Shafali Verma made headlines on Saturday (November 10) when she became the youngest Indian to score an international half-century, breaking a 30-year old record held by none other than Sachin Tendulkar himself.
Shafali was only in the fifth match of her young international career yet had broken a record held by a person she considers an idol.
As if to show that her knock against West Indies was no fluke, she followed that up with another half-century to help India take a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.
She had shown promise in just her second international outing, scoring 46 off just 33 balls against South Africa and Indian fans are excited about her because given her age, she can only get better.
Many would argue that fans and experts alike should temper their expectations given that her career is still in its early days.
However, overachieving is nothing new for the 15-year old Shafali.
Playing with Boys Early
Given she comes from the state of Haryana where girls playing outdoor sports is looked down at, Shafali had little choice but to slug it out against boys in her early days.
She admitted that doing so was a struggle at first but she soon learnt to ‘give it back to them’ and credits that time with helping her develop her hard-hitting style.
“It was a struggle initially, playing against the boys. I often got hit in the helmet. On a few occasions, they even smashed my helmet grille. But there was no question of giving up,” she had told Reuters.
“They never treated me with kid gloves because I’m a girl. And I always tried to give it back to them. Guess that’s how I developed my hard-hitting batting style.”
It sped up her development to the point that at age nine, she was so much better than every other girl in the Ram Narain Academy – where she went for coaching – that she was asked to play with the U-19 boys.
Her coach Ashwani Kumar recalls how even the U-19 boys were no match for her, such was her ability to hit the ball.
“She was just nine when she came to our Ram Narain Academy and the girls were no match for her. So I started playing her with the U-19 boys. She used to take the U-19 bowlers to the cleaners,” Kumar told the Times of India.
Her potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by her fellow players either. England’s Danielle Wyatt, who played alongside Shafali in the 2019 Women’s T20 Challenge, said she expects her to be Indian cricket’s next superstar.
Father’s Role in Her Rise
Shafali’s meteoric rise is down in no small part to her father, who encouraged her to focus only on the sport even as others around them scoffed at the idea.
“I was lucky to have an upbringing that’s so different from most girls of my age. Many scoffed at the idea of a girl playing an outdoor sport with boys, but dad was adamant,” Verma told Reuters of her father.
“Despite the discouragement, dad gave me everything that he would give to my elder brother.
“Even after I started playing, people said girls have no future in cricket. But dad shielded me from any cynicism and asked me to focus on cricket only.”
Her focusing solely on cricket has worked wonders for her. Like her idol Tendulkar, she made her international debut extremely early in her career.
Her next mission would be to have a career just as lengthy and successful. Given her drive to improve and natural talent, one wouldn’t bet against her doing just that.