On her Test debut, Shafali Verma lit up Bristol. A 152-ball 96, with 13 fours and two sixes, enhanced her reputation as a batting marauder after England Women declared their first innings on 396/9 in the one-off Test.
Despite being a newcomer at this level, Shafali’s stroke-play had been widely talked about, coming into this game. Through fearless cricket, the 17-year-old lived up to her reputation.
“I am really looking forward to how Shafali plays. She is a match-winner. I only hope they don’t tinker with her game. She is a natural player. I don’t normally like comparing men and women cricketers, but she is someone in the (Virender) Sehwag mould,” former India Women captain Diana Edulji told this paper on the eve of the Test.
Edulji was talking about the positive impact that Shafali’s proactive batting creates. India Women were up against a pretty big score. The teenager’s impact-batting allowed the tourists to put England Women under pressure.
India Women have been playing a Test after a gap of seven years. Little wonder then that this was Shafali’s maiden five-day fixture, although she has already played 22 WT20Is. Her 148-plus strike-rate in the shortest format spoke volumes for her hitting talent. But Test cricket was a different ball game, a test of her technique and temperament in English conditions. Shafali passed with flying colours.
“Like any player who gets out in 90s, I was also disappointed. But next time I will not miss the hundred. When playing international cricket, I never think how old I am, I only think how I can contribute to the team,” Shafali said at the post-day press conference.
Shafali’s father Sanjeev didn’t mind her daughter missing the hundred. “I wasn’t tense. Ahead of the Test, when I spoke to Shafali, I told her that she has to play for the country. I am happy that she played well. I am not disappointed that she didn’t score a century,” Sanjeev told The Indian Express.
She went to England a little undercooked. “With so much cricket scheduled over the next three months, I would have liked to practice at my coach Ashwani sir’s academy. I miss the nets session. But given the current situation (pandemic and lockdown), this is the best that I could have done,” Shafali had said during an interaction with this paper last month.
She was forced to improvise her training. In her living room at Rohtak’s Sunaar Gully, Shafali’s batting practice was restricted to knocking a hanging leather ball before doing physical conditioning. Her exploits in white-ball cricket has already helped her earn a contract for the inaugural edition of The Hundred with Birmingham Phoenix. Her excellent start in red-ball cricket will add an extra dimension to her game.
During her innings on Thursday, Shahafi was wise beyond her years. She was circumspect to start with, respecting the occasion and England Women’s bowling. Only after tea, did she start playing some extravagant shots. Smriti Mandhana’s (78) composure at the other end helped. Together the two openers put on 167 runs before Shahafi was dismissed.
“I and Smriti would build a partnership and we supported each other and decided to play our natural game. We had a laugh during the partnership. We had decided that we would hit loose balls but there were a few full-tosses that we missed so we were laughing,” said Shafali.
Aggression comes naturally to the youngster. Actually, Shahafi has been taught to be aggressive while playing cricket. “I told Shafali, it is very simple. If you smash a reputed bowler you will make a name for yourself,” her father told this paper last year. Shahafi revels in taking the attack to the opposition. “Growing up my father would tell me and my brother that whoever hits more sixes will get Rs 10 or 15,” she said at the end of the day’s play.
It wasn’t always plain sailing. Far from it. Five years ago, Sanjeev had lost his entire life’s savings of Rs 7.5 lakh to a swindler. With just Rs 280 in his wallet, Shahafi’s cricket future looked uncertain. But as her father said today: “She was destined to be a cricketer.”
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