Teenage Sensation. Wonder Kid. Girl Boss. We can call Shafali Verma by many names. But something everyone can agree to is that she is definitely the most exciting player in world cricket right now.
She is the youngest batter ever to climb to the top of the women’s ICC T20 rankings and now she is also the youngest player to represent India in Test cricket and score a fifty in both the innings. The list of records to her name in two years of international career is almost as long as the sixes she hits so nonchalantly over the covers.
Her fearless batting approach, ‘don’t care’ attitude and powerful stroke play sets her apart from the rest. She has not only achieved so many heights already in her short career, she has also changed the way women’s cricket had been played all these years. The viewership soared whenever she was on the crease, and any cricket match she is a part of grabs the eyeballs of cricket fans all around the world.
There was a nationwide uproar among the fans when she was not picked in the ODI side for the series versus South Africa in April this year, citing her poor fielding performance. No need to say she has finished that debate once and for all after her terrific one handed catch and diving saves in the ongoing Test match against England.
Also, her consistent batting performance made it impossible for the selectors to not pick her, regardless of the format. She has maintained a terrific strike rate of 148.31 and has proved every time she appeared for India that she can score no matter whatever the situation is and who they are playing against. Among all the debates that was going on regarding her ability to play the longest format of the game, she showed that she is not only capable of hitting the ball over the boundary rope, she can also face the likes of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole with impeccable defensive technique.
Shafali Verma had to overcome many obstacles to reach this level
Shafali’s journey to super stardom hasn’t been easy. Hailing from Rohtak, a northern state in Haryana, she had to face numerous obstacles to achieve proper training in her initial learning days. Unable to find any girl’s academy in the area, her father, Sanjeev Verma, a jewellery designer, had to cut her hair short and disguise her as a boy to enroll her into a boy’s academy. Although she struggled a bit in her early days against pace bowling, she developed the ability to handle pace soon.
When her brother fell ill on the day of a local under 12 tournament, she wore his jersey and took part in his place. She was even adjudged the Player of the series for her performance.
But that was not the only challenge her family had to face. Her father had to go through constant insult and criticism from neighbours and relatives for letting his daughter pursue a male-dominated sport.
Nonetheless, Shafali kept on going and got selected as part of her state team at the age of 14 and had a marvellous run in the 2018-19 senior women’s inter-state T20 tournament. She scored at a strike rate of 187.87 and scored 186 runs in six matches, which included a stunning innings of 128 off 56 balls against Nagaland.
She caught the eye of the selectors and got drafted into the 2019 Women’s T20 Challenge as part of the Velocity team. In the short stint of 3 matches, she impressed everyone with her fearless batting approach.
Shortly after that, she was picked for the upcoming T20I series against South Africa in September that year. She overcame the duck in her first international innings to score a ravishing 33-ball 46 in the next one. There was no looking back after that. In the West Indies tour the same year, she scored at a strike rate of 159.59 and scored 158 runs in five innings.
She was the most prolific player in India’s 2020 T20 World Cup campaign. She was the main reason behind India’s success in the tournament, and ended the campaign with 163 runs at a strike rate of 158.25. She was rewarded with a central contract right after that, and got promoted to Grade B in the ongoing year, following her consistent performance with the bat.
Shafali broke numerous records in her short career span. First of them was breaking her childhood hero Sachin Tendulkar’s record, when she appeared for India against South Africa at the age of 15 years and 283 days. Shortly after that, she broke the record of youngest half-centurion for India when she made 73 against the West Indies. She is also the youngest cricketer ever to feature in a world cup final when she appeared in the 2020 T20 edition for India.
Her calm-and-composed-yet-fearless attitude makes her stand out from the rest. No matter who is steaming in from the other side, even if she is the most dangerous bowler in the world right now, Shafali never changes her natural style or stroke play.
South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk summarised her batting style accurately.
“Shafali is the young fearless cricketer, who doesn’t think much and has that see-ball hit-ball attitude,” Van Niekerk said.
Shafali Verma is not only here to stay, she is here to rule. She is only 17 now, and way she is going, there is no doubt that she will achieve many milestones in her career. She not only has the power to grab eyeballs, but she is also capable of single-handedly changing the narrative around women’s cricket all over the world. Players like her come once in a generation and when they do come, they leave us awestruck with what they can do.