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From breaking windows to breaking stereotypes: The inspiring journey of Shafali Verma

Last updated on 26 Jan 2022 | 05:09 AM
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From breaking windows to breaking stereotypes: The inspiring journey of Shafali Verma

The number one ranked T20I player ought to replicate her white-ball heroics in the upcoming World Cup to ensure India get over the line

16th June 2021 marked a glorious day in the history of Indian women's cricket as the team set foot on the County Ground in Bristol after a seven-year hiatus away from the longest format of the game. 

While all eyes and attention was on the summit clash of the World Test Championship taking place in the same nation, the Indian women's team managed to hold onto a hard-fought draw in the four-day game courtesy of some stellar performances by the debutants in Shafali Verma and Sneh Rana.

Despite chasing leather for over 120 overs across a day and a half, a young batting sensation walked in to take centre stage with a mountain of 396 runs to climb. 

One of the legends in women's cricket, Katherine Brunt steaming in with the new ball against a child prodigy, is precisely why Test cricket is considered the most challenging aspect of the game.

With an array of strokes all around the ground, the 17-year old scored 96 and 63 across two innings to help the team script the great Indian escape. 

While the world witnessed her exploits in the one-off Test, the journey for the hard-hitting batter started in the backyard, playing hours of gully cricket and having endless six-hitting sessions whilst breaking numerous windows with her brother. 

Tackling a barrage of short-pitch deliveries, under the watchful eyes of her father, the youngster put in gruelling hours of training at her hometown Rohtak to ensure she was ready for top-flight cricket.

With a lack of academies supporting women's cricket in the city, Shafali often honed her skills with the boys before graduating to play for her stateside Haryana. 

Shafali piled up runs at an impressive strike rate at the domestic level, and her dominating performances and her destructive ability at the top of the order in the national tournaments resulted in her inclusion in the Women's T20 Challenge. 

(Photo courtesy: BCCI)

And just like the Indian Premier League being the catalyst behind India's prowess at the international level, the Women's T20 Challenge unearthed a star for Indian cricket in Shafali. 

The three-team extravaganza proved to be a stepping stone in her bid to don the national jersey. Opening the batting with experienced Danielle Wyatt, she smashed 34 off 31 balls for Velocity with five boundaries and one six to set up the 113 run chase. 

With her consistent performances in the lead-up to the series against South Africa at home, Shafali was drafted into the Indian squad for the shortest format of the game.  

And, on 24th September 2019, the 15-year-old became the youngest T20 international cricketer for India when she made her debut against Proteas in Surat. 

With the T20 World Cup barely six months away, the onus to give the side a blazing start in the powerplay relied heavily on the shoulders of Shafali and Smriti Mandhana. 

Despite a sedate start to her international career, Shafali notched up her maiden international half-century (73 off 49 balls) for the Indian team against the West Indies in November 2019 in the lead-up to the World Cup. 

With the adrenaline rocketing sky high in the inaugural match of the mega event at Sydney, Shafali scored a quickfire 29 to lay a solid foundation for the team. The youngster followed it up with scores of 39 and 46 in the subsequent games to carve her name in the record books as she smashed the world record for a player with the highest strike rate in a single edition of the tournament.

Despite playing a significant role in India's campaign at the iconic event, Shafali failed to inspire the team and take them over the line in front of a capacity crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

After falling agonisingly short in the summit clash of the World Cup in 2017 and enduring yet another heartbreak in Australia, the Women in Blue would be itching to get over the line and win the elusive title. 

The resounding success in the World Cup was a turning point in the history of Indian cricket to create a revolution back home. However, the world came to an absolute halt amid the growing concerns of the pandemic post the finale at the MCG. 

While most people expected Shafali to make it to the white-ball side after her exploits in the shortest format, the selectors decided not to include her in the ODIs for the home series against South Africa after a year-long hiatus.

Well, it would be an understatement to say that the decision failed to grab eyeballs among the frenzy fans and the cricketing pundits as they expressed their disappointment and shock all over social media. 

Despite the stutter, Shafali was named in the squad for the fifty-over games against England away from home, with an eye on the upcoming World Cup in New Zealand.  

While a lot has changed for the side since their last appearance in the fifty-over format in regards to the personnel, Shafali has been the missing link to India's conundrum after some lukewarm performances by Jemimah Rodrigues and Punam Raut. 

In the six matches played this far, the youngster and Mandhana have forged one of the most destructive partnerships at the top of the order in the international arena. 

The duo have amassed 289 runs at an average of 48.1 and a strike rate of 94.8 in six innings to lay a solid foundation for the Indian side in this form of the game. However, one of the glaring issues for Shafali and the team management would be her ability to deal with short-pitch deliveries. 

In the T20Is against England, Brunt and the England team ensured Shafali dealt with a barrage of rising deliveries that often resulted in her downfall. 

Shafali favoured the deep mid-wicket region mainly because she would create room for herself on anything bowled short and slog it towards the leg side. While this ploy has helped her score runs, it has often resulted in the teenager exposing her stumps and getting bowled.

While the team management would be concerned about her back foot play in the upcoming World Cup, the fans of Indian cricket would hope for their destructive batter to iron out her flaws before the team embarks on their journey to the southern hemisphere.

With only over a month before the Indian team sets foot at the Bay Oval for the inaugural match against Pakistan, Shafali will carry billions of hopes and help the Women in Blue script history in the land of the Kiwis.

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