Former New Zealand international and commentator Frankie Mackay believes the women’s game is “in a brilliant place” after the inaugural ICC Women’s U19 T20 World Cup in South Africa.
Full of highlights and blessed with future stars set to represent their senior sides, several teams made their case to claim the first trophy of its type, only for India to dash the hopes of their rivals, emphatically beating England in the final.
Speaking on The ICC Review with Nasser Hussain, Mackay was quick to praise the efforts of those who took part, lauding the style of cricket on display.
“The thing that stood out for me, especially in those top four teams, is just the way they played their cricket.
“Everyone had strike rates of 130, 150, a couple of them you're talking about striking at 170, 190. Women's cricket of probably even five years ago, that would have just been unheard of.”
The Women’s U19 T20 World Cup came 35 years after the first men’s tournament in 1988, rather fittingly where Hussain first made waves in an England shirt.
He went on to score over 8000 runs and captain his country in a 15-year international career, though the England legend could empathise with the Women’s class of 2023, vividly recollecting the emotions of Under-19 cricket, and the scrutiny that came with it.
“I remember again how I thought I batted like Brian Lara when I watched myself on TV.
“I wasn't quite the same.”
With little inhibition and an eye for the spectacular, the 2023 women’s tournament saw a range of shots from a number of batters, though their extravagance was somewhat countered by canny bowling.
For Mackay, whose cricket upbringing matched Hussain’s, the high-level competition and daring nature of the game may be the best indication that the next generation will show the experienced campaigners how to play.
“I was thinking: when I was 17, I was out there just blocking it and trying to survive and you got these kids scooping and switch-hitting and reversing.
“I was absolutely blown away with how these youngsters go about their cricket.
“So I think the women's game is in a brilliant place and the standard of cricket was something else.”
Impressed by the entire field, Mackay found it hard to keep her list of future stars short.
“I think that's the exciting thing, even when you're looking at the list of teams, everyone had a superstar in the making.
“If you told me in two years time they're playing international cricket for their senior sides I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest.
“Looking at India first, Shweta Sehrawat. She just looked absolute class, she was the leading run-scorer for the tournament.
“But you've also got Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh in your team and we’re sitting around talking about someone else, someone who hasn't yet been able to play at the senior level.
“The Player of the Tournament was (England’s) Grace Scrivens, and probably the thing that stood out to me most was just her competitive instinct, just her real drive."
Mackay named England leg-spinner Hannah Baker and Australian tearaway quick Millie Illingworth as players to watch, and also sang the praises of her young Kiwi compatriots, who were unbeaten until meeting India in the semi-finals in spite of a number of injuries that threatened to derail their campaign.
Though the former all-rounder also looked to some of the youngest players at the tournament who provided the most inspiration.
“Simone Lourens for South Africa, first game of the World Cup: 15 years old, belted India everywhere. It looked like she'd been playing international cricket for years.
“I just can't even contemplate being 15 and playing on the world stage.
“The standard of cricket means that it will be a regular fixture, it'll stay.”
Though what were the biggest lessons the game’s future stars took from South Africa? Echoing Hussain’s sentiments and looking back at her own career, Mackay feels the tournament’s off-field seminars on issues such as social media and women’s health would be as beneficial as the learning experiences on the field.
“We talked about how to build your (social media) brand, but also how to use it safely.
"Mithali Raj came in and spoke about her career and how that had changed across a couple of decades and what the scrutiny looks like when you started getting on TV, and how to deal with some of those disappointments and things being written in the press about you that might not be so kind.
“And then there were some women's health seminars as well. I just think the way that all that off-field stuff was covered off was a huge learning experience for those girls.
“You just get to share your experiences, the good, the bad, the ugly, the days when you think cricket's the hardest sport in the world, the days when you think it's the best sport in the world.
“So lots of chats, lots of discussions between players and hopefully it means these youngsters come out of it with some good experiences that they can then pass on to the next crop.”