Ireland’s Under 19 women kick off their World Cup campaign in Potchefstroom. South Africa against West Indies. It’s a testing task for a side that was only reconstituted last summer under coach Glenn Querl.

Girls’ underage cricket has long been neglected by the governing body, with a handful of games five years ago the only outings at U19 level until last summer. The notion of U17 and U19 acting as a stepping stone to the full side was often seen as redundant when the likes of Gaby Lewis, Lena Tice and Lucy O’Reilly were first capped aged 13 and many players were well bedded in the senior side before they left their teens.

But ICC have finally launched a World Cup for young women in the age group, 25 years and two days after the boys got theirs. Ireland captain Amy Hunter could play in the next U19 World Cup too, having made her full debut last year and scoring an ODI century on her 16th birthday – the youngest male or female to do so.

Hunter has a tough task leading a raw side, with only YMCA seamer Georgina Dempsey previously capped at full level. Ireland have had four warm up games, starting with good wins over UAE and Zimbabwe but falling to Pakistan and by one run to Rwanda. The Africans are a heart-warming story, only taking to the sport after the 1990s genocide, and with the encouragement of MCC.

Ireland will be tested by West Indies and New Zealand, but the third side in their group, newbies Indonesia, cannot be taken lightly having beaten Zimbabwe last week.

Ireland will rely heavily on Hunter for runs, with Merrion’s Annabel Squires and Abbi Harrison – of the famous Waringstown clan – chipping in. Leinster’s wicket-keeper bat Johanna Loughran is also one to watch. With the ball Dempsey will be well backed up by Zara Craig of Eglinton and Niamh McNulty of Merrion.

Hunter is in no doubt the event will be taken seriously. “It’s an important opportunity as it bridges the gap between underage cricket and senior international cricket – it gives the players the chance to perform on the world stage and gives them a chance to better understand what international cricket and world cups are all about,” she said.

All 41 games in the tournament are streamed live on, with former Ireland captain Isobel Joyce in the commentary team, with the semi-finals and final shown on Sky Sports.

SQUAD: Amy Hunter (capt), Siúin Woods, Zara Craig, Georgina Dempsey, Rebecca Gough, Abbi Harrison, Jennifer Jackson, Johanna Loughran, Niamh McNulty, Aimee Maguire, Kia McCartney, Ellie McGee, Julie McNally, Freya Sargent, Annabel Squires. 

IRELAND’S FIXTURES (all 8am starts) Today: v West Indies, Tuesday: Ireland v New Zealand, Thursday: v Indonesia.