Verma's ingenious idea to circumvent this issue was to give Shafali a haircut that made her look like a boy. This allowed her to play every weekend.
In October 2013, Sachin Tendulkar played his last domestic match at the Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium near Rohtak. Among the 5,000-odd spectators in the audience was nine-year-old Shafali Verma, perched on her father’s shoulder, cheering the loudest for her favourite batsman.
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Six years later, Shafali, now 15, has shattered her idol’s 30-year-old record, becoming the youngest Indian to score an international fifty. Her performance came in the first T20 international match against the West Indies in St Lucia.
Tendulkar was 16 years and 214 days when he achieved his maiden half-century (59, versus Pakistan in the second Test at Faisalabad on 23 November 1989). At 15 years and 285 days, Shafali broke her idol’s record by scoring 73 runs off 49 balls.
Who is Shafali Verma?
Born in 2004, Shafali entered the Indian squad when Mithali Raj announced her retirement in 2019. She was included in India’s Women’s Twenty20 International (WT20I) squad for their series against South Africa. Following this, she made her WT20I debut for India against South Africa on 24 September 2019.
Being inducted into the squad was not easy for her. Sanjeev Verma, her jeweller father, speaks of the struggles she endured. He would diligently take her to play against neighbouring teams during weekends. In this report, he says, “Most teams refused to play against her. They said she could get hurt and that I would complain if that happened. Even when I insisted she was my daughter and I was okay, most didn’t agree.”
Given their socio-economic background, it was uncommon for girls to step outside and play such sports. He suggests that it is frowned upon, even today. Verma’s ingenious idea to circumvent this issue was to give Shafali a haircut that made her look like a boy. This allowed her to play every weekend.
But this was not the end of her struggles. Verma adds that he would often get taunted by neighbours and relatives who discouraged Shafali from the sport. Thankfully though, he stuck to his guns and encouraged his daughter to follow her passion.
According to this report, Shafali would cycle 8 km every day to practice. She would train with boys, get hit and bruised, and continue the game. In this interview, the teenage cricketer says, “It was a struggle initially, playing against the boys. I often got hit in the helmet. On a few occasions, they even smashed my helmet grille. But there was no question of giving up.”
Shafali’s earliest inspiration was Sachin Tendulkar, who is idolised by both father and daughter. In this report, Verma says, “I have always been a Sachin fan and I made sure that I introduced her to his batting very early. We watched so many Sachin innings together.”
Just like her idol who made his international debut at 16, Shafali also made it early.
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Accolades pouring in
Former Indian Test opener WV Raman took to Twitter to urge people to catch Shafali’s superb innings on YouTube. His tweet read – “Folks, make it a point to watch Shefali Verma’s innings in the first T20 on YouTube. You will not regret the time spent.”
Shafali’s coach Ashwani Kumar, former Haryana opener and state team ex-coach, said in an interview, “She was just nine when she came to our Ram Narain Academy, and the girls were no match for her. So, I started playing her with the U-19 boys. She used to take the U-19 bowlers to the cleaners.”
As spectators and fans of the sport, we have a lot to look forward to. We wish Shafali Verma the best as she gears up to represent India at the T20 World Cup to be held in Australia in February-March 2020.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)