The Indian Under-19 Women’s Cricket Team scripted history by thrashing England and lifting the maiden ICC U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup 2023. At Potchefstroom in South Africa, the Shafali Verma-led side turned January 29 into a Super Sunday for Indian Sport with their clinical demolition of England by 7 wickets. By being crowned World Champions in the inaugural U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup, the ‘Women in Blue’ won their first-ever ICC title nearly 50 years after women’s cricket began in the country.
The English side was undefeated in the tournament but in the one-sided final, they were simply no match to the Indian eves who dominated from the start. Captain Shafali Verma, who is also a member of the senior team, decided to field first. An excellent bowling effort saw India skittling England out for just 68. Fast bowler Titas Sadhu bowled with discipline and her tight spell was rewarded with 2 wickets for just 6 runs. Spinners Archana Devi and Parshavi Chopra also picked 2 wickets each, setting up an easy task for the batters.
Indian girls didn’t have any difficulty in chasing a below-par total of 69 runs and romped home in barely 14 overs!! The English side was outplayed, thoroughly. Somya Tiwari and Gongadi Trisha stitched a breezy 46-run partnership to ensure a famous victory for India after a quick start by Shafali.
Prior to the dominant display in the final, India topped their Group D, which had South Africa, UAE and Scotland. But in the Super Six round against Australia, the team was bundled out for 87, which the Aussies chased comfortably. The Indian team bounced back with a thumping win over Sri Lanka and assured themselves a semi-final spot against New Zealand. All-round brilliance in the Semis saw the Indians crush the Kiwis by eight wickets.
India’s triumph at the inaugural U19 T20 World Cup is being seen as a sign of far happier days for women’s cricket in the country. It comes just days after Women’s Premier League (WPL) netted huge gains. Just broadcasting rights alone fetched Rs 951 crores. And five franchises were sold for a massive Rs 4,669 crore. In fact, the bidding for teams of the inaugural WPL broke the records of the inaugural men’s IPL in 2008.
Most experts believe the U-19 glory as a culmination of a process that has been gathering pace over the past decade. It comes three months after Indian girls lifted the Asia Cup for the seventh time in October 2022. That victory came barely a month after the men’s team had failed to even reach the finals of the Asia Cup.
Earlier, in ICC events in the last few years, India had narrowly missed title triumphs. In the 2017 ODI World Cup, little-known Harmanpreet Kaur from Punjab had played an amazing knock of 171, which got India to the final – and women’s cricket suddenly gained mass recognition in the country. Despite India’s narrow loss in that World Cup final, when the team returned home, fans thronged the airport in thousands. It was the first major sign that fans had started recognizing that it was not only the Men in Blue but also the Women in Blue who were playing stellar cricket and deserved their love and support.
If that wasn’t enough, India also reached the final of the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup but lost to Australia. Besides Harmanpreet and the equally popular Smriti Mandhana, it was the-then-16-year-old Shafali Verma who played a crucial role in that tournament and became an overnight sensation in the country. This lot has, of course, benefitted tremendously from the experienced duo of former skipper Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, who were active stars till recently.
Similarly, in the Commonwealth Games in 2022, Indian women won the silver medal after a narrow 9-run loss to Australia in the final. The Indian women nearly pulled it off against the five-time T20 champions Australia as captain Harmanpreet Kaur almost took India home with a fluent half-century in the chase of 162. She smacked the Aussie bowlers all around the park and stitched a 96-run stand with Jemimah Rodrigues. But India lost their last seven wickets for 34 runs and that collapse helped Australia to clinch the Gold.
The glorious triumph in the Under-19 category now seems a fitting tribute to the efforts put in by countless players over the past 5 decades. It’s a win especially for a range of exceptional women whose names rarely figure in India’s glorious cricket history. These include among many others the pioneers like Shanta Rangaswamy and Diana Edulji who played for India for decades but hardly earned a penny to the long-serving Anjum Chopra, Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami to the current lot of Harmanpreet and Co.
The first title triumph in an ICC event comes just a few weeks ahead of WPL, the world’s richest women’s sports league. The string of recent successes were finally rewarded by the BCCI when it announced pay parity in October 2022 for its contracted women cricketers. As a result, women cricketers will be paid the same match fee as the men, which is Rs 15 lakhs for Test matches, Rs 6 lakhs for ODI matches and Rs 3 lakhs for T20I games. By every reckoning, becoming U-19 World Champions is a watershed moment that could usher in a glorious future for women’s cricket in India with fans getting more chances to ‘bleed blue’!