Saturday, February 4, 2023

ICC: U19 World Cup underlines huge women’s season – Tendulkar

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This season is huge for women’s cricket as fans around the world shift their gaze to South Africa for the ICC Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup and the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup.

While the Women’s T20 World Cup has been played for several years now, the Under-19 event is a first-time event and one that holds a lot of promise. I think this can transform the landscape, since a global platform will ensure great learning and experience to young women cricketers.

Though women’s cricket has made huge strides, there are areas still to be tapped. What is required right now is a more robust grassroots system across the world. The larger we spread the base, the more talent we will unearth and that will have a direct bearing on the quality of the game.

I feel the inaugural tournament will ensure that happens. Going beyond showcasing the best junior talent of the world, it will ensure more investment in junior cricket in different countries, resulting in a consistent feeder line for future U19 World Cups as well as senior cricket. We have already seen this happen as Cricket Boards have either announced or are planning more age group tournaments for girls.

The Men’s U19 World Cups have served as good examples of how junior cricketers get a first-time feel of a global event. Some players who developed beautifully from there to senior international cricket are Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes, Kane Williamson, Kagiso Rabada, and more recently, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Shubman Gill.

I am sure that in the years to come, we will hear of many girls who mature into top class cricketers from the U19 system. It really helps that this is a 16-team tournament and encourages teams beyond the traditional cricket markets because we have seen that women’s cricket can outdo men’s cricket in certain places – Brazil and Thailand being some examples.

The Indian Men’s U19 sides have traditionally been strong, winning the title five times. I would say that the women’s team has the capability to be one of the standout sides this time. The team has a good balance of few experienced players as well as young talented prospects both in the batting as well as bowling department. 

With the senior event commencing on the back of this one, what we also see is an opportunity for the game to leave a legacy in South Africa. 

The ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 final between Australia and India at the MCG had seen more than eighty five thousand fans in attendance and that has been a huge moment for the women’s game. Who would have thought few years ago that female cricketers would be playing in a packed MCG, or for that matter, in a packed Lord’s for the final of the ICC Women’s World Cup three years earlier!

Two-time defending champions Australia obviously go in as the favourites for the senior event while Harmanpreet’s side will be looking for their breakout moment after India missed out on World Cup titles in three previous finals – the 50-over World Cups of 2005 and 2017 and the 2020 T20 World Cup.

I wish the Indian team as well as the players from the other teams all the very best for these two tournaments. Of course, players will aim for victories, but I would ask everyone to just go out and enjoy playing the game on the biggest stage. 

As for me, I am excited and looking forward to all the action.

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