Shafali 'not going to be satisfied', sets sights on senior World Cup
India's captain also revealed how the pain of Melbourne 2020 spurred her on in this tournament
"This is just the beginning," smiled Shafali Verma, the Under-19 India captain who had just led her country to a maiden World Cup title in women's cricket. The beauty of that statement was that it is - and isn't - just the beginning.
For many of its participants from 16 nations, the inaugural ICC Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup in South Africa was a first foray into representing their country and playing overseas. And it will surely provide a spark for several promising careers, including that of Grace Scrivens, Player of the Tournament and Shafali's defeated opposite number as India romped to victory by seven wickets with six overs to spare in Potchefstroom.
Scrivens scored 293 runs - four fewer than tournament leader and Shafali's opening partner Shweta Sehrawat - and took nine wickets. She heads home with hopes of lifting her Sunrisers team to victory after a winless 2022 across both 50-over and T20 domestic competitions, as well as building her fledgling Hundred career with the ultimate aim to "one day soon get in the main England squad".
Shafali, on the other hand, is in the thick of her senior international career already and, along with wicketkeeper Richa Ghosh, will join up with India's senior side towards the end of this week for the T20 World Cup starting in Cape Town on Feburary 10.
"I am someone who focuses on task at hand," Shafali said. "When I entered the Under-19s, I only focused on winning the Under-19 Cup and we have won that today. I will look to take this winning confidence with me and win the senior World Cup. I will try and forget this and get involved with the senior set-up and gel with the team and win the World Cup."
Shafali, who turned 19 on the eve of the final, entered the tournament with 74 senior international caps to her name. After scores of 45 and 78 against South Africa and UAE respectively, she added only 34 more runs in four innings leading up to the title decider, where she also fell cheaply alongside Sehrawat as India slipped to 20 for 2.
But, despite England having also defended a small total to scrape past Australia in the semi-finals, those early strikes by Scrivens and Hannah Baker, the legspinner who has been another revelation at this tournament, could not deny Shafali and her team, who cruised to their target.
For her part, Scrivens said she learned plenty to take forward.
"As a captain, it's the first time I've done it for a while. I've done it when I was younger, but it's on a different stage with much, much more on it," she said. "So I think I've learned so much from that... learning more about players has been great.
"It's about getting to know your players and learning what makes them tick and what doesn't and what you need to do to support them. I think throughout the tournament, I've been able to do that.
"As a team we've learned so much, the way we fought in the semi-final was unbelievable. I think the fight shown by every single one of us was great and also being out in South Africa, learning about conditions, playing abroad. That's just going to give us more experience and improve our career and future."
Afterwards, Shafali revealed there was also an element of looking to the past amid all the talk of what lies ahead. The pain of defeat as India tried in vain to chase down 185 against Australia in the T20 Women's World Cup final three years ago at the MCG provided plenty of motivation and, as she fronted up to the post-match presentation - this time victorious - the emotions spilled over.
"Melbourne was a very emotional day for me in that final game, we didn't win the game. When I joined the Under-19 team, I'm just thinking, 'you know, we have to win this Cup.' I'm just telling all the girls, 'We have to win this Cup, we are here for the Cup.'
"We had lost the World Cup and it was tears of sadness. Today, they were tears of happiness because we achieved what we came here for. I tried controlling it but it couldn't happen. I will look at this as a big achievement and look to use this to learn something more. I will try to score more runs for India and am not going to be satisfied with this Cup. This is just the beginning."
There is a sense of more to come from Player-of-the-Match Titas Sadhu, India's sole seamer, and offspinner Archana Devi, who took two wickets apiece (not to mention the latter's blinder of a catch at extra cover) to leave England reeling, as well as 16-year-old legspinner Parshavi Chopra, who also claimed two. Then there were Soumya Tiwari and Gongadi Trisha, who marshalled the bulk of the run-chase, albeit a small one, after Shafali and Sehrawat departed.
"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," Shafali said. "I'm going to miss this batch."
Perhaps she won't have to wait too long before she is reunited with some of them.
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo