiden women's ICC title. Here are the girls who made it all happen

Raunak Kapoor
31-Jan-2023
Shafali Verma lifts the Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup  •  ICC/Getty Images

Shafali Verma lifts the Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup  •  ICC/Getty Images

India winning World Cups changes things. It always has. Cricket needs no retelling of the impact Kapil Dev's class of 1983 or MS Dhoni's triumph in 2007 and 2011 did, not just for India, but for the financial health of the global game. It is important India win World Cups.
With a World Cup final presence comes interest and serious attention. Cash prizes, primetime coverage, grandstand felicitations, appreciation from cricketing royalty. On a day when a senior men's T20I at home would have been played around the same time as the Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup final, everyone, including Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, had time for India's teenage World Cup winning girls.
A World Cup win sparks a change, and it's worth remembering forever the cast that orchestrated that change.

Captain fantastic: Shafali Verma

The term has often lost its credibility in recent times, but Shafali Verma's inclusion was a proper masterstroke. India were taking this tournament seriously. Shafali's presence gave this team the leader it needed, and an advantage card at the top of the order that would've been inexplicable not to use. She has already spoken at length on how much she benefitted from captaincy, from getting runs again and from bowling more. If India bounced back with belief after a meltdown against Australia, you can't help but believe Shafali's top-flight experience played its part. Three years on from Melbourne in March 2020, she got her World Cup fairytale finale.

Shweta Sehrawat: Vice-captain, but second to none

Once Shafali was named captain, Delhi's Shweta Sehrawat had to make do as her deputy, and could simply focus on her batting. Which was needed given she was short of runs going into the World Cup, with just 147 runs in nine innings in the two bilateral series against New Zealand and South Africa. Most openers at the tournament either went straight or leg side in search of boundaries. Sehrawat was different, and her dominant off-side game was the difference. She finished with the most runs (297) and the most boundaries (50 fours and two sixes), and in her own words after the opening game against South Africa, felt like she batted the best she ever had.

The spin triplet: Mannat Kashyap, Parshavi Chopra and Archana Devi

Historically, great things happened in Indian cricket when three quality spinners walked into the XI regardless of conditions or oppositions, simply because they were that good. And Mannat Kashyap, Parshavi Chopra and Archana Devi proved that they were that good. Kashyap was accurate with her left-arm spin, Chopra showed her ability to turn legbreaks and googlies, and offspinner Archana Devi's game sense, having to bowl at the death in the semi-final against New Zealand and with the new ball in the final versus England looking at the match up, all gave Shafali the luxury only a few Indian captains of the past have had, and no other captain in the tournament did.

Titas Sadhu, the last seamer standing

Titas Sadhu didn't start for India, but remained the last seamer standing, and what an impact she had with the ball. Player of the Match in the final, she struck on five occasions out of six in her opening spell. With bowlers being carted around on the flat tracks in Benoni, Sadhu bowled a maiden in her first game of the tournament and four up front. Her consistency to hit good lines and lengths and "keep it simple", as she herself put it, on multiple occasions in the tournament was remarkable.

Soumya Tiwari, the perfect foil

India's Nos. 3 and 4 didn't have an awful lot to do, but in a tournament of collapses, Soumya Tiwari and Gongadi Trisha played perfect foil to Shafali and Sehrawat. Both got among the runs when needed, the exception being Australia, the defeat that made India go back to Tiwari who was left out after the opening game. Tiwari's return though seemed to light a fire for India as a fielding unit. Both took sharp catches in the final, and Tiwari was at it right from the game against Sri Lanka, to give India the perfect start after the Australia loss. She likens herself to Kohli, tries to copy everything he does, from mannerisms to celebrations to even his jersey number 18. She ended up hitting the winning runs.

Where was Richa Ghosh?

By her high standards, Richa Ghosh had a quiet tournament. Ninety-three runs in four innings, with a high score of 49 when UAE dropped her four times. She also had a mixed bag behind the stumps, a decision that meant Hrishita Basu, India's keeper in Ghosh's absence, had to run around in the field, and she was terrific at that. But Ghosh's presence and experience could only have helped as the tournament went deeper. Her highlight moment was at times alerting Shafali, at mid-off, to run in support along with the cover fielder to expect a relay. 'Arre tu bhi bhaag Shifu, bhaag.' (You also run along, Shafali).

Shabnam MD, S Yashasri and Falak Naz, because pace is pace yaar

India could have played around with one spot right through the tournament. They eventually persisted with the extra spin option of Sonam Yadav, who didn't do much wrong. Offspinner Sonia Mendhiya got four innings and couldn't make an impact, so Tiwari was brought back. Seamers Shabnam MD, Falak Naz and S Yashasri just had to contend with the combination India went with. Make no mistake, India have serious promise in the pace department beyond Sadhu. Shabnam has pace, Yashasri hits the deck and hurries batters, and if there is swing on offer, there's Naz. All three quicks will no doubt have their moments going forward.

The coach: Nooshin Al Khadeer

Nooshin Al Khadeer, India's first T20I cap and now India's first World Cup-winning coach in the women's game, played a huge part in this team's success. India were tactically spot on in the semis and the final, intelligent with match-ups and consistent with selection. Their fielding only got better as the tournament went on. They also changed the batting order in a group game to give more batters game time, not something Indian teams tend to do in World Cups.
In an emotional post-match interview in the final, Shafali broke down with tears of joy on multiple occasions, none more so when appreciating what a big role the head coach had played. Denied as a player in 2005, the first time an Indian women's team made it to a World Cup final, Nooshin "relived her dream through the eyes of these girls" in a sweet second coming to South Africa in 2023.
World Cup wins at senior levels are sport-changing. At the Under-19s they are life changing. Kohli led India to an Under-19 World Cup final in Malaysia on March 2, 2008. Forty days later, he played in the first ever IPL game in Royal Challengers Bangalore colours. Every Indian player from that final went on to play the IPL, in what set the trend for franchises to scoop up Under-19 starlets ever since.
Shafali has just led India to a historic first Women's World Cup, albeit at the Under-19 level, on January 29, 2023. Less than 40 days from then, she and many of her World Cup-winning batch-mates, will be in WPL colours.

Raunak Kapoor is deputy editor (video) and lead presenter for ESPNcricinfo. @RaunakRK