Earlier this month, while the nation was asleep, a 15-year-old girl was rewriting record books in a T20 game in St Lucia (West Indies). Rohtak girl Shafali Verma broke a record Sachin Tendulkar set 30 years ago and thereby became the youngest Indian cricketer to score an international half century. Tendulkar achieved the feat when he was 16 years and 214 days old; Shafali was 15 years and 285 days when she scored a blazing 73 off 49 balls.
Her record feat included four sixes and four fours.
India has finally found a suitable partner to open with Smriti Mandhana – the panacea India has so desperately been seeking ahead of the World T20 in Australia early next year.
Shafali, an attacking opener, followed up on her maiden 50 with an unbeaten 69 runs off 35 balls in the next game.
She was eight years old when she began playing cricket. “My brother, Sahil, is a leg-spinner. He and my father would take me to a local ground for nets,” she told HT in an interview in September. “Both would bowl for long hours and I would hit the ball hard. That’s where I learnt this rule – if the ball is there to be hit then it should be hit hard.”
Tendulkar is a big influence in Shafali’s life. Her father, Sanjeev Verma, is a Tendulkar fan but couldn’t follow cricket as a profession because of family pressure. He would often watch vidoes of Tendulkar’s innings with Sahil and Shafali.
Former Ranji Trophy cricketer Ashwini Kumar, another Tendulkar admirer, trained them at Ram Narain Cricket Academy, Rohtak. “Shafali joined my academy when she was 11-and-a-half years old. Compared to other girls of that age and even older ones, she had a strong build. Because of her confidence and her game, I allowed her to practise with the U-16 boys group. She is known to hit sixes in my 75-yard cricket ground,” said Kumar.
Shafali used to write Tendulkar’s initials ‘S T’ on the back cover of her notebooks.
“For Shafali, Sachin Tendulkar is like God. Initially, I didn’t realise that she broke his record. I confirmed it from Shafali the next day over the phone. She was excited and kept talking about the knock,” said the proud father who runs a jewellery shop in Rohtak.
When Tendulkar played his last Ranji Trophy match near Rohtak in 2013, Shafali was there with her father to catch a glimpse of her icon. Seeing the hysteria around Tendulkar in the stadium, her resolve to become a cricketer intensified even more.
When Shafali was nine, she disguised herself as a boy to play cricket. Sahil was supposed to take part in an U-12 cricket tournament but he fell sick. The fact that both the siblings looked alike and had similar hairstyles made Shafali fill in his shoes and she played the entire tournament as Sahil. She played amazing knocks in the 10-overs-a-side matches and even won the Player of the Tournament award.
She started playing for Haryana in 2013 and has represented the state in U-19, U-23 and the senior category. In February, Shafali scored 128 off 56 balls, the third highest score in women’s T20 for Haryana against Nagaland. During the T20 Women’s Challenge in Jaipur held in May, Shafali impressed everyone with her stroke play while batting for the Mithali Raj-led Velocity team. She was included in the Board President’s XI team for a game against South Africa at Surat and also in the Indian T20 team for a series against the Proteas.
By the time the T20 World Cup starts in February 2020, Shafali will be 16 and would have played more cricket. With ace players such as Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma and Harmanpreet Kaur in the ranks, India’s chances at the mega- event look bright.