16-Year-Old Shafali Verma- India’s Game Changer at Women’s T20 WC

16-Year-Old Shafali Verma- India’s Game Changer at Women’s T20 WC

Cricket

Just like her name – Shafali with an ‘a’ and not the usual ‘e’ – Shafali Verma is a player with a difference.

When the Indian Eves began their T20 cricketing action in 2019, in back-to-back T20I series against New Zealand and England, trying to get their combination right for the upcoming premiere event, Verma was nowhere in the fray. Harleen Deol was being auditioned as Smriti Mandhana's opening partner – without a lot of success.

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Perfect Match for Mandhana

After India’s first two matches Shafali’s strike rate of 212.50  is head and shoulders above the rest in the 2020 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup.
After India’s first two matches Shafali’s strike rate of 212.50 is head and shoulders above the rest in the 2020 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup.
(Photo: ICC)

Verma donned the India blues as late as the 1st T20I against South Africa on 24 September 2019, less than six months before the Women's T20 World Cup. And things began to click right away.

The opener might have been dismissed for naught on debut, but with scores of 46, 14, 4, 73 and 69* in her next five innings at an average in excess of 50, Verma said it loud and clear that she was here to stay.

The power game is what has always failed India since the dawn of the T20 era. The persistent Indian players are a great fit for the ODI format where small ball squabbling determines success and failure but, when it comes to the more flamboyant cousin T20, they tend to fall short of the mark.

In the lead up to the T20 World Cup, what the team was looking for was a top-order player who could get them a head start in the powerplay and complement the ever-firing Mandhana. They found that and more in the Rohtak girl.

Acing the T20 World Cup

Till now, Shafali has scored 15-ball 29 in the tournament-opener against Australia and 17-ball 39 against Bangladesh.
Till now, Shafali has scored 15-ball 29 in the tournament-opener against Australia and 17-ball 39 against Bangladesh.
(Photo: ICC)

With a T20I strike rate just shy of 150, unheard of in the women's game, and one that even Indian batting greats Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have not managed to achieve, Verma is going great guns at the World Cup.

She kicked off her campaign with a stroke-filled 15-ball 29 in the tournament-opener against Australia and impressed again with her 17-ball 39 blitz against Bangladesh.

Her explosive knocks have turned out to be the difference for India, along with the crafty leg spin of Poonam Yadav.

Even the absence of senior partner Mandhana in the game against Bangladesh didn't faze Verma one bit as the youngster did what she knows best – smash the ball to all parts of the park. Her 39-run knock at a strike rate of 229.41, adorned with two fours and four sixes, was what gave India the impetus first up.

Against New Zealand, Shafali once again starred with the bat for his 34-ball 46. This also helped her win her second Player of the Match award in the tournament. Previously, she became the youngest cricketer to win the award in a T20 World Cup after the match against Bangladesh.

“Since Mandhana wasn’t around, I wanted to take the responsibility to stay around and give India a good start. I’ve been practising hitting the ball hard and I would like to bring the team more success in the future.”
Shafali Verma

“I'd like to continue doing this, help India win matches and ultimately win us the World Cup," Verma said after receiving the Player of the Match award.

The opener was in sensational form in the lead up to the showpiece event and scored 189 runs in the T20 Challenger trophy, at a strike rate of over 155. This included her jaw-dropping 48-ball 89-run knock in the Challenger final which took India C to victory. The World Cup call-up followed.

Just 15 at the time of the squad announcement, Verma has by far been the most explosive batter of the tournament. She has already hit five sixes, the most by any player in this World Cup.

After the first two matches, Shafali’s strike rate of 212.50 was head and shoulders above the rest. Maddy Green, at 145.00, was the next best.

The Tendulkar Connect

Shafali surpassed idol Sachin Tendulkar to become the youngest Indian to score an international half-century.
Shafali surpassed idol Sachin Tendulkar to become the youngest Indian to score an international half-century.
(Photo: Twitter)

Taking cue from the Phogat sisters, Verma cut her hair and featured in local tournaments during her childhood. With God-gifted skill, determination and the support of her family, she broke into the Haryana U-16 team in 2018.

Her rise since has been rather meteoric with the batter representing India in a World Cup within just two years of that breakthrough.

“Sachin sir is my idol.  When I saw him for the first time in 2013, I decided to chase my dreams. It was not easy, but I did not give up,” Shafali had once said.

When the Haryana-born toured West Indies last year, she broke her idol's record to become the youngest Indian to score an international half-century aged 15 years and 285 days, surpassing a 30-year-old record held by Tendulkar, who was 16 when he made his maiden Test half-century.

The youngster has the ability to clear the ropes at will. While playing fuller deliveries is her strength, Verma still struggles a bit against the short ball. But, at 16, she has all the time on her hands to rectify that part of her game and logic says that she will only improve hereon.

With the women’s IPL on the horizon, sky’s the limit for Verma. Let’s hope the World Cup title is the first feather in her cap; the first of many to come.

(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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