Shafali, Richa boost India’s hopes in U-19 World Cup Cricket


India’s fiery opener Shafali Verma is not new to captaincy, having led her state Haryana in domestic tournaments.

However, it will be a different challenge when she steps out as captain of the India U-19 women’s cricket team for the first time for the toss in the first T20I against South Africa in Pretoria on 27 December. The five-match series against the South Africa women’s youth team will be a prelude to the first T20 Under-19 Women’s World Cup, which is also taking place in South Africa from January 14.

The inaugural U-19 World Cup was originally scheduled in 2021, but COVID forced a postponement. This allowed the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru to help the players prepare well for the mega event.

It took about 10 months for the NCA to organize Zonal Cricket Academy (ZCA) camps, followed by Zonal U-19 tournaments and a special camp in Bengaluru under BCCI-qualified women coaches. The top U-19 cricketers then played in a quadrangular series with West Indies, Sri Lanka, India A and India B (all U-19 teams) in Visakhapatnam, followed most recently by a T20 against the New Zealand U-19 team in Mumbai. The series happened.

“BCCI did a great job in utilizing the time for the U-19 team. Despite very rainy and wet conditions, the U-19 players were exposed to highly competitive tournaments followed by intensive conditioning camps. Also, it will be interesting to see former India cricketer Nushin-al-Khadir take up the duties of the head coach in South Africa.

“She was a successful spinner taking more than 100 international wickets for India. She has been coaching Railways in domestic tournaments for a long time and the team has always been champions. The BCCI made an effort to groom women coaches during this phase,” said board-qualified coach Khyati Gulani, who coached at one of the ZCA U-19 camps.

India’s senior team members Shafali and Richa Ghosh being part of the team will strengthen the Under-19 team going into the World Cup. The duo performed well in the recently concluded T20I series against Australia though the visitors won the five-match series 4-1 in Mumbai.

India U-19 team will play five T20 matches against South Africa U-19 in Pretoria from 27 December to 4 January. They will also take on South Africa in the opening match of the World Cup on January 14 in Benoni.

India is in Group D along with South Africa, UAE and Scotland in the 16-team tournament. The top three teams from each of the four groups will advance to the Super Sixes, where the teams will be placed in two groups of six each. The top two from each group will qualify for the semi-finals, which will be played in Potchefstroom on January 27. The final will also be played at the venue on January 29.

Although India’s senior team has reached the final of the World Cup several times in recent years, they have failed to win. Thus all hopes rest on the victory of the Under-19 team. The side has shown promise over the past 10 months with talented young players from across the country.


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