Potchefstroom: As Soumya Tiwari sent the last ball of the 14th over past point to take a single, she raised her arms and waved to her teammates, including some teary-eyed faces, running towards her.
As the Indian team began to realise that they were now the champions of the inaugural U19 Women’s T20 World Cup in Potchefstroom, South Africa, the long-standing quest for a maiden global title for the Indian team in women’s cricket was finally fulfilled.
India U19 team’s triumph on a sunny Sunday in Potchefstroom saw the attainment of a dream that the senior side couldn’t fulfil against Australia in the 2005 Women’s ODI World Cup final in South Africa, before more heartbreaks followed in the 2017 ODI World Cup final, 2020 T20 World Cup final and 2022 Commonwealth Games final.
Captain Shafali Verma, who had announced herself as a 15-year-old explosive opener in the 2019 Women’s T20 Challenge and made her senior India debut later in the year, had been a part of two heartbreaks — 2020 and 2022.
Three years ago, Shafali, then 16, had to be consoled by her teammates when India had been bundled out for 99 in chasing 185 against Australia in the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Now, in 2023, Shafali, who turned 19 on the eve of the final, was again in tears. But this time it was out of happiness during the post-finale presentation ceremony, after becoming the first-ever Indian captain to win a World Cup in women’s cricket.
“That final, we didn’t win the game. Now I was thinking at that time, whenever I join the U19 team, we have to win this cup. I was telling the girls that we have to win this cup and said all the time, we are here for the cup.”
“In 2020, the tears came out due to the sadness of the loss. Today, with the cup being won, they were my tears of happiness. The thing which we came here to achieve was fulfilled. As a team, those were tears of happiness. I tried to control it a lot, but it wasn’t possible,” she said in the post-match press conference.
Sunday saw India being at their electric best in the field and complimenting the bowlers, who were all over England — Titas Sadhu caused them issues with her movement, while the spinners Shafali, Archana Devi, Parshavi Chopra, Mannat Kashyap and Sonam Yadav caused trouble with turn, bounce, as well as stifling line and length.
The fielders were throwing themselves everywhere on the field, just to save those extra runs, irrespective of whether the grass was beneath them or not. Gongadi Trisha, who would make 24 and share a valuable 46-run stand with Soumya Tiwari for the third wicket, ran in from long-off and made the dive to complete the catch of England captain Grace Scrivens.
Archana dived full length in the air to take a one-handed stunner and send Ryana Macdonald-Gay back to the pavilion, an effort which would have made legendary fielders immensely proud. Shafali felt that the will to win the trophy fuelled others to put their best foot forward.
“It (the fielding) felt very incredible as everyone in the team knew how important the final was. No one in the side was loose and everyone knew we are here to win, and that body language was there. It was good to see that as a captain, the players make good dives.”
“Everyone was so involved in the match and fielded so well. Not only in fielding, but in batting also they did well, whosoever got the chance and had their day today. It was great to see the way the team performed well in the tournament.”
On the eve of the final, India’s U19 team had the chance to interact with javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, India’s first individual Olympic champion in track and field, who is currently in Potchefstroom for a pre-season camp. Shafali was eloquent in highlighting the role of Chopra in boosting the confidence of the team on the verge of making history.
“It was very important as we all know how important he is for India. He has won many medals, including at the Olympics and motivated us a lot. He shared his experiences with us, which is very important ahead of a final. He told us we are here for the World Cup and have come here after seeing many difficulties.”
“He also said the final is your last day here and you need to give your 100% while adding that you don’t have to steer away from your goal of winning the trophy and we took those words along with us. We got a lot of help from listening to his motivational words and all girls learnt a lot.”
With the trophy in hand, Shafali’s next challenge will be to propel India to its first senior World Cup title when the Women’s T20 World Cup begins on February 10 in South Africa, something which she is upbeat about.
“When I joined the U19 team, I am the type of person who focuses on things in the present. Hence, my focus was in the U19 team and then winning the cup. Now we have done that and when I join the senior team on February 3, I would like to take this win as confidence and wish to win the senior T20 World Cup too.”
“I want to move on and then get involved quickly with the next World Cup, especially with conditions and speed. I want to get gelled up quickly with the team and try to win the World Cup.”
The thing with journeys is that when one ends, another begins. With the Women’s T20 World Cup coming up, there is also the Women’s Premier League (WPL), which has the potential to make Shafali and her team-mates household names in the country, just like what happened with Virat Kohli & Co after becoming U19 World Cup winners in 2008.
But as Shafali prepares to move towards another journey of winning her second trophy of the year after her tryst with the U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup trophy in Potchefstroom, January 29, 2023, will be seen in history as the beginning of a revolution which will change the scenery of Indian women’s cricket forever.
“I will just say this is the best thing for me and I want to learn more things through this cup. I always look for learnings from every match and tournament. I want to get more runs for India and I am not going to be satisfied with this cup. I want to get more cups for India. So, it’s just a beginning.”