India and England will lock horns in a tantalizing final of the inaugural ICC Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup in Potchefstroom on Sunday, to bring down the curtain on a thrilling first edition of the event in South Africa.
After a groundbreaking month in the Rainbow Nation, which saw emerging nations take their place at cricket’s newest top table, the event has delivered a fitting finale between two well-matched sides.
They took contrasting paths in their respective semifinals, but both will be fully aware that a significant slice of history now beckons for the team that can deliver one more telling performance on Sunday.
India played perhaps, its most clinical cricket in dismantling New Zealand by eight wickets in the first semifinal, with wickets for Parshavi Chopra, fine fielding and yet more runs for the red-hot Shweta Sehrawat at the top of the order.
Skipper, Shafali Verma, will ask for a repeat of that dosage in the final because that will certainly give India a sincere shot at glory. Standing in their way, however, is the only unbeaten team left in the competition.
Verma, a regular in the senior India squad, sounded confident on the eve of the match.”The feeling is very good in our camp (after the training session ahead of the final),” she said. “The players know their roles and what to do in the final. All of us are excited and happy to play the final. We will back each other and enjoy the experience.”
If India wins that final, it would be an excellent, though slightly belated, birthday gift for Shafali. She turned 19 on Saturday.
After watching England beat Australia by three runs in a thrilling low-scoring semifinal, Shafali said her team was ready for the England challenge. “That semifinal was a very good game. We have seen how England batted and bowled and we have our strategy and are going to execute it.”
England had to draw on all its reserves of fortitude to outlast Australia in a cliffhanger of a second semifinal, eventually prevailing by three precious runs. Captain, Grace Scrivens, had the final say as she took the final Aussie wicket amidst unbearable tension.
England’s batters had produced its tamest display of the tournament, but this is a well-drilled side across all disciplines. Only once in this World Cup has England conceded more than 100, and that was 103 against Pakistan.
However, Grace Scrivens, England captain sounded keen to maintain the excellent track record of England – male or female – in white-ball cricket. And all the talk about the WPL did catch her attention.
“The announcement of the WPL was amazing and it is a big step forward for women’s cricket. It will be something incredibly privileged to be part of,” she said.
They are miserly and measured when they need to be, and there is plenty of variety to test India’s top-order. England will be fully aware that the powerful Richa Ghosh has been waiting to truly express herself in this competition, and she would love nothing more than to do that in the final.
Both teams have quality spin to call upon, especially on a surface that has been taking more and more turn as the tournament has worn on. Hannah Baker was at it again in the semi, snapping up three scalps to heap the pressure on Australia.
Chopra and Mannat Kashyap have been just as mesmeric for India, and the contest may well come down to which set of slow bowlers settles into their work best.
It is an occasion crying out for an individual to put their stamp on proceedings and deliver their country the first-ever ICC Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup trophy.
(Quotes input from P. K. Ajith Kumar)