Shafali Verma: The enforcer with a swagger
Shafali Verma is all set to make her debut in a three-match ODI series against England starting on June 27.
Updated - Jun 27, 2021 2:18 pm
There is a nonchalance in her strokeplay, a fearless approach, and a swagger of a certain Virender Sehwag when she hits the ball out of the park. Chewing a gum and twirling a bat, she has instilled fear in bowlers’ minds such as Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail, Katherine Brunt, and Lea Tahuhu, all four premier bowlers in the women’s game. No, she is not from Australia, England or South Africa, she is from India and all of just 17. She is Shafali Verma.
Burst onto the scene during the Women’s T20 Challenge in 2019, Verma is the latest star in the women’s game. Her ability to hit the best of the bowlers out of the ground without giving a damn about their reputation has given the opposition teams headache. India’s Test and ODI captain Mithali Raj spoke widely of the teenage sensation and made the selectors take notice of the precocious talent.
Soon, she was drafted into the team for the T20I home series against South Africa. Although she bagged a duck on her debut T20I innings, she soon made amends in the next by scoring 46 in Surat. What caught the attention was her strike rate of 139.39, a rarity in at least the Indian team. She predominantly played on the back foot and waited for the likes of Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka to bowl to her strengths.
Then came the West Indies tour, where she truly arrived by scoring 73 and unbeaten 69 and became the youngest Indian player to score a half-century in the format. Apart from scoring runs freely, she also overshadowed a certain Smriti Mandhana – a superstar in her own right.
A phenomenal T20 World Cup
Slowly and steadily, the countdown to the ICC T20 World Cup 2020 beckoned the Indian team and Verma. This is biggest stage of them all that defines a player’s caliber, where critics and experts watch closely and give the verdict whether you can handle pressure or not.
Hence, all eyes were on the 17-year-old and not on other celebrated names in the teams such as Harmanpreet Kaur, Mandhana and Shikha Pandey. The explosive right-hand batter started with scoring 29 in India’s upset win over hosts Australia. Although the number didn’t seem huge, she managed to put Megan Schutt and Ellyse Perry off their lengths by scoring maximum runs in the power play.
Then came a quickfire 39 against a hapless Bangladesh team, who were searching for answers to stop the carnage from her blade. That knock came off just 17 balls and included four maximums. Talk of stage fear on the biggest stage, not for the dashing right-hand batter. Then two knocks of forty-plus came against New Zealand and Sri Lanka and Verma was India’s highest run-getter while leading her team into the semi-finals. She certainly also became the talk of the town in India and across the globe and made the fans crazy by displaying a fearless brand of cricket.
With the rain enabling India to the finals, yet again the 17-year-old was the cynosure of every Indian fan. People turned on their TVs just to see the swashbuckling batter bat. But there was heartbreak in store for Verma as Schutt dismissed her for just two runs in the first over and broke the hearts of fans. But Verma finished the tournament with 161 and became the heartthrob of the nation.
The Ultimate Test
After a gap of one year, India played South Africa, where Verma was not in the scheme of things in the ODI set-up of the team. The management felt she needs a bit more time in the longer format and they struck with Jemimah Rodrigues and Punam Raut. But in that series, her strike rate was very low as compared to the South Africans who were consistently striking above the 90s. That shock against South Africa in a home series certainly made the management and selectors do soul searching.
In the meantime, the BCCI announced a one-off Test against England and a refreshing all-format tour to the United Kingdom. Verma was included in both the squads and it was now up for the captain and coach to decide if they wanted to go with Rodrigues or the aggressive 17-year-old.
Mithali took the punt on Verma and handed her Test debut against the likes of Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, and Natalie Sciver genuine swing bowlers. But no, Verma was not about to be stopped in the purest format. She was hitting fours off Brunt as if she was facing a club bowler. Here was a bowler who is England’s leading wicket-taker, here was Shrubsole who decimated India in ICC Cricket World Cup 2017 with her six wickets, but here was India’s swashbuckler who was not afraid by any of the reputations nor the past scars. She was more focused on getting runs and she did scoring a majestic 96, before going for the glory shot and got out four runs short of a well-deserved hundred.
What was an interesting thing to note was her slow start in the innings, a refreshing change from the slam-bang approach in the shortest format. She was more cautious, to begin with, before she cut loose and cashed in on the opportunity.
The Powerplay enforcer
And now after ticking both the other formats, Verma is all set to make her debut in the ODI format against England on June 27 in the first ODI of the three-match ODI series. Here is a player who has displayed no fear while going about her business in the other two formats. One glaring trouble which many experts and critics pointed out during India’s series against South Africa was about the slow approach of the batters and how other teams the likes of Australia, England, and New Zealand have Alyssa Healy, Tammy Beaumont, and Sophie Devine at the top.
Over the years, India tried several batters at the top in the likes of Raut, Rodrigues, and Deepti Sharma, but none could cement the spot as the other opener Mandhana. Can Verma finally solve India’s opening problem woes and be the enforcer in the powerplay? We shall find out soon in the three-match ODI series and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2022.