Shafali Verma will play her 50th T20I when India squares off against Australia at the Brabourne Stadium on Saturday. The visiting team enjoys a 2-1 lead in the five-match series, and ahead of a virtual series decider, Shafali revealed that she enjoys playing against Australia the most as it often reminds her of the men’s team.
“When I play against Australia, it feels like I’m playing against men, because their game is like that. If they see a small mistake that you are making, they will take advantage of it. So we have to be on top of our game against them,” Shafali said on Friday.
“You can’t make mistakes against them. You have to play your best shots, which you are confident about. I learnt a lot while playing against Australia. I love playing against them. Aisa lagta hai ki ladkon ke sath hi khel rahe hain (it seems you are playing against a men’s team),” she said.
After breaking into the Indian team in 2019, Shafali has so far played 13 T20Is against the Aussies, amassing 283 runs, at an average of 21.76. While she has had good starts in the past, her only fifty (in the T20I format) against Australia came on Wednesday, when she scored 52 in the third match.
“When I hit a four (against the Aussies), I get boosted, and feel that I’ve improved as a player, because Australia is the best side (in women’s cricket). I’m always happy when I hit (boundaries) off the Australian (bowlers). I don’t get so much happiness when I hit boundaries against England or any other team,” the youngster said with a smile.
During India’s 173-run chase against Australia in the third women’s T20I, Shafali and captain Harmanpreet had forged a 73-run partnership in 54 balls for the third wicket. With the two quality batters taking the Australian bowlers to the cleaners, there were hopes of a turnaround.
But as pressure mounted, Shafali looked to pull a length ball away before ending up offering a rather easy catch to Ashleigh Gardner. Her dismissal was the turning point of the match. “We were playing well, but the situation was such that we had to take risks. We were 30 runs behind, and that situation demanded that you had to go for shots if there was a loose ball. That shot usually goes for six, but on that day, unfortunately I lost my wicket,” she said.
India had managed to pull off a thrilling win via Super Over in a high-scoring second T20I at the DY Patil Stadium last week, but Shafali stated that the wicket at Brabourne Stadium is different to the one in Navi Mumbai. “This wicket is not similar to the one at the DY Patil Stadium. Bowlers are generating good swing on this wicket, but we really can’t give excuses. We are working on the singles under the guidance of the batting coach. Day by day, we are improving,” she said.
While bowlers are working hard and are ‘bowling on single stump’ to get ready for the crucial game, the batters are working hard under the watchful eyes of batting coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar. “He is very calm and he has been teaching me a lot of things and my interactions with him have helped immensely. The batters are also benefiting and we want to improve in each and every game. He provides us with his inputs that boost our confidence,” Shafali said.
Asked if there is any specific area that Kanitkar has asked her to focus on, Shafali responded, “Of course, he’s been telling me to focus on one thing. I’ve been working on my shot selection…”
When I hit a four (against the Aussies), I get boosted, and feel that I’ve improved as a player, because Australia is the best side (in women’s cricket). I’m always happy when I hit (boundaries) off the Australian (bowlers). I don’t get so much happiness when I hit boundaries against England or any other team.
— Shafali Verma
Last year, ahead of the team’s tour of England, the then head coach Ramesh Powar had stated that the world will see ‘a new Shafali soon’ as the then team management decided to tweak her batting style a bit, but that move did not quite work as the young gun struggled to find the rhythm. However, slowly, she seems to have gotten back her mojo.
“It was a challenging time last year. I learnt a lot. I asked my coach in my hometown (Rohtak) about what mistakes I was making, because your childhood coaches tend to look at your game more closely. I got some time (to work on my game), and he helped me a lot. My game has improved a lot, and I will look to get better day by day…
Those sessions with her local coach have worked well for Shafali, and she wants to get going in the remainder of the series before travelling to Bengaluru to join the India U-19 camp ahead of the T20 World Cup where she will lead the junior side.
Shelley heaps praise on Shafali
Shelley Nitschke, the head coach of Australia, also heaped praise on Shafali. “They (India) have got a couple of really exciting players. What Shafali said is true, when we play India, they certainly play to their potential and really challenge us. I think Shafali is the one we’ve seen grow over the years,” she said.
“She (Shafali) is having a really good series, and we’ve all seen Richa Ghosh in this series too. It certainly bodes well for India in the future. It pushes our group as well, it challenges us. It’s exciting times and (we’re) looking forward to the (T20) World Cup…”