With ODI debut, Verma set to for all-format stardom

By, Chandigarh
Jun 27, 2021 11:10 AM IST

Shafali Verma will take women’s cricket to another level, says former captain of the Indian team Diana Edulji

On her T20I debut against South Africa, Shafali Verma didn’t trouble the scorers. In two years since, Verma has broken multiple records including one by Sachin Tendulkar and been called a generational talent by India skipper Mithali Raj.

Shafali Verma (right) has broken multiple records including one by Sachin Tendulkar and been called a generational talent by India skipper Mithali Raj. (Reuters) PREMIUM
Shafali Verma (right) has broken multiple records including one by Sachin Tendulkar and been called a generational talent by India skipper Mithali Raj. (Reuters)

“She (Shafali) is going to take the sport to another level with her extraordinary skills,” said former India captain Diana Edulji.

On Sunday, not long after her breathtaking batting in the Test against England, Verma should play her first One-day International (ODI) thereby representing India in all formats. And she is just 17.

Edulji said Verma should have made her ODI debut when South Africa visited India earlier this year. “Her presence could have made a big difference,” said the 65-year-old Edulji who is one of India’s best woman cricketers ever.

“She was disappointed not to make it to the ODI team against South Africa. But she did well in the T20s (130 runs in three games with a strike rate of 156.62). And before the squads for the England tour were announced, Shafali prepared with great commitment and determination. She batted for hours, faced quick bowlers bowling with red ball,” said Ashwini Kumar, Verma’s coach.

Also read | Bangar all praise for India’s Shafali Verma

“She wanted to prepare for all formats. She knew she would be facing bowlers like Katherine Brunt, Nat Sciver and Anya Shrubsole in English conditions,” said Kumar, a former Haryana Ranji Trophy player.

Verma first hit the headlines when she became the youngest Indian to score a half-century outside the country, surpassing a 30-year-old record held by Tendulkar, her idol. Tendulkar was 16 years and 214 days when he made 59 in the second Test against Pakistan in Faisalabad. Verma was 15 years and 285 days when she scored 73 in a T20I in St Lucia.

So it fit that Verma, despite being only 22 T20Is old, would be the cynosure when she walked out with Smriti Mandhana to open India’s innings in the Test in Bristol. She made 96. Verma’s shot selection belied the fact that she was playing her first Test and two sixes were proof of her confidence. “She will never shy away from hitting sixes in any format,” said Kumar who runs an academy in Rohtak, the Haryana city where Verma lives.

In that innings, Verma used the pace of the ball and scored a lot of runs square of the wicket. In sum, she bossed England during her 152-ball stay. “It is her preparedness and natural instinct that worked,” said Kumar of the knock that drew comparisons with former India opener Virender Sehwag.

“Right after the T20 World Cup in Australia, Haryana Cricket Association worked on providing the best training facilities and guidance to Shafali despite a hard lockdown. She lost weight, worked hard on her skills and hit big shots in the nets,” said Kumar.

While India’s top-order struggled against Brunt, Shrubsole, Sophie Ecclestone, Sciver and Heather Knight, Verma blazed to 63 off 83 balls in the second innings. India were following-on but Verma counter-attacked. She hit one six and became the first woman to hit three in a Test.

Also read | Michael Vaughan says it will be ‘tough for England to beat India’

It took an unbelievable running catch by Brunt at long-on to dismiss Verma. By then, she had added 70 for the second wicket with Deepti Sharma. Verma became the youngest woman and fourth overall to score half-centuries in her debut Test. She was adjudged Player of the Match.

“Many thought that she is a batter who just goes tonking the ball. The way she played in the Bristol Test was just phenomenal. She showed composure and also maturity. She should definitely not change her style of playing the game,” said Edulji.

After India drew the Test, Raj said: “Talent like Shafali comes once in many years. It is very important to mould her in a careful manner. We should also give her the space to grow. She is someone who takes the game seriously. It is good to have her in all three formats. I really hope that she carries her T20 form to other formats.”

Verma has a Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) contract with Sydney Sixers for the upcoming season and will play for Birmingham Phoenix in the inaugural edition of The Hundred in England this summer. She is excited at the opportunities, said Kumar. Playing in different competitions will help her grow as a cricketer, he said.

With the ODI World Cup scheduled in New Zealand next March, Verma’s performance in the 50-over format will be closely watched.

“There will be times when she gives us a head start. She’s young she’ll also learn to build an innings. As captain, I want her to enjoy her style of playing. If we lose early wickets, we, as middle-order, are there to rebuild, or, if we get a good start, take the momentum forward,” said Raj ahead of the first ODI in Bristol.

On Saturday, Raj completed 22 years in international cricket. When she started, Verma was five years from being born.

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    Shalini Gupta is a member of the Chandigarh sports team and has been a sports journalist for 10 years. She mainly writes on cricket.

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