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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Rohtak teenager Shafali has Mithali’s shoes to fill

Shafali Verma, the teenager from Rohtak in Haryana will be replacing Mithali Raj, who retired from T20s this week, for the T20 series against South Africa from September 14 to October 4.

cricket Updated: Sep 06, 2019 09:35 IST
Shalini Gupta
Shalini Gupta
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Shefali Verma plays a shot
Shefali Verma plays a shot(BCCI)
         

During the T20 Women’s Challenge in Jaipur in May, a 15-year-old girl’s strokeplay made some of the finest women cricketer’s from around the world sit up and take notice.

“She is going to be a superstar for India probably in a year or so, I think she will break into the Indian team.” Danielle Wyatt, who was part of England’s 2017 World Cup winning team, had said back then, after spending some time watching the girl bat at the nets.

It’s happened earlier than that—Shafali Verma, the teenager from Rohtak in Haryana has received her maiden call-up to India’s T20 squad. She will be replacing Mithali Raj, who retired from T20s this week, for the T20 series against South Africa from September 14 to October 4.

“It is like a dream coming true. My father dreamt that I play for India,” Verma said. “He always wanted to become a cricketer but could not due to family pressures. He has worked hard on my game.”

An attacking opener, Verma picked up cricket when she was eight years old.

“My brother, who is a leg-spinner and my father would take me to a local ground for nets,” she said. “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.”

Her big-hitting ways quickly got noticed, and she was selected for Haryana’s U 19 team in 2016, when she was just thirteen.

The same year, her resolve to become a cricketer became even stronger when she got to watch Sachin Tendulkar play his final Ranji game in Lahli near Rohtak.

“It was unreal to watch him play from close quarters, he is my inspiration and my role model,” she said.

In February this year, Varma scored 128 off 56 balls, the third highest score in women’s T20, for Haryana against Nagaland in the Indian Senior T20 competition.

Former India captain Anjum Chopra said the T20 Women’s Challenge, which was held alongside the IPL this year, helped bring a talent like Verma to the fore.

“I know she had been doing well in the domestic circuit. But to see her play against quality bowlers of England, West Indies and New Zealand was a pretty sight,” Chopra said. “If she can do that at 15, what would be she be at 21? We need such leagues to bring out such talented cricketers.”

For Varma too, the brief tournament, where she got to play just three matches, was a learning experience.

“Danny (Wyatt) was really encouraging during the tournament. I keep talking to her. She likes the way I approach the game,” Verma said. “I was just observing the seniors on and off the field. I learnt a lot. Mithali didi told me to be a bit patient and try to play 10-12 overs in a T20 game.

“I know the T20 World Cup in Australia is around the corner. I would hope to make a mark and become a permanent member of the Indian team.”