From: Rohtak, Haryana
Education: Class X, Mandeep Senior Secondary School, Rohtak
Mentor: Sanjeev Verma
Beginning: Shafali Verma was barely nine years old, when she visited Chaudhary Bansi Lal Cricket Stadium in Lahli for the first time. It was a wintry November morning in 2013 and Mumbai was playing Haryana in a Ranji Trophy group fixture.
For Shafali and her father, Sanjeev Verma, the match was special as they got to see Sachin Tendulkar in action. All this while, Sanjeev had watched every innings of Tendulkar on television and as the icon visited the small town in Haryana for his final domestic fixture, Sanjeev took his daughter along.
Back then, Shafali had little idea that this particular match would change her life for ever.
Cut to 2019.
Shafali broke into India’s senior women’s cricket team and debuted in a T20I against South Africa in September. A few weeks later, she travelled to the West Indies and became the youngest Indian to score an international half-century — surpassing a 30-year-old record held by Tendulkar, who was 16 when he made his maiden Test half-century.
“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 tells Sportstar.
The youngster, who now opens the batting for India along with Smriti Mandhana, remembers how the entire family had to struggle to ensure that she pursued her dreams. Late in 2013, Shafali got enrolled in the Shree Ram Narain Cricket Academy, but was not allowed to feature in the male-only tournaments.
“The organisers felt that she would get hurt,” Sanjeev says.
Shafali (second from right) with her family. – Special Arrangement
A die-hard cricket fan, Sanjeev runs a small jewellery shop. It was never easy to let Shafali continue with her game, but the father did not give up. “My father wanted to be a cricketer, but nobody supported him. So, when I decided to play, he ensured that there were no obstacles. I trained under him initially, and slowly things got better,” Shafali says.
There was a time when she had chopped off her hair and disguised herself as her brother to play cricket with the boys. “She just wanted to play. So, she cut her hair and featured in local tournaments. Many did not approve of it. But she never lost hope,” Sanjeev says.
It was this determination that got her going. From the bylanes of Rohtak, she slowly featured in the age-group teams for Haryana.
However, Shafali’s career finally blossomed, when she made it to the squad for the T20 World Cup in Australia. Her hard work has so far paid off as she was awarded a central contract by the BCCI recently.
Aim: “It hasn’t been easy to come so far, but now that I have made fulfilled my dreams, I want to play for India for a longer period of time. That’s the goal,” she says.
Focus area: While playing fuller deliveries is her strength, Shafali admits that she still struggles to play the short ball. “That’s one area I need to work on,” she says.
What they say
India’s women’s team coach W. V. Raman believes that youngsters like Shafali are fearless and that sets the tone. “If we are talking about somebody like a Shafali, who is just a teenager, we all have heard of the adage saying, young cubs know no fear. So this is a brand of cricket that we look to play…” Raman says, making it clear that the team will rely on Shafali in the T20 World Cup.
2018: Breaks into the Haryana U-16 team
2019: Shafali scores 18 off 56 balls — third highest in women’s T20 — for Haryana against Nagaland in the women’s senior national T20 championships.
Features in the Women’s T20 Challenge in Jaipur. Playing for Velocity, she makes her presence felt.
In September, makes her debut in the India’s T20I team. In the series against West Indies, she becomes the youngest Indian to score an international half-century — surpassing a 30-year-old record held by Tendulkar, who was 16 when he made his maiden Test half-century.
2020: The selection committee names her in the squad for the T20 World Cup. Soon, BCCI awards her a central annual contract.