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India Women vs England Women: Fearless, Destructive & Confident Shafali Verma Makes Big Statement On Test Debut

India Women vs England Women: Fearless, Destructive & Confident Shafali Verma Makes Big Statement On Test Debut

Shafali Verma had a great start to her Test career with two scintillating knocks at the top of the order for India Women against their England counterparts in the one-off Test at Bristol.

Just 17 years of age and such clarity of thought, confidence and belief in her destructive abilities - that is Shafali Verma who hammered two brilliant fifties on her Test debut against a potent England attack in their own backyard during the one-off Test currently underway at Bristol.

India were under big pressure after England Women had mounted 396 before declaring their first innings. Verma had earned herself a reputation in T20I cricket but Test cricket was a different ball game - a test of technical ability, skill and mental prowess and not many put their money on the young ‘dasher’ to succeed in this format. But then not many had placed their bets when an Indian middle order batsman was asked to open for the country for the very first time in the summer of 2002 at Lord’s. As it turned out he smashed 84 off 96 deliveries in a total of 221 and went on to revolutionize opening in Test cricket and be regarded as one of the greatest openers in the history of the format.

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Just like Virender Sehwag 19 years ago, Verma has defied all the odds and silenced her critics by smashing 96 and 63 in her first outing in Test cricket. She did not get overawed by the occasion, by the opposition bowlers or the plethora of stars in both the units. She did not care for reputation and went after the bowling with gay abandon, and succeeded.

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Verma planned her innings beautifully. She respected the conditions and was circumspect against the new ball opening pair of Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt scoring just 11 off the first 29 deliveries she faced. In Sehwag-esque mode, she got underway with a ferocious cut through gully to the boundary off the bowling of Brunt in the 9th over before making her intentions clear clearing the ropes off Nat Sciver in the 13th. There was no stopping Verma now.

Verma took the attack to Brunt after Tea clearing her front leg and clubbing the bowler back over her head for a four and followed that with a late cut past gully to the boundary. She recorded a half-century on debut off just 83 deliveries and notched up a hundred-run opening wicket stand with Mandhana - only the fourth in the history of women’s Test cricket for India and the first in 22 years!

Punches off the back foot, heaves over mid-on and delectable late cuts to the third-man boundary - Verma fell four runs short of what would have been a magnificent and deserving hundred in her first appearance for India in the format but she had showed enough of her class, talent and prowess with a smashing 96 off just 152 deliveries - an innings which included 13 fours and two sixes. She broke the Indian record for the highest partnership for the opening-wicket in Test cricket adding 167 with Smriti Mandhana. Overall, it was the second-highest partnership for India Women for any wicket in history!

Verma continued in the same vein in the second innings too - not disappointed or bogged down by the fact that her team-mates had squandered a great opportunity and collapsed to 231 all-out in the first innings - and neither under fear of batting after England had enforced the follow-on.

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This time around Verma took the attack to Brunt - one of England’s all-time greats from the very first over itself. She whipped her through mid-wicket for a boundary before taking two more off her bowling in the third over and not even sparing Shrubsole in the fourth. India were under pressure but Verma was not in the mood to surrender.

Although she lost her opening partner Mandhana early in the second innings, Verma raced to her fifty off just 63 deliveries and became the first Indian women to register twin fifties in her debut innings and the youngest overall. She was finally dismissed for 63 off 83 deliveries smashing 11 fours and a six in her innings. Verma, by playing the way she did, gave India a fighting chance to save the match as runs were at a premium and as important as playing out overs in the third innings.  By scoring quickly, Verma ensured that England had to score that many when they came out to chase in the fourth innings. She negated the new ball and inspired the middle and lower-order to come up with match-saving performances for the country.

More than anything else, the sheer audacity of a 17-year old to attempt and succeed with such destructive stroke-play in her debut innings in alien conditions in England set her performances apart in Bristol.

The young sensation has already made a name for herself in T20I cricket where she has scored 617 runs in 22 matches at a stunning strike rate of 148.31. She was the highest scorer of the T20I series against South Africa aggregating 130 runs in the three matches at a strike rate of 156.63.

Verma has the unique ability to score a high proportion of her runs in boundaries - no batter in the world has hit more sixes then her 29 in T20I cricket since Verma’s debut in September, 2019. She was also the highest run-getter for India in the World T20 in Australia in 2020 where she scored 163 runs in 5 innings at a strike rate of 158.25 playing a pivotal role with the bat in taking India to the final. Verma’s destructive game earned her a chance to play in the Hundred in the UK and the WBBL in Australia.

Verma has worked hard at improving her game practising against the Haryana men’s team where the likes of Harshal Patel and Mohit Sharma bowled at speeds in excess of 140 kms per hour to her. This helped her improve her back foot game which was her weakness early in her career - the dramatic change could be seen over her two innings in Bristol as she punched the England bowlers confidently staying upright. Verma also worked relentlessly at practising the pull facing 150 short-pitched deliveries at a stretch in the nets.

Verma has begun her Test career with a bang at Bristol. Now she needs to continue and consistently produce these performances for India at the top of the order. She has the talent and ability to walk in the footsteps of the great opener the Indian men’s cricket team unearthed in 2002.

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