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Women's Cricket

Who is teenage sensation Shafali Verma?

by Rishad D'Souza 3 minute read

Shafali Verma, aged 15 years and 285 days, made history earlier this week by becoming the youngest Indian to score an international half-century, breaking Sachin Tendulkar’s 30-year-old record.

A right-handed opener in India’s T20I squad, Verma grabbed headlines with her heroics in the first two matches in the West Indies. Her brisk fifties have been crucial to India’s 2-0 lead in the five-match series. So explosive has she been that even Smriti Mandhana, one of the best batters in the world, took a back seat and slipped into the anchor role to let the youngster take the lead.

Verma is just six internationals old. She also keeps wicket and bowls a little for her domestic side Haryana.

With the T20 World Cup just a few months away, her rapid rise has led to much excitement about the Indian squad, which has traditionally not seen too many power-hitters.

The Shafali Verma story so far

The youngster has said her cricketing ambitions were spurred in 2013, when she watched Sachin Tendulkar play in his final Ranji Trophy match in Lahli, where he scored a match-winning 79* against Haryana for Mumbai.

Because there were no academies for girls near her home, she was enrolled in a boys’ academy by her supportive father. Having cut her hair short, she disguised herself as a boy to get to training. She admits that she often found it tough facing male bowlers at that young age, but the baptism by fire prepared her for future challenges.

Moving to Ram Narain Academy, coach Ashwani Kumar found she was playing at a level well above that of her age group. “The girls were no match for her,” Ashwani, a former Haryana cricketer, told the Times of India. “So I started playing her with the U19 boys. She used to take the U19 bowlers to the cleaners.”

She quickly progressed to Haryana’s junior teams, where the runs and boundaries flowed. On her move up to the senior team, she scored a blistering century against Nagaland. Chosen to feature in the Women’s T20 Challenge this year, she sparkled amid international stars. The call-up to the Indian side came for the T20Is against South Africa in September.

Why the buzz?

A 15-year-old scoring runs by the bucketful is a good reason for excitement in itself, but it is her impressive strike-rate – still uncommon in Indian women’s cricket so far – that is adding to the hype.

In just her second game, she made a 33-ball 46, featuring seven boundaries, including two sixes. In her first T20I against West Indies, she smacked six fours and four sixes in her 49-ball 73 to help set up an 84-run win. It made her the youngest Indian to reach fifty, as well as the second-youngest woman to the milestone, only behind UAE’s Kavisha Egodage, who was 15 years and 267 days when she scored one.

Then, just around 12 hours later, in another explosive display of precocious talent, she scored a 35-ball 69*, featuring 10 fours and two sixes, to help thump West Indies by 10 wickets.

The penchant for scoring rapidly and hitting sixes isn’t new to her. In the 2018/19 U23 inter-state one-day competition, she stacked up 463 runs from six innings, at a strike-rate of 197.86. In the 2018/19 U19 T20 Challenger Trophy, she hit 54 runs in two digs at 154.28. She routinely eclipsed her peers with her rate of scoring in these tournaments.

In the senior tournaments, she continued to show that she was a cut above. That century against Nagaland mentioned earlier was a knock of 128 runs that came off a mere 56 balls in the Senior Women’s T20 Competition. Her table-topping tally of 265 runs from five innings in the 2019/20 edition came at a strike-rate of 173.20!

In a Women’s T20 Challenge match this year, she struck five fours and a six in a 31-ball 34 that helped Velocity to a three-wicket win over Trailblazers. That knock left her teammate and England star Danni Wyatt impressed.

What people have said

“She is going to be superstar,” England’s Danni Wyatt said after Verma’s 31-ball 34 carried Velocity to a three-wicket win over Trailblazers in the Women’s T20 Challenge match. “She stood out for me in the nets from day one. I didn’t think she was that young, and then when I heard she was only 15, I was like, ‘wow!’

She has left a similar impression on her current coach and former India cricketer WV Raman.

Former India cricketer and commentator Snehal Pradhan marvelled at how Varma had eclipsed Mandhana, herself a fluent batter, during each of her two fifties.

India legend and ODI captain Mithali Raj, whose T20I retirement paved the way for Verma’s entry into the side, had also earmarked the youngster for big achievements. “I seriously think that she is a talented youngster. And given the right kind of exposure and mentored properly, she can be the future player for India,” Raj had told Press Trust of India in September.

Final word

Verma prides herself on her ability to hit big and play a fearless brand of cricket. In an interview with femalecricket.com after her maiden call-up to the Indian side last year, she attributed her approach to the training and advice she received from her father. “That’s how I have been trained by my father from the very beginning. I was made to play with the boys. He told me to hit fearlessly and I have been doing that ever since. I cannot imagine not playing that way.”

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