At just 17-years-old, Nagalakshmi has been through more than most.
Born in India, the avid cricketer grew up in care homes in Chennai after her parents felt unable to look after her and she endured a childhood void of safety and stability.
Moving between temporary houses, the teenager pined for an education but was instead faced with difficulties from the other children in care.
But now, through sport, Nagalakshmi has finally found her voice.
Representing India South, she was one of 80 young people participating in the Street Child Cricket World Cup – an event which invited street children from across the world to take part in an international cricket tournament in the UK.
“I practiced really hard, I want to achieve something in life and I see this as a big achievement for myself,” she told CNN Sport, explaining the selection process she went through in order to make the team.
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‘I wish my dad could be here’
Organized by charity Street Child United, the event brought together teams of young people from across the world and gave them the opportunity to represent their countries.
Held at Lord’s Cricket Ground, an iconic venue which will play host to the world’s best players during the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup this summer, the children were given the chance to walk in the footsteps of their heroes.
The luxurious pavilion and infamous Long Room, home to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), may have juxtaposed where many of the children had come from but to play on the holy grass of the ‘Home of Cricket’ provided an opportunity of a lifetime.
“It’s a dream for any cricketer to play at Lord’s but I never imagined this would happen to me. I wish my dad could be here today to watch me play,” Nagalakshmi said through tears, revealing her father had recently passed away.
Her story typified the unimaginable stresses put on the 150 million children thought to be surviving on the streets worldwide, but was just one of 80 unique and often harrowing stories that played in the finals on Tuesday.
By giving a voice to children who have all spent time living in poverty, Street Child United aims to put pressure on communities and governments to protect the rights of vulnerable kids.
Nepalese captain Nisha, who had never played cricket before, demonstrated the initiative was working. The tournament gave her the chance to develop her confidence in public speaking and she now plans to continue the fight for equality when she returns to Nepal.
“It’s been a fantastic journey to teach other young people and I’m very excited to meet other young people from different countries,” the 16-year-old told CNN Sport.
“Language wasn’t a barrier, it was good to learn, hear their experiences and share mine as well. When I get back home, I plan to share this with a lot of other people.”
It’s a mission shared by West Indies player Tishoria.
“They will look at us as role models, trend setters, an example for other street children out there,” she told CNN Sport.
‘Girls are equal to boys’
There was plenty of hard work to be done in order to fly the majority of children to the United Kingdom for the event, which kicked off in Cambridge, England, before the finals were held in London.
Many of the 80 children participating did not own a birth certificate or passport until getting involved with the initiative, which worked with multiple children charities across the eight participating nations: England, India South, Tanzania, Bangladesh, India North, Mauritius, Nepal and West Indies.
“It’s virtually impossible but somehow it all turned out well,” John Wroe, co-founder and CEO of Street Child United, told CNN Sport as he reflected on the challenges of organizing the event.
Importantly, the majority of teams also invited both boys and girls to compete together – breaking gender barriers which has often amplified the hardship of young street girls around the world.
“It’s a platform to prove that girls are equal to boys, I want to prove we can compete with the boys,” said a steely Nagalakshmi.
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Amid the expressions of hope and fortitude, all the young children were determined to win the coveted trophy.
Played in front of an enthusiastic crowd and to the beat of a live drumming band, the eight teams competed in a round-robin tournament which culminated in an enthralling final.
The accolades eventually went to a dominant India South team who beat host England in a highly competitive affair – victory was sealed with an enormous six.
The boundary sparked huge celebrations, with tears of joy spilling from the eyes of players and spectators alike.
Assembled by Centrepoint, a charity which looks to combat youth homelessness, the unfortunate runners-up were able to see the bigger picture.
“Cricket means a lot to me, I feel comfortable playing cricket and it can change the lives of other people,” said England’s Sabeha Salam.
“We have heard other people’s inspirational stories, we must respect them and stand for them to.”
‘They’re no longer invisible’
Former England bowler Monty Panesar attended the event as an ambassador for Street Child United and hoped cricket could be a driver for change for the children.
“I think cricket is a powerful tool and you can see how this charity is helping kids get off the streets globally,” said the 37-year-old, who has 167 Test wickets for England.
“Cricket has done wonderful things for me and it’s great that these children are getting this opportunity that they probably won’t get again in their lifetime.
“We are sometimes fortunate for what we have in our lives but to see these kids loving it is so refreshing.”
As the participants celebrated their achievements, an emotional Wroe was confident that the World Cup was an effective way of improving the lives of millions of children.
“Ultimately, I want no child to be living on the streets anywhere in the world. This can help start that and bring change about. It’s going to happen country by country, we’ve already has some great results in Pakistan and India,” he said.
“What this does is get people from their country on their side, to make them be proud of these children so they’re no longer invisible. They are wearing their countries shirt at Lord’s in a World Cup. It will make people take responsibility.”