The 14th match of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup saw Team India and Sri Lanka go head to head in the group fight. The platform had been set and the Sri Lankan team won the toss to bat first. Little did the Sri Lankan team knew about Radha Yadav’s exceptional bowling skills, and got confined to a score of 113 as a result of brilliant bowling and fielding from the Indian side. It was time for the Indian batswomen to step on the field and chase the target and a young girl came in ready to sweat her way to victory with the weapon in her hand and the crowd chanting ‘India’ ‘India’.
The 16-year old opener, Shafali Verma had been a consistent opener for Team India in the T20 World Cup and the match against Sri Lanka was no exception for her. With the first ball, she laid her eyes on victory and smashed her way to a quickfire 47 off just 34 deliveries. The young star’s knock was crucial for Team India’s victory and it paved way for the batswomen in line to cruse through Sri Lanka’s bowling as their confidence was dismantled by Shafali.
A dot ball hater, Shafali’s tournament strikee rate is a mind-blowing 161 in the T20 World Cup and no batter with minimum 500 runs comes even close. Shafali is one of the few great personalities to come from Haryana. India has struck 12 sixes in the tournament till now, out of which 9 have been struck by the teenager. There’s a quote that says, “Fortune favors the bold”, and Shafali’s father, Sanjeev Verma is quite a fan of this saying and believes in it.
Her wonderful innings was not just smashing from the young batter, but also a catch dropped to help her continue. According to a TOI report, Shafali’s father said, “I was complaining that my daughter’s catches are never dropped. The Almighty heard me and allowed her to continue her innings.” It’s not only the Indians who are crazy about the 16-year old, but the young sensation from Haryana is now one of the most loved cricketers all around the world.
It would bee thee first time after Sachin Tendulkar that a cricketer at such tender age would have the crowd drooling over her name. What is it that makes the fans believe that a player is a furiously talented batsman/ batswoman? Most probably, they can hit the ball, their batting stance, their timing and their mere presence on the field. The 16-year old Shafali Verma is a package of all the tricks required to become a brilliant cricketer along with perseverance and tenacity for the beautiful game.
When we start making a list of the players who have played the World Cup at the age of 16, there won’t be a single name on the list except for Shafali Verma, who is the youngest player in the ongoing T20 World Cup. Shafali has been consistent with her performance and has been there for the team always. Her skills and performances have earned accolades from the cricketing greats such as Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar.
Shafali comes from a family of cricket-loving goldsmiths and her father has always pushed her to jump the barrel. Her father, Sanjeev Verma has been a big admirer of the game and even created his team, ‘Verma Cricket Club’, along with his brothers in the early 1990s. In an interview with TOI, he said: “Those were different times when I would open the bowling and bat in the top order.” Shafali is a crowd-pleaser on her own just like her idol, Sachin Tendulkar, whom she always looks up to and admires.
Shafali’s admiration for Sachin Tendulkar
Shafali has been a big admirer of Sachin Tendulkar and is trying to walk in the footsteps of her idol. The right-handed batswoman is in the early days of her career and knows how to perform whenever the team requires her to. She has always wanted to become like Sachin and that comes to inherit from her father. An interesting story that goes back in 2013 relishes her memory of Sachin Tendulkar when she saw him bat from the stands for the first time.
In 2013, Sachin came to Rohtak to play his last Ranji Trophy match against Haryana. The rush for the free passes triggered a lathi charge but his father was fortunate enough to get three passes for Shafali, her elder brother and himself. Her father said, “We saw most of the game from the back row but I took Shafali closer to the pavilion so that she could witness the God bat. Shafali saw the way he batted and was quite impressed with the way the crowd cheered ‘Sachin’ ‘Sachin’. After the game, she told me, I don’t want to play with a tennis ball anymore; I want to practice with the leather ball.”
Her journey to the Indian team has just been like her playing style, rapid and momentous. She has been an avid admirer of Sachin Tendulkar but last year she broke Master Blaster’s 30-year old record. Shafali was 15 years and 285 days when she smashed a quickfire 73 off just 49 deliveries against West Indies to become the youngest Indian cricketer to post a 50 in international cricket. She is in the game because of Sachin and her innings are a reflection of the legend.
Her father’s contribution in shaping her career
Shafali’s father has played a major role in shaping her career and has given up a lot of things to see her daughter represent the Indian team. Shafali, who comes from a family of goldsmiths, was raised around the people who would talk about cricket the whole day. As his kids were growing up, Sanjeev Verma converted his sitting room-cum-workplace into a make-shift arena for tennis ball cricket.
When not many girls were up for the game of cricket, Shafali would play with the boys quite older than her. In 2016, Sanjeev was conned of Rs 7.5 lakh and his wife’s jewelry by a swine who promised him a job. “For the next five-six months, I had no idea what I was going to do and Shafali’s gloves were torn and she needed a new bat. She would hide her pair of gloves in the kit bag.” Determined to ensure the best for his daughter, Sanjeev borrowed some money and took her to Shri Ram Narain Cricket Club.
The fight against Gender bias
Shafali has done a lot to achieve this stature and she thoroughly deserves the spot as one of the best women cricketers from India. She has always excelled in the sport and within a year of joining the Shri Ram Narain Cricket Club, Shafali was playing in the club’s elite group to face Ranji bowlers. “Shafali has been hit on the thigh, stomach, and helmet, but she has always stood strong; unafraid and unfazed.”
The journey was not easy for the young girl and living in a conservative place like Rohtak raised questions on the cricketer for doing something other than the ‘normal’ household duties and chores. Shafali was rejected from almost every cricket academy where she had applied on the basis off gender. After facing rejection because of gender discrimination, Shafali figured out a way to deal with the situation and donned a boy haircut to bridge the discrimination she faced while applying for cricket academies.