U-19 Women’s World Cup: How the girls danced their way to glory
Less than 20 hours before the ICC U-19 Women’s World Cup final, the Indian team had a blast in Potchefstroom, refusing to give in to the pressure associated with the enormity of the occasion.
The team dinner turned out to be a massive party with the girls breaking into an impromptu jig to the live music. It was difficult to believe that the same bunch would be playing for the trophy the next afternoon. The support staff’s intention was to maintain a relaxed atmosphere in the camp.
“That would sound unfamiliar, but we were determined not to put the girls under any pressure. Forget the result, enjoy the moment and have fun, had been our message,” Rajib Dutta, a coach at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore, who was handpicked by director VVS Laxman to look after the team along with Apurva S. Desaii in May last year, told The Telegraph on Monday before boarding the flight home.
The results showed as the Shafali Verma-led side bowled out England for 68 at the JB Marks Oval and cantered to a seven-wicket win to clinch their first world title in women’s cricket.
It was only in November that the BCCI appointed Nooshin Al Khadeer, a former India international, as head coach when the team was in New Zealand for a preparatory tour.
“It was more than six months of planning which fetched the desired results. Initially, we had shortlisted some 150 girls from the age-group tournaments, which was pruned down to 25, and then to 15 around October, which formed the crux of the team,” Dutta said.
“We worked closely at the NCA to shortlist the girls based on their strengths and weaknesses. We had seen the spark in these youngsters and stuck to them. We believed in their abilities and even the loss to Australia in the Super Six match couldn’t distract them,” Dutta, who began his coaching career in Bengal, said.
He lauded Titas Sadhu, who bagged the Player of the Final award, for her spell (2/6) which stifled England. “I first saw Titas at the zonal cricket academy and then when she played for the Bengal senior team. She formed the spearhead of our attack. Not just bowling, she can field and bat admirably. She is a player for the future,” said Dutta.
But it was Shafali’s captaincy that made a big difference. “Shafali and Richa (Ghosh) joined the team only four days before the tournament. But the way both gelled with the girls was remarkable. Her leadership was unbelievable. She probably took baby steps in moulding herself into a future captain for the senior team,” felt Dutta.
Interacting with Tokyo Olympics gold medal winner Neeraj Chopra before the final also helped. “We were staying at the same hotel and Neeraj came over to interact on his own after meeting the girls at the gym. He spoke about his preparations for Tokyo and how he remained focused.”