India's Shafali Verma walks off after losing her wicket to Australia's Megan Schutt(AP)
India's Shafali Verma walks off after losing her wicket to Australia's Megan Schutt(AP)

ICC T20 World Cup: ‘Verma ji ki beti’ does Rohtak proud

As Indian batsmen returned to the pavilion one by one, the same crowd that was cheering vociferously, became stone faced. Shafali’s mother Parveen could not hold back her tears after the final wicket fell.
By Abhishek Paul | Rohtak
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2020 08:39 AM IST

Verma ji ki beti, the placard read, waiting to be raised at the right moment. The whole Verma household, along with the trainees of the Shri Ram Narain Cricket Club here, watched and hoped for their very own Shafali to play a knock worthy of the final.

It never happened.

Throughout the last month, the elder daughter of Sanjeev and Parveen had wowed the world with her hitting prowess. It was thanks to her explosive batting that India had comfortably sealed their maiden spot in the women’s T20 World Cup final. So it was only fitting that the academy management had made arrangements to air the match on a giant screen at their indoor training facility.

A week back, the academy had closed down before the start of a new season from mid-March.

On Sunday, the academy had opened its doors just for this occasion, so that the trainees could together witness India’s newest superstar, who rose from among them, play the biggest match of her life.

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The mood was festive. Even Shafali’s younger sister Nancy, 7, had come with the tricolour painted on her cheeks. Her father Sanjeev was in Melbourne, watching the match live, and Parveen had to handle Nancy all by herself. Shafali’s cousins and aunties had come too. Shafali’s brother Sahil, also a trainee at the academy, sat with his friends. A 100-odd people waited in great anticipation.

The start was ominous. Stationed at short-cover, Shafali dropped Australia opener Healy in the very first over. The ripples were felt 10,000kms away, here at the academy.

“Lena chahiye tha yeh wala. But koi nahi hota hai aisa,” Mohit Rathi, a Haryana U19 player, commented. The others nodded. It was still too early and India was very much in the game.

What unravelled after that reminded one of the 2003 ICC World Cup final where Australia had pulverised the Sourav Ganguly-led India. Healy made full use of the reprieve and went on to make 75 off just 39 balls with seven fours and five sixes. Every time Healy’s lofted shots would send the ball skywards, a collective shout of ‘catch, catch’ would reverberate throughout the facility and would end in a sigh of despair. As Healy and fellow opener Beth Mooney added 100-plus runs for the opening wicket, the excitement somewhat dipped.

“Humhare ladkiya bhi maar sakti hai. Romanchkar match ho sakta hai,” Sanjay Budhwar, a former Haryana player and Shafali’s coach, was not ready to give up so soon.

Finally, the target was set at 185.

The 15 minutes of innings break felt like a long time. There were small huddles among the trainees and everyone had only one question. ‘Can Shafali bring out her best when it matters the most?”

“Shafali can hit just like these Australians,” Divya, a leg-spinner with the Haryana U-19 team, said. “Our prayers are that India should win, in whatever way.”

In came Shafali along with fellow opener Smriti Mandhana, and off she went, stepping out against Megan Schutt for a lofted shot. It missed the boundary by a short distance but the crowd was happy. Shafali was off doing what she does best—clobbering the ball. It did not last long. Two balls later, Shafali was caught behind trying to slice the ball. Silence descended inside the training centre.

As Indian batsmen returned to the pavilion one by one, the same crowd that was cheering vociferously, became stone faced. Shafali’s mother Parveen could not hold back her tears after the final wicket fell.

“Jo meri beti ne kiya, mujhe garv hai. Har ne baad hi jitna seekha jata hai (I’m proud of my daughter. You only learn to win after you lose),” she said.

Ashwani Kumar, the founder of the academy, agreed.

“After India had reached the 2018 T20 World Cup semi-final our academy had seen a surge in girl trainees,” he said. “We are hoping for the same this time too.”

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