India's Shafali Verma plays a shot against Australia in Mumbai. Photo: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP
New Delhi (AFP): India are looking to a new generation of talented young cricketers led by teenage batter Shafali Verma to propel them to a first Women's T20 World Cup title this month.
Long-serving skipper Mithali Raj and record-breaking fast bowler Jhulan Goswami, trailblazers for women's cricket in India, both retired last year.
New captain Harmanpreet Kaur said both players are still on hand to give advice, but it is time to look forward.
"Whenever we need they are always available to us, that's what you expect from senior players," the 33-year-old told a recent press conference.
"Nobody can fill their places, but the young girls who are getting the chances are doing well."
One of the players who has grabbed her chance is Verma, an attacking opening batter who led India to victory in the inaugural U19 T20 World Cup in South Africa last month.
The 19-year-old will be back on familiar ground for the T20 World Cup, which is again in South Africa.
It starts on February 10 and India are chasing a breakthrough first title, having been runners-up behind hosts Australia in the last edition, in 2020.
Their first match is against arch-rivals Pakistan on February 12 in Cape Town.
Verma made her international debut at the age of just 15 and was in the team that reached the T20 World Cup final in 2020.
She also played in the one-day World Cup and was a member of the Indian side which took silver at last year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
The youngster looks up to big-hitting England batsman Liam Livingstone for inspiration and considers Indian great Sachin Tendulkar a role model.
After captaining India to victory in the U19 World Cup, Verma said: "This is just the beginning."
"When I entered the Under-19s, I only focused on winning the Under-19 Cup and we have won that today," ESPNCricinfo quoted her as saying.
"I will look to take this winning confidence with me and win the senior World Cup."
Besides Verma, the India team also includes Smriti Mandhana, Richa Ghosh, Deepti Sharma and Renuka Singh.
The women's game is making inroads in the cricket-mad country, with the inaugural Women's Premier League set for March, ahead of the men's IPL.
Last month, India's cricket board auctioned off five women's IPL teams for $572.5 million.
The new generation "are ready to be the representatives of the modern generation of women's cricketers", cricket journalist Sharda Ugra told AFP.
"The women's IPL is going to start and they are the perfect representation of the kind of Indian women cricketers that belong to the T20 generation.
"They have the right mindset and they are very, very talented."