In India's squad that will play the U19 Women's T20 World Cup final against England at JB Marks Oval on Sunday, captain Shafali Verma will be the one who's got the experience of being in two finals with the senior women's team.
As a 16-year-old making a big splash at the T20I level, Shafali got her first brush of pressure in a final in the 2020 World Cup final when India were bowled out for 99 in a chase of 185 against Australia in front of 86,174 fans at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
She dropped a catch of Alyssa Healy on the fifth ball of the match at cover and then saw her make 75 off 39 balls. With the bat, she fell early to Megan Schutt as India's chase never got going. Fast forward to 2022 and against the same opposition in the 2022 Commonwealth Games final at Edgbaston, Shafali holed out two balls after Megan had dropped her catch at cover.
Now, on the eve of the 2023 U19 Women's T20 World Cup final against England, Shafali, who turned 19 on Saturday, was asked by IANS in the pre-final press conference what advice did she give to her team about their approach in the final of a tournament through her previous experiences in 2020 and 2022, pat came her reply, "enjoying the match and believe in yourself".
"Haan bahut finals khela hai (Yes, I have played those finals in 2020 and 2022 and seen it all). My experience which I shared with the teammates is 'it's about going out there and enjoying the game'," she said.
"I also told them that don't think it is a final, just give your 100 per cent all the time and if you play the final by enjoying the game, then it will go well. If one plays the final stressfully, then the match will also go in that way. I have said to them to enjoy the match and just believe in themselves and play the game."
Asked if there were words of encouragement from the senior women's counterparts, who are playing in a tri-series in East London, Shafali said no conversation had happened. "I haven't spoken to all of them yet. Before coming here, I spoke to Harman di and she shared her leadership experience with me. Apart from that, I haven't spoken to anyone yet."
Ahead of the tournament, India had a lot of game time through the quadrangular series and won 5-0 against New Zealand's developmental side before thumping hosts South Africa 4-0.
They topped Group D with three comprehensive wins before Australia gave them a reality check by bowling them out for 87 in 18.5 overs, a match which admitted was very stressful' for the Indian team.
"We had nervous moments and couldn't sleep, thinking about whether we could make the final or not. But we have learnt from our mistakes and here we are (in the final). Now we're all confident and are clear in our respective roles. Everyone is enjoying each other's company and staying normal, we are not thinking much. We are thinking that we have to give our 100% tomorrow on the field," she added.
As Shafali turned a year older, she also expressed her gratitude to her family, especially to her father, Sanjeev, her constant backer, who introduced the game to her in Rohtak in Haryana, and she then rose through the ranks.
"He has helped me a lot. He has always told me that 'you are the best' and 'you have got everything in you'. He kept pushing me always and here I'm because of all his and my family's sacrifices"
"Thank you papa for backing me and making me practice while keeping the neighbours aside. If I win the trophy, then one will be there for papa. I will always be grateful to you for backing me and if it wasn't for that, then I wouldn't have been here today."
Ahead of the final, one contest that has been built up as potentially match-deciding is the one between India's skilful spinners and England's batters, led by captain Grace Scrivens at the top. Shafali signed off by hoping they get to execute their plans on the field in the final.
"They have done really well in coming to the final. Whatever I have analysed of them, their all-rounders are very good and also hit very well against deliveries. We have created strategies for them and hope to execute them on-field."
Sunday presents a golden opportunity for India to clinch its first global trophy in its history of playing women's cricket. In a country where India first made the final of a Women's World Cup, 18 years ago (in the 2005 ODI World Cup final), Shafali would be wishing her team to play the final like any other game and get their hands on the trophy to set the ball rolling for another revolution of women's cricket in the country.
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