She was the third highest run-scorer at the U-19 Women’s World Cup 2023 and has many records to her name. The TOI #Unstoppable21 jury has picked the 19-year-old from Haryana as one of the Unstoppable 21 Indians under 21 years
Shafali Verma gave the first glimpse of her potential in the women’s exhibition matches during the 2019 Indian Premier League. All of 15, she took on international bowlers with her fearless striking of the ball and ability to step out against spin. Playing alongside and against international stars like Hayley Matthews and Sophie Ecclestone, Shafali held her own. She’s not a player who can be compartmentalised, drive and sweep shots are not her usual style. Although diminutive, she treats short balls with disdain and surprises with her power hitting. Watching her clobber pacers is a sight to behold
The performance in the exhibition matches was no flash in the pan. Within months, she became the youngest cricketer to debut for the Indian women’s T20 team. By the time she was 17, she had another record to her credit. She proved her versatility as an all-format player when she struck 96 and 63 on Test debut in 2021 against England in Bristol. It was an English summer to remember for the top-order bat as she became the first woman cricketer to score three sixes in a Test match.
“Hard work and the support of my parents, coaches and well-wishers have been integral to my journey. They have offered unconditional support in ensuring my dreams come true. I look forward to doing better and making my country proud,” says Shafali.
“The focus has always been on one dream, which is to make my country proud. I haven’t allowed any kind of pressure to distract me from my goal. Also, when I started, there wasn’t a lot of focus on women’s cricket and the live coverage of our matches was also limited,” she adds.
According to former Indian women’s coach WV Raman, a vocal supporter of the youngster’s game, aggression and striking prowess are Shafali’s remarkable traits. “She strikes the ball very well and is aware that it is her main strength, and she backs it. She is a nightmare to the bowlers in women’s cricket. She must try and keep that going. Also, she is constantly looking at the areas where she needs to improve,” Raman says.
Shafali’s bucket list is full and she has been working meticulously to tick off her goals from the list. One among those was the U-19 World Cup title, which she led the country to in the inaugural edition earlier this year. Although there were critics who disagreed with Shafali’s inclusion in the team, her captaincy proved to be a masterstroke for the country. While she scored 172 runs and collected four wickets, what stood out about Shafali during the successful campaign was her ability to handle pressure and lead from the front.
But switching gears from senior to age-group cricket wasn’t easy for the youngster, who is tuned to a certain pace.
“Initially it was difficult to adjust to slow balls. It took me four-five days to adapt. Once I adjusted to the pace of the game, it was a great campaign for us. The U-19 World Cup win will always be special,” says the skipper.
Raman, an astute reader of the game, pointed out, “A lot of people don’t give her credit, but she is a good thinker of the game. No wonder, she led the team to the U-19 World Cup title.”
While the semifinal finish at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup wasn’t what Shafali and the team wished for, she is confident the team is only getting better.
Shafali, who picks time spent amidst nature as her favourite, has learnt the art of staying calm. “It is easy to stay calm even when you are emotionally down. It is important not to lose self-confidence and if you can pull yourself up during the low phases, you can handle yourself better on the field. When I go through low phases, I tell myself, this too shall pass. I go back to watching my videos and note down the areas I need to work on. Also, I’ve grown to believe that I have control over practice, hard work and sincerity towards the game, not the result,” she says.