Nooshin Al Khadeer’s voice choked as she spoke to her players, moments after India clinched the inaugural U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup in Potchefstroom, South Africa, on Sunday.
For former India international, Nooshin, it was a realisation of an old dream. In 2005, as part of the Indian team, Nooshin reached the final of the Women’s World Cup, but on that occasion in Centurion, India went down to Australia.
This time, as the coach of the U-19 team, Nooshin made sure she was leaving South Africa with the trophy. And her wards fulfilled that unaccomplished dream by thrashing England by seven wickets in the final and clinching the trophy, a first for Indian women’s cricket across all disciplines and formats.
A teary-eyed Nooshin hugged her wards and later joined them for a dance session in the dressing room to celebrate the historic win. “They even complimented me for dancing well,” an elated Nooshin told Sportstar over the phone.
In the interview, she explained what this victory means for women’s cricket in India and also had a piece of advice for young girls, who have just tasted success on a foreign shore.
How would you describe this moment?
Awesome! This is like a dream come true moment for all the people back home, who were expecting us to win. I believe things would change for women’s cricket back home, and it was very important for these girls to have one ICC trophy. I am glad and also lucky to be part of this historic side that won the inaugural edition of the U-19 World Cup.
Shafali Verma revealed how you inspired her by reminiscing about the 2005 Women’s World Cup, where India lost in the final, and told her that this side had the potential to create history by winning the title. If you could throw some light on the conversation you had with Shafali?
We were talking about something which happened 18 years back. When you are a player, you want to live your dreams and be part of the team that wins a World Cup and for me, 2005 was one such moment. Yes, this time during the tournament, memories kept flowing in because back in 2005, we played the semifinal against New Zealand at the same ground in Potchefstroom, so I still remember that dressing room. Our dressing room, this time, was different.
But when I walked into the ground, for the Sri Lanka game, there was a flashback. A lot of things came to my mind and they brought back so many memories.
Of course, being in a different role now, things have changed. I would say, I was more aggressive as a player - just like how these girls are now - but being the coach, I did not want to end up on the losing side again. I wanted to win and I just told Shafali that playing in South Africa brings back memories for me and that she could make it special by winning the title. We did have a lot of conversations like these and I believe that Shafali still has a child-like exuberance in her, who enjoys these little things, these victories and joys.
I understand that she has made it to the senior team at a very young age and maybe at that level, you need to hold on to your emotions. But I saw Shafali enjoying success with all her players around. So, those things made me realise that we could it happen have those little, little dreams through these kids.
Shafali and Richa Ghosh joined the team only before the South Africa tour. Since they were not with the group earlier - during the New Zealand series at home - how did you ensure that the current bunch of players was not overwhelmed to have them in the dressing room? How did you handle things over the last few weeks?
We just kept things very simple because I knew where they were coming from. Some of the U-19 players had seen them as role models, so it was very important to ensure that these 15 players remain strong as a unit and nobody feels like an outsider. All the support staff were on the same page that we should treat all the players equally, and it was important to give Shafali clarity in terms of her role in the tournament, and what was expected from her. I would give credit to Richa and Shafali for adapting to this culture immediately because of how important this tournament was for all of us. So, I would not take the entire credit for this success and would want to give some credit to those two kids as well because unless they took the effort, it wouldn’t have worked out so well.
So, it was important to tell everyone that ‘boss, we are looking at winning the World Cup and that is the ultimate goal’. I am glad we could achieve our target.
The real challenge for most youngsters begins now. As they get ready to chase their dreams of graduating to the senior level, how should they handle things?
I have seen a spark in these youngsters, a spark that makes us believe that they can do it. Throughout the tournament, we witnessed that spark. It was a roller-coaster journey for us after the loss against Australia in the Super Six. And for the girls, coming back stronger was important. Looking ahead, we told the girls that ‘look, no matter how many victories you are getting, we are going to remain as a unit’ and the idea was to keep things simple. We have been emphasising this and have advised them to keep their cricket simple and stay grounded.
How did you keep the girls motivated ahead of the final?
Throughout the tournament, we decided not to juggle too much and today was different. We told them to take every game as a normal fixture because the moment you start thinking that it’s a semifinal or a final, the pressure starts building up. We decided that we will treat this as one odd game that we need to win.
Players also knew that it was a huge platform and they had to perform. The entire support staff decided to keep things simple and have a good environment to ensure that the pressure does not build up. When a young player knows that thik hai, koi tension ki baat nahi hai, it helps her stay calm and composed. We did just that and it helped us.
How much of a boost will this title win be ahead of the inaugural Women’s Premier League?
This is a big platform for us to do well and for the girls to get exposure at the right time. My personal advice to them would be to take one game at a time because there will be a lot of cricket coming up.
They don’t really need to feel disheartened because ultimately they have done something which we were waiting for a long time.
What’s next for you as a coach?
I always believe in simple living and high thinking. That is my motto. I am looking forward to joining the Railways team for the Super League the moment I land in India.