PUNE: On Tuesday, Shafali Verma, playing for Velocity in the Women’s T20 Challenge tournament, waltzed down the track and tonked the left-arm spinner of Supernovas Sophie Ecclestone for a boundary to open her account. Later, she carted Ecclestone for a couple of more boundaries as she scored a sprightly half-century to propel her team to seven-wicket win.
Her innings brought back the memories of her Test debut against England at Bristol in 2021. The then 17-year-old Shafali had cracked two whirlwind fifties on her Test debut to win the Player-of-the-Match award. More importantly, she had looked refreshingly undaunted by the occasion and the opponent, and played her shots with astonishing aplomb. In the same Test, she had lofted Ecclestone, who was playing for her England, multiple times for boundaries and two humongous sixes.
Clearly, Shafali has little regard for the format; be it T20s or Tests, she likes to dominate bowlers and play her shots sans inhibitions.
Shafali became the youngest Indian to play T20I when she debuted against South Africa at Surat in 2019 at the age of 15. In her first international match, she was dismissed for a duck. But in the next match, the teenage batter exhibited her verve and class by thumping 46 runs off just 33 balls. Two months later, she smacked two rollicking half-centuries against West Indies and cemented her reputation as a swashbuckling prodigy.
After her explosive exploits in the T20Is, she was dubbed as limited-overs batter but on her Test debut, she completely annihilated that faux notion. Shafali firmly evinced that along with the knack of scoring quickly, she also has the temperament to cut the mustard in the long format. This is exactly how Virender Sehwag had silenced his critics a couple of decades ago by doing exceedingly well in Tests after naysayers had cast aspersions on his technique.
Shafali and Sehwag have many things in common: uncluttered mindset, a gamut of shots, untrammelled audacity and unmistakable self-belief. Of course, due to their nature of batsmanship, their phases of success are followed by bouts of low scores as well. But when a batter demonstrates the ability to win matches single-handedly, one takes the bad with the good.
Just like Sehwag, Shafali also went through a rough patch recently in the ICC 50-over World Cup this year. However, she sallied back and scored a brisk fifty in the last match against South Africa.
Now, she has begun with a bang in the Women’s T20 Challenge and looks set to demolish more bowlers in the upcoming matches.
By no means, Shafali is a finished product. She’s just 18 and still evolving as a player. She has a few flaws which she needs to iron out if she wants to have a long-standing and fruitful international career. Being more judicious with her shot-making, firming up her technique and banishing impetuosity are some of the things she will have to work upon.
Also, as bowlers find more ways to contain her, Shafali has to constantly evolve as a batter and be on her toes all the time. Potential doesn’t always translate into riches. At 18, she has the age on her side and also the opportunity to make the best use of her undeniably glowing pedigree.