Rohtak / Gurugram: In 2014, an 11-year-old boy led his cricket team to victory at a tournament in Panipat and was named Man of the Match. But unbeknownst to the tournament organizers, the boy was actually a Shafali Verma in disguise, one of the rising stars of Indian women’s cricket.
Hailing from Haryanas Rohtak, the 17-year-old batswoman rose to Number 1 in ICC’s Twenty20 International rankings after hitting 60 runs from just 30 balls against South Africa last week.
India lost the series, but her fearless batting and long sixes proved she’s a force to be reckoned with. And this is further supported by statistics that Verma has managed to score 617 runs with a success rate of 148.31 in 22 games since her debut in 2019.
Her career-defining knock, however, was at last year’s T20 World Cup, where she secured a place in the semi-finals for India, the first team to qualify, with her 34-ball 46 against New Zealand. At the time, she was only six months into her international career.
While Verma has yet to make her One-Day debut, her non-selection in the series against South Africa raised several eyebrows. Former Captain Diana Edulji even said that she is the best the Indian team has.
But the young cricketer is unaffected by the omission and maintains a positive attitude as she continues to train hard at the Sri Ram Narayan Cricket Academy in Sultanpur, Gururgam.
If the committee didn’t pick me, it must have been in the best interests of the team. I’m focused on my goal of playing for India, Verma told ThePrint.
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Breaking the record of idol Sachin Tendulkars
Verma started her international cricket career in September 2019 when she was only 15 years old. Most importantly, she broke the record held by none other than star hitter Sachin Tendulkar, someone who has long honored her family of five in Rohtak by becoming the youngest Indian cricketer to score an international 50.
For her family, Verma said, cricket is Tendulkar. If there was no Sachin in a match or if he got off, we immediately turn off the TV.
In 2013, Tendulkar was in Rohtak to play his last Ranji match and no tickets were available for the match. But her father, Sanjiv Verma, who owns a small jewelry store managed to get three passes and Verma accompanied her father and brother to watch him play.
I was shocked to see the craze for Sachin. We all called out Sachin-Sachin. I had decided at that point to idolize him, she told ThePrint.
Six years later, in November 2019, she broke her idols’ 30-year record to become the youngest Indian cricketer to reach an international 50. Tendulkar was 16 years old when he made his record, while Verma was only 15. touch 73 plays 49 balls with four sixes against the West Indies.
I plan to break more such records and make my own, she boasted.
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Held her first bat when she was 7
Verma came across cricket by accident. She was the middle child of three siblings and held her first bat when she was only 7 years old.
She had accompanied her father and older brother to practice where she first hit. She hasn’t looked back since then.
Much of her education can be attributed to her father, along with the support of all the family.
She and her brother practiced before school with their father at 5:30 in the morning and back on tennis courts in the evening, as those were the only areas with adequate lighting.
It was a rigorous workout. But Shafali never said no. I looked for pitches and took her on my scooter to play with the boys. To motivate her, I also announced (a price of) Rs 5 per six. Every day she returned home with Rs 50 to 60 from me. Sanjiv told ThePrint, who was an aspiring cricketer himself.
Vermas’s house in Rohtak, which is also home to his shop, is full of the young cricketers’ numerous trophies. The family also kept its first three bats in a display case.
But her journey as a cricketer was not an easy one. For a game believed to be the domain of men, it took Verma a long time to gain respect from the guys she practiced with. She also found an innovative way to deal with the criticism by cutting her hair.
The guys teased me and said what a girl could do in cricket. And then I saw a girl with a short haircut and realized that no one could tell whether she was a girl or a boy. This look meant there was no bullying and discrimination and we could play among the guys, Verma said.
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‘Something Extraordinary About Her’
After playing the game at the school level, Sanjiv enrolled both of his children at the Sri Ram Narayan Cricket Club in 2015. It was here that Vermas’ talent really broke through.
When she joined us at the age of 12, we placed her on her age group team. But she outdid her fellows. We then let her play with the women’s under-19 team and she once again outdid the other female players. After this, we let her practice with the under 19 boys team, Ashwini Sharma, the club’s owner told ThePrint.
Even her contemporaries at the club find her inspiring. She would hit sixes and boundaries. It is exciting to practice with her, said 22-year-old Geetanshu Malhotra.
Ranbir Singh Mahendra, the former BCCI president, had visited a nearby training camp where he first saw Verma in 2015.
He said to ThePrint: She practiced on the net all by herself. I watched her for a few minutes and asked Ashwini to keep an eye on her because there was something extraordinary about her.
But Mahendra also thinks she should focus on her fitness. Only four and six will not last long in her career. A young talent emerges every two years. She needs to get fitter.
Verma, meanwhile, has mastered all the criticisms and is working hard to correct her shortcomings: I’ve left all the fast food behind and devoted my time to the workout. I learn from my seniors.
The Haryana Cricket Board Association has also appointed a nutrition and sports psychologist to assist her physically and mentally.
(Edited by Rachel John)
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