Mithali Raj holds a special place in women’s cricket. Her exploits with the bat and her impeccable leadership as a captain of the national team definitely places her among the legends of the game. To date, no one has come even close to that status. But then, even great sportsperson have to retire and pass the baton to the next generation. And the interesting question is, who replaces her? Well, it’s not Smriti Mandhana or Harmanpreet Kaur. The one who replaced Raj in the T20 squad is none other than a 15-year old child prodigy by the name of Shafali Verma. Surprising right?
Coming from the ‘Sehwag house of batsmanship’, the attacking opener follows the mantra, if the ball is to be hit, hit it. She gives credit to her father, a jeweler by profession and brother for this mentality, “He always wanted to become a cricketer but could not due to family pressures. He has worked hard on my game. My brother, who is a leg-spinner and my father would take me to a local ground for nets,” she said. “Both would bowl for long hours, and I would hit the ball hard.
|Full Name||Shafali Verma|
|Date of Birth||28 January 2004|
|Bowling Style||Right-arm offbreak|
|Teams Played for||India|
Shafali Verma Biography
Hailing from Rohtak, Haryana, it is not a place most girls would dream of playing cricket from as a child. Representing India is a distant dream. Yet, the tomboy Shafali playing cricket with the local boys was no rebellion to this norm. It was a dream she shared with her father.
Even Shafali thanks the boys who never dealt her like she was a girl. “It was a struggle initially, playing against the boys”, said the 15-year old talent, “They never treated me with kid gloves because I’m a girl. And I always tried to give it back to them. Guess that’s how I developed my hard-hitting batting style.”, added Shafali.
Life has been tough but also rewarding for Shafali Verma. From being an eight-year-old, holding a bat for the first time to playing for India at just 15, her graph is on a steep rise. After her call-up, she says, “It is like a dream coming true. My father dreamt that I play for India”. Her father, Sanjeev is among the few parents who provided unrelenting support to his daughter.
Crediting her tough background in cricket, Shafali decided to play with the boys in her colony. But as luck would have it no one would allow her to play with them, thinking they would injure her and her father would complain later. Her father, Sanjeev would request and even assert his permission, but that went in vain.
This was when they came up with the master plan. Shafali decided to cut her hair like boys “Nobody noticed her among the boys and she got important match experience,” said Sanjeev. “It was an important decision we made. Her career could have been nipped in the bud.” as according to her father, children looked similar at 8-9 years.
Short Hair Tradition
Unlike most prodigies in sports, Verma never had to face some problems like money and family pressure. She thanks her father for always taking her side when others raised eyebrows on a girl playing cricket and treating her equally to her elder brother, something not common in the state of Haryana.
Despite her father’s support and others’ scoffs, Verma’s biggest motivation to take cricket seriously was her idol, Sachin Tendulkar‘s visit to Rohtak in Haryana for his last Ranji Trophy game. Among the huge flood of people coming to see the legend, Shafali was one and she was awestruck. She had her mind focused; she wanted this.
This was followed by years of practice with father Sanjeev and brother, honing the swashbuckling skills that landed her a spot in the Haryana U-19 squad. She was just 13. The dream to play for India was on.
Next two years were the platform for Shefali to rise. She did not rise, she shone like a star. The domestic season, a year later and the run-machine had amassed 1923 runs, including six hundred and three fifties with the willow.
This included 265 runs in the Women’s T20 League, where she ended up as the highest scorer despite Haryana failing to make it to the knockouts. Highest of these hundreds was a destructive 128 of just 56 balls, the third-highest in women’s cricket. Pretty good, for a 14-year old?
This massive effort was not going to go in vain. Her performances and six-hitting ability came to notice and she was chosen in the Women’s T20 Challenge 2019 for IPL Velocity in May. Being an important part of the Velocity squad, she scored a 31-ball 34 along with Danielle Wyatt(46 of 35) and drove the team to a win against the Trailblazers.
Shafali Verma Career
A series of good performances and nothing could have stopped Shafali from fulfilling her dream. Some serious performances and a bit of luck with Raj’s retirement handed Verma her first chance.
Making debut against South Africa, she failed in the first match after being out on a duck. An off-day on the field, she made amends with a 46 run innings to seal the series for India. An average debut but Shafali had shown promise and her fearless approach was what guaranteed her a chance.
The next series, against West Indies, was always going to be crucial. And Shafali did not disappoint as the rightful heir to the ‘Mithali Raj’ throne.
In the opening T20, she struck a 73 of 49 balls and broke the 30 -year old record set by her idol, Sachin Tendulkar to be the youngest Indian cricketer to score an international half-century for India.
A similarly attacking inning followed when she struck a 69 of just 35 balls! A 15-year old, just one series old, making top international bowlers look like school-level cricketers is something not seen often.
A month later, she had a chance to represent India Women A against Australia Women A in an unofficial ODI and T20 series. Grabbing the opportunity with both hands, Verma made a joke of the bowling scoring a 78-ball 124 run innings.
Hitting 19 boundaries and 4 sixes, she grabbed some deserved praise from Australia A Coach, Leah Poulton.
“She’s not your typical Indian opening bat,” Poulton said. “Over the years they’ve produced these opening bats with these amazing techniques and they’re really crafty, whereas she walked out there and she was just pure power.”
“It was really good to watch, I did get into fan mode for a while there,” Poulton added.
ICC Women’s T20 World Cup
It was finally the stage to unleash the full potential of the young swashbuckler. It was the Women’s T20 World Cup. And she did emerge as the “Rockstar” of the Indian team.
India had formidable opponents in holders and hosts, Australia. Put on to bat first, Shafali played a belligerent knock. She scored a quickfire 29 of 15 balls, smashing Megan Schutt for four boundaries in an over. This was a sign of things coming. India defeated Australia by 17 runs and started off on a winning note.
India’s second match was against a relatively less formidable Bangladesh. After India lost Taniya Bhatia, Shafali muscled her way forward with Jemimah Rodrigues playing the anchor role. She had the better of Jahanara Alam, who was smashed for 2 sixes and a boundary.
Hitting 2 fours and 4 sixes, she scored 39 off 17 balls at strike rate of almost 230! This was enough to earn her first “Player of the Match” award in a World Cup. India, despite losing regular wickets scored 142/6 and won by 18 runs.
There were a few mistakes by the team as a whole but Shafali was at her flawless best. She continued scoring runs, with aplomb and terrorised bowlers with her strokes.
Her innings of 46 off 34 balls against New Zealand was what put the closely fought match in India’s favour. Though at a lesser strike rate, her stroke-filled innings had 4 boundaries and 3 sixes in it.
She bettered this by scoring 47 runs off 34 balls in a 114-run chase against Sri Lanka and once again was her side’s standout performer. India are in the semis and will face England. They will look up to Shafali who is the team’s highest scorer with 156 runs at an average of 39.
Shafali Verma Stats and records
Shafali Verma came into the scene with a record-breaking inning. She scored a half-century and in the process became the youngest cricketer to score a fifty in international cricket for India. Other than that, she is also the youngest to represent India in T20s. She is as of now, India’s highest run-getter in the T20 World Cup too. Here are some of her statistics, while playing for India
Batting and fielding averages
Overall, the matches she played, Shafali has stamped her influence as an attacking batsman, who can shred opposition bowling on her day. She has just rose and shone like a morning star and awarding her a central contact was the final proof of acknowledgement of her talent.
Shafali Verma has really hit the ground running entering into the international scene with some really impressive knocks. A hard-hitting clean striker, she really carries an ‘X factor’, something most Indian batters do not possess.
It is quite obvious that there are great expectations from her, given the comparisons with Mithali Raj and Sachin Tendulkar. But it should be remembered that she is just 16. An overload of responsibilities and expectations might affect her performance and India might lose a unique talent.