Shafali Verma is fearless and proficient, and she is just 16! The breakout star of the 2020 Women's T20 World Cup had a tournament to remember as her exploits at the top of the order carried India to their maiden T20 World Cup final. The right-handed opener smoked 163 runs in five matches at an incredible strike-rate of 158.25 and contributed in every single match except for the final against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of almost 90,000 people.
Veterans like Beth Mooney, Alyssa Healy, Natalie Sciver and Heather Knight did score more runs than her but it was Shafali who earned herself plenty of fans and applause from the cricket fraternity because of her stout-hearted efforts up the order. She left everyone in awe with her fine strokeplay and is already being tipped as the “next big thing”. If not for her efforts with the bat, India would have struggled in all of their four group-stage encounters. Shafali smashed 77.3 percent of her total runs in the powerplay and was the most successful batter in the first six overs. No batter had a better strike-rate than her (minimum 10 runs) in the showpiece event.
Shafali, who made her international debut in September 2019, had to pretend to be a boy during her childhood so that she could train and learn the required skillsets as there was no academy for girls in her native place, Rohtak. In November 2019, Shafali broke her idol Sachin Tendulkar's record to become the youngest Indian to notch up an international fifty. She is yet to make her One-Day International debut but Shafali has her eyes set on the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand.
With cricket around the world on hold, Shafali recently spoke to Cricket.com about the experience of playing at a packed MCG on International Women's Day, her biggest learning from the tournament, Kia Super League and Women's Big Bash League aspirations, and more.
I can't get out and play the sport that I love. I am really missing cricket. I am stuck at home and have been doing all my fitness training and practice at home. I have also been doing shadow practice at home with a tennis ball. But again, I am enjoying my time with my family members. I do gymming twice a day, and a little bit of TV. The fitness program that has been provided to us by our trainers, I am following that as well.
This was your first World Cup. Tell us about the whole experience, especially playing in front of almost 90,000 people?
The experience of playing in front of almost 90,000 people was great. I did learn a lot about handling pressure. I just wanted to do well in the final but I couldn't. I guess it was Australia's day and they deserved to win. Before the final, I was thinking I would treat this as a practice match or a normal match, but at the end I couldn't control my emotions.
You were outstanding in the World Cup. If you have to look back, are you satisfied with the way you performed?
I guess I was happy with the way I performed. All I wanted was our team to win matches and that we did. I was more happy about that. The team management and senior players told me to go out and play my natural game. Our coach WV Raman knows that I like to attack from the word go and he keeps on telling me to just play my own game. That's why I just go out there and play my shots. All of my team members supported me a lot and that gave me the confidence to go out there and perform.
Anything full and you smashed it down the ground. However, a few games later, bowlers started bowling back-of-a-length to you. Do you think that's an area you need to work on?
I did make a few mistakes on short deliveries during the World Cup and I will have to work on it so that I don't repeat those mistakes in the future. I practice with boys in the academy and they are very good down the ground. I think that's why I enjoy playing full-length deliveries and have been doing well at this level. But I want to get better at playing short deliveries.
I will practice and get better at it for my team. I want to keep on making match-winning contributions. I will work hard and try to give my best in every single match that I play. I want to stay focused.
What was your biggest learning from the T20 World Cup that you would like to carry forward to next year's major event in New Zealand, if you do get selected?
I am working on the mistakes I made in Australia. I want to play the next World Cup and have already started my preparations. The idea is always to do well for my team. After playing this T20 World Cup, I have started believing in my own game a lot. I also learned a lot from my team-mates and especially my captain Harry di (Harmanpreet Kaur) who told me how I can play according to the situation. I hope all the senior players keep backing me and believing in me. That's all I want.
How is Smriti Mandhana as an opening partner? Do you two talk a lot?
She keeps on guiding me. Even in the middle, she keeps on telling me about the bowlers. She is an experienced player and knows which bowler is going to do what. It helps me to figure out who I can attack and makes my job slightly easier. She backs me a lot and that helps.
You have played the Women's T20 Challenge and now considering your exploits in the T20 World Cup, franchisees in the Kia Super League and Women's Big Bash League will have an eye on you. Is that an opportunity you are looking forward to?
Of course, I would love to play KSL and WBBL. If I do, it will give me a lot of experience. Someone like Harry di and Smriti di have played those T20 leagues and just like them even I want to play in Australia and England. I want to perform well and gather all the experience. I came up through the ranks because of the Women's T20 Challenge. And if we do have our own IPL, it will help all of us. I just hope everyone can keep supporting us and we will keep doing well in the future.