Days before the start of the women’s T20 World Cup last week, India’s 16-year-old opener Shafali Verma broke the internet. In a tri-series game against Australia, she came up with a spectacular straight hit against Aussie pacer Megan Schutt that flew over the sightscreen. The commentators couldn’t believe their eyes, the power of the lofted stroke had stunned them.“Watch out cameraman… it’s unbelievable… that’s beautifully timed, wonderfully shaped against Megan Schutt, one of the best bowlers in the world in T20 cricket, and she has done it pretty easily.” – would be the audio of the viral clip.
With that one stroke, Shafali would have the weight of expectations on her young shoulders. India want her to give them a blazing start, the ICC too want a teen star who would lighten up the Cup. Be it Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur, the promotional videos of the broadcasters or the ICC social media campaigns, there was always a mention of the Rohtak-born natural stroke-player.
However, her father Sanjeev knew she will be fine. A small-time goldsmith and a passionate cricket coach to his three children, he had repeatedly told Shafali never to let pressure get the better of her. “I have always told her to think positively. Agar negative sochegi to khatam ho jayegi. (If she thinks negatively, you are over),” the father had told The Indian Express days before the World Cup. Sanjeev would go on to say that he too had followed this principle of positivity which was the reason he could raise a world-class cricketer despite meagre resources.
— ICC (@ICC) February 24, 2020
After her ‘Player of the match’ performance against Bangladesh – where her 17-ball 39 went a long way in India recording an 18-run win – the Shafali buzz around this World Cup has increased. Her stunning knock had four sixes and two fours. This came after she scored a 15-ball 29 against Australia in the World Cup’s opening game. The talk in Perth, among commentators and fans, was once again about the incredible hitting of the girl who didn’t seem fazed by the occasion or opposition. In the two games where she had scored 29 and 39, Shafali has now hit five sixes and nine fours.
Today after yet another shot cleared the long-off fence, former England captain and an astute student of the game Nasser Hussain would tweet: “This girl can seriously play”.
This girl can seriously play ! #shafali
— Nasser Hussain (@nassercricket) February 24, 2020
Former Australian captain Lisa Sthalekar too would praise the Indian girl. “Get to a TV quick and watch this 16-year-old. Shafali Verma”.
Get to a TV quick and watch this 16 year old. Shafali Verma ????????
— Lisa Sthalekar (@sthalekar93) February 24, 2020
By the time Shafali got out, India, batting first, were 53/2 in five overs. Going for a shot too many, she was caught at mid-off. But Shafali had given India the headstart and team would hold on to that lead and win the game without much fuss.
Since her early days, Shafali has been taught by her father to go for big hits early in the innings. “She used to mostly play school matches and these would be eight-over games. These are the kind of games where you don’t have enough time to build your innings, take singles and doubles. So during training sessions, I would ask her to go for her strokes very early,” he had said.
Before she joined Rohtak’s ultra-modern Shri Ram Narain Cricket Club, Sanjeev, Shafali and her elder brother Sahil would practice on the streets of Rohtak. When they couldn’t afford to buy a hard ball, they would play with tennis, rubber or plastic balls. The three would be involved in a very competitive game of hitting sixes. “All of us would get three balls to play and the one who hit the most straight sixes would win,” the father recalled. Brother Sahil says sometimes he would win and sometimes it would be his sister. “Our father would give money to the winner,” he had.
On Monday in Perth against Bangladesh, Shafali was playing as if she was at a park in Rohtak knocking with her father and brother. Facing only her second ball, she hit Bangladesh new ball bowler Jahanara Alam for a six over extra cover. In the next over, she showed the same disdain for off-spinner Salma Khatun. She was hit over mid-wicket for a six.
Like in the tri-series where she went for the Aussie pacer, here too she made an early impact on the opposition. That is again her father’s instruction. “If you hit the best bowler, you too will be seen as the best,” he had said. The team management too is on the same page. After the game, India pacer Shikha Pandey said Shafali has been asked to play her natural game. “We have not asked Shafali Verma to change anything. She has been given free licence to play her fearless brand of cricket,” she said.
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